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Not Thinking It Through

December 1st, 2008

Would you be offended by this?

Phillycor Billboard

If you would be, the obvious question is “why?” Friendly Atheist points out that an atheistic organization tried to put up eleven such billboards, but two were not allowed to go through because of protests by Christians. They were offended by the message.

That’s right, offended. Offended by atheists reaching out to other atheists. Offended by a statement of belief which is different from their own. As was pointed out, the billboards did not reference Christians; they did not denigrate Christians, nor did they even deny the existence of god. They simply said, “Hey, you probably think you’re alone in your beliefs, but you’re not.”

This was given as at least one of the reasons some Christians got so mad:

John Matson, of Denver, was so mad after seeing the Santa Fe Drive sign that he dashed off an angry letter to the billboard’s owner.

“It is a despicable act to allow that sign,” the 60-year-old man said in an interview, “and for just a few pieces of silver.”

He went on COCORE’s [the organization putting up the billboards] Web site, and it made him even angrier, John Matson said. It is trying to gather, he said, “a constituency of what I call mob rule.”

“I know they’re atheists, and my opinion is they want others to believe the same thing. The billboard misrepresents their purpose,” he said. “Their agenda is wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political. Why don’t they just say it.”

As you can see, the entire tone is highly subjective. The “few pieces of silver” reference makes it clear that he believes that the owner of the billboard has betrayed the good guys because the bad guys paid them; that’s the exact meaning of the Judas reference. So we already have assumptions that religious people are good, atheists are bad, and the billboard owner is assumed to be a Christian.

But the last paragraph in that quote is a giveaway: he believes that the atheists are proselytizing. They’re not, not really (any more than a sign saying “Gay? You’re not alone” would turn a straight person gay), but here’s the thing: what if they were? What if the sign said, “You should become an atheist”? That’s essentially what the guy thought it was saying, so what if it did?

Then it would mean that a few atheists would be doing what scores of Christians have been doing since time immemorial: trying to convert others to their belief.

And that, to Mr. Matson, is unacceptable. Christians are allowed this; atheists are not.

Here’s another quote from Mr. Matson, a common refrain from religious people like him:

“I also understand free speech. And I can also stand up and tell them that they are wrong.”

People who say that kind of thing don’t understand what “free speech” means. You see this sentiment a lot, usually from religious organizations that have their panties up in a bunch about whatever strikes them as heinous that week. “Free speech means I can protest them.”

I would agree, if it were just protest. But there is a marked difference between protest and gagging others. If you say something that I don’t like on your blog, I can try to comment on your blog, or I can write on my blog, or I can go out on the street and picket. That’s my right to free speech, it means I can say something also. But if I get together a group of people and go directly to your web host and threaten to put them out of business if they don’t shut down your blog, then that is not “freedom” of speech, that is the antithesis of freedom of speech. It is censorship. It is gagging someone and trying to deprive them of the right you claim to be exercising.

And the golden rule of rights is, “your right to swing your arms ends where my nose begins,” meaning that your rights do not extend to depriving me of mine.

But people like Mr. Matson believes that it’s perfectly okay to shut others up by getting large groups of people together and making threats.

I think that’s called “mob rule.” Another term Mr. Matson apparently does not understand.

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  1. Tim Kane
    December 2nd, 2008 at 13:02 | #1

    This is why the church of the flying spaghetti monster is so valuable. You have to create a foil in order to demonstrate the stupidity of the man’s protest. Can Pastafarian’s proselytize their religion? Why not? “Put down your bread, pick up your Pasta!”. And so what if it is not deadly serious, no one says it has to be, on the one hand, on the other hand, why can’t one be deadly serious?

    If they can put up a sign that says “Jesus saves” can’t I put up a sign that says “Allah is great!” or “the Spaghetti Monster is Delicious”.

    I found another tell in his argument as being more revealing:“Their agenda is wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political. Why don’t they just say it.” I’m sorry but this is just rank projecting. The fact is, the more outspoken Christians are the ones that are political wolves-in-sheep’s clothing. The reason for the bitching is that they want a monopoly on it. You know that religion projected as political wolves-in-sheep’s clothing gets weaker the more, more different groups dole it out.

    I found this first hand about 14 years ago when staying at a hotel in Dallas-Ft Worth Airport where I found the book of Mormon next to Gidgeon’s bible. As I flipped through the book of Mormon, with all it’s who begat whomes and what not, stylized like the bible, I realized anyone could make any of this stuff up in either book. Instead of turning me on to the book of Mormon, the book of Mormon turned me off of the Bible. Now if I was a real rascal, I’d write up my own book, and gather me up some 70 or 80 virgins and have them over for spaghetti dinners. I might even advertise on a build board.

  2. December 6th, 2008 at 01:10 | #2

    You’re absolutely right about the contradiction in the claim to “understand free speech.” After all, one can say something on a billboard is incorrect, and one can refer to the most compelling arguments available. But the whole MO of free speech (that is, its practical function which is so very important) is that it promotes dialogue and a free exchange of ideas, the theory being that where all ideas are treated farly the best ones win. Bottom line being that if we allow billboards that allude to an eternal afterlife in Hell for not repenting (which we do) then we should allow billboards proclaiming all manner of religious beliefs. In fact, this particular billboard is probably more tasteful and respectful than the letter of the law requires it to be. The fact that two were prohibited anyway just goes to show how powerful bias can be.

  3. Hachi Gatsu
    December 8th, 2008 at 00:29 | #3

    Makes you wonder what would happen if someone put up billboard of Buddha. Would an elderly man have a heart attack then? Seeing a “false idol” upon a billboard in public? I almost want to find out and count how many earth-brown Buick Centuries and LeSabre’s slam on their brakes on the highway.

    There is another reason I am glad I went to college, let alone another country. I am Christian, yes, but not one who’s going to through a Bible at an unsuspecting bystander and scream “Repent! Repent! Or you will be damned to the depths of Hell for eternity!”…quite frankly I find those kind of people revolting. I personally find that if you want to “spread the word of God”, talk to people who are willing to listen, not screaming at those who are happy with their own beliefs, then you might as well try to turn a tree to Christianity (and if you succeeded, I’d love to hear about it).

    I remember going to Asakusa one time while I was there and during my visit, there was a Buddhist ceremony going on as well as many people attending the temples and praying. At first I felt a little strange, an outsider, but an elderly man came up to me and asked “will you pray with me?” I was hesitant at first, but I agreed. And there, in the temple, I prayed, not in the “Christian” sense (knelt down, hands folded), but as a Buddhist, but the feeling was the same for me. Seeing the masses of Japanese people attending the temples and praying didn’t make me want to start flinging out Bibles left and right saying “my religion is better than yours”, if anything, it strengthened my belief of letting people believe what they want to believe, so long as they are happy and not hurting anyone in the name of it (like the Crusades).

    Is this the ideal thought on religion? Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but it works for me, and that’s the only thing that matters.

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