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Austin Cline

Can You Say "Atheist" in a Crowded Theater?

By March 11, 2012

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I've written before that atheists shouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about giving offense to religious theists because there is absolutely nothing we can say that won't offend some religious theists. Our very existence is offensive to quite a few, so merely announcing our existence and nothing else is guaranteed to get a negative reaction. And all those people who criticize so-called "new" atheists for being too negative and offensive? Concern Trolls, every one of them.

Justin Vacula has done a great job of proving this for us: he tried to buy an ad to run on busses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System. It just said "Atheists" plus the names of two sponsoring organizations. Naturally it was rejected.

I was told that the board of directors for COLTS needed to meet and decide whether they would run the ad...and after a long wait of 15 days, COLTS refused the ad although this meeting certainly wasn't public if it even happened at all because meetings are held on the third Tuesday of each month.

Jim Smith, the advertising contact at COLTS, said that the reason for refusal -- appealing to the very questionable and vague advertising policy of COLTS -- was that COLTS does not accept ads which could be deemed controversial or otherwise spark public debate.

Source: Justin Vacula

Standards like "nothing that might spark public debate" exist for no other reason than to suppress the ideas and messages of disliked minorities. Such a standard is stupid on its face (because it suggests that "public debate" is bad and should be avoided), discriminatory in theory (because it necessarily favors ads for ideas that are already common) and discriminatory in practice (because it's so vague that it probably can't be applied in anything other than an arbitrary manner).

Once again, there is literally nothing that atheists can do that won't offend some Christians out there -- except perhaps for staying quietly in the closet forever. And anyone who really wants us to do that should take a long, long walk off a short pier. This is why it's so important for those who accuse atheists of being "too" negative, "too" critical, or just plain offensive to demonstrate that what atheists are saying is also clearly "offensive" in other contexts and when coming from other people.

Put simply, they need to demonstrate that the problem really does lie in what we're saying and not in the fact that it's being said by us. I won't hold my breath, though, because people making this criticism of atheists always have lots of opportunity to make such an argument and I've yet to see one of them even try, much less succeed.

That should tell you something.

March 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm
(1) Dean J. Smith says:

I was voted down for my suggestion of what to put on our billboard: we had ‘Don’t believe? You’re not alone.’

I wanted: ‘Atheists exist’.

March 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm
(2) Vickie says:

I worked for a large union where we had forced prayer! They even required people of other faiths to pray. These were Christians….running a Union!

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