Updated: March 8, 2010 at 12:00 am
Atheists have enjoyed a good run in recent years, organizing to challenge the value and validity of organized religion. They’ve reminded society about historic episodes of evil cloaked in religion. They’ve guarded against government establishment of religion, to public benefit. They’ve elevated icons who write and speak, such as scientist Richard Dawkins and journalist Christopher Hitchens. They’ve worked to make disbelief seem downright cool for some.
The once-insignificant Freedom From Religion Foundation learned how to spend small amounts on marketing stunts that grab priceless publicity, such as confrontational billboards that insult religion in Colorado Springs and other religious bastions.
Yet it appears the movement toward mainstream status for atheism may have come and gone in a flash. Today, the briefly notable trend has become a comedy of buffoonery.
As mainstream religious organizations devote human labor and hundreds of millions of dollars to aiding earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Chile, atheists organize around causes like the bibles-for-porn exchange. The organization Atheist Agenda, at the University of Texas-San Antonio, draws attention by offering pornography in exchange for Bibles, Torahs, Korans and other religious texts.
Here’s some unsolicited advice for the college atheists: Grown-ups don’t think it’s cute, and you don’t help the atheist cause by aligning it with porn. We’re just saying…
Meanwhile, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has decided to battle the U.S. Postal Service over its new Mother Teresa stamp. Never mind this honorary U.S. citizen won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Forget that she fed and comforted orphans and AIDS patients and eased famine. Never mind that a Gallup poll found that Americans admire Mother Teresa more than John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Jr. Never mind we’ve yet to hear about atheists organizing to help Mother Teresa’s surviving order of nuns bathe the lepers. The foundation wants to eliminate her stamp because she was Catholic and opposed abortion. Apparently, this group that claims to advocate tolerance believes one must be an abortion-rights atheist to go on a stamp.
One who spends time on any major atheist blog knows that a CB radio provides more intellectual depth. Dawkins, whose blog had more than 85,000 registered users, recently complained about frivolous gossip and a lack of sophistication and civility among users. That’s because his users direct their energies at opposing the beliefs and works of others. When Dawkins introduced the idea of more moderation of comments, users turned on him. They became so angry, so mean, so anti Dawkins that he shut down the blog immediately and some of it will remain shut down.
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Dawkins explained in a post: “Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. That somebody on website expressed a ‘sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails’ down your throat. Also to ‘trip you up and kick you in the guts.’ And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as ‘a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one…’”
The Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Mother Teresa blogs don’t contain such talk — not even when bloggers speak of atheists who despise them.
An abundance of atheists are exemplary individuals who improve our world. God may love the honest atheist more than a mainstream religious hypocrite, who feigns belief for practical advantage and lives in opposition to everything religion teaches.
As an organized movement of activists, atheists are falling apart. Their movement probably has no great future. It may have seen all the momentum it ever will. The atheist community will thrive only if non-believers find positive and constructive causes, as Mother Teresa did. It will find a bright future only if disbelievers put time and money into soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals and AIDS hospices — as Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians do. A movement can’t go far on negative energy alone. It can’t inspire with publicity events that trade good books — which implore discipline, order and love — with pornographic images that trivialize sex and separate it from love. A movement can’t grow with campaigns designed to belittle beautiful deceased heroes, such as Mother Teresa, who devoted their lives to others. If atheists want acceptance, and to make a difference in this world, they need to find the love. — Wayne Laugesen, editorial page editor, for the editorial board