By John W. Loftus
Chris Hallquist and Brian Flemming have both weighed in on the recent debate about the Blasphemy Challenge. I've already commented on it here. But several atheists are calling it "pointless, juvenile and stupid," including Ed Brayton and Jim Lazarus.
As the creator of the Blasphemy Challenge, I really liked what Flemming wrote. He said: "...negative press is part of the goal of the project. Seeking positive press is a fool's errand for any atheist. I have no desire to rub up to the mainstream media and beg them to present atheists as slightly less evil, and to call that a public-relations victory." He went on to say, "But the Blasphemy Challenge was a publicity stunt conceived in the real, rough-and-tumble, knife-fight media world that we actually live in, and, critically, it was designed to actually make a difference in our culture -- to shake people up and force them to encounter a new idea. The goal was not to have the press proclaim what nice, decent, upstanding, middle-of-the-road people the founders of the Blasphemy Challenge are. The goal was to manipulate the press into discussing religion as harmful superstition. And it worked."
Flemming concludes by saying, "One goal of radicalism is to move the middle -- and the more press the Rational Response Squad and Blasphemy Challenge get, the more the "nice guy" atheists become the middle of the discussion instead of the scary extreme. In terms of overall media manipulation, that's a good thing. But I sure hope the nice guys don't spend too much oxygen condemning us radicals who have the audacity to call superstition by its name. Because that would be a waste of the new platform the nice guys are being given."
I agree. I suspect people like Lazarus and Brayton simply don't understand the media and the value of radicalism, that's all. I just think they should become better informed about these sorts of things before they go off denouncing something they don't understand.
But these critics say it gives atheists a bad name. Which ones? Me? Why should I think so? I am my own person and I am responsible for myself. You might as well say that the many Christians responding to them in vulgur ways, along with the gay and black bashing going on by Christians in our country are giving Christians a bad name too. But why does that follow?
They say we need a reasoned atheist response and I don't disagree with them. That's what I do, and I think that's what they do. But the people who take this challenge have every right to express their opinions wherever they want to do so. So the RSS is giving them a chance to do so, and they are not all stupid responses, either.
There are plenty of examples in the Bible where the prophets did some strange things to get people's attention, like walking naked through the streets, or cutting off all their hair, too. So what? Just because we wouldn't do that doesn't mean that the prophets didn't create an awareness about injustice for doing so.
So I say "let them." Don't discourage them. But in the process we are there to help educate them, along with others who may now be searching for sites like ours because of this very challenge, who might learn from more educated atheists about the arguments that have persuaded those college kids (and adults) who take the Blasphemy challenge.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)