Billboard seen in South Carolina last spring
My copy of the Fall, 2009 UU World just arrived this afternoon. Some of my fellow bloggers have already posted their opinions of the full-page color ad for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) inside the front cover.
I’m… well, I’m unsurprised. I know this organization. I support its mission to maintain the wall of separation between church and state. Its co-president, Dan Barker, has spoken at my UU church a couple of times – as well as other UU churches in the area. Knowing that Barker has a reputation for being… provocative, I’m not surprised the FFRF uses clever and provocative quotes for bus sign advertising – and you’ve got to admit, they’re catchy. Whoever is responsible for this ad campaign deserves some credit.
Is the ad offensive? Well, I think a few of the quotes are guaranteed to offend someone. I'm bothered by the ad for other reasons.
The quotes in the ad (which can be found here) convey what I consider a “fundamentalist” atheism. These are intelligent people – but they’ve limited their view of God. One of my theology professors calls this “putting God in box,” and warned us against it. This sort of fundamentalism is as offensive to me as religious fundamentalism that claims to know who are saved and who are damned.
These quotes are also negative. “Unpleasant,” “don’t believe,” “ain’t so.” Isn’t that one of the criticisms of our own faith? That many of us find it easier to say what we don’t believe in, than what we do? I’d rather listen to Penn Gillette’s “This I Believe” essay on his non-belief. It is at least clearly stated and rational enough to engage. I think he's also put God in a box, but there's a difference. In a snark-free way Gillette clearly defines what his belief means to him, and it's actually kind of cool.
I'm very interested in interfaith dialogue. I spent a lot of time on internship talking with people who aren't UU, since my supervisor is very involved in local clergy and interfaith groups. I learned a lot by listening, and sharing ideas with people whose beliefs differed from mine. It is far better to begin a dialog from a place of "this is what I think, and why," than from a place of "you couldn't possibly believe something so stupid."
I do like the quote from Katharine Hepburn: “I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe that there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.” Ms. Hepburn’s quote is plain, and not derogatory to others’ views. Again - beginning from "this is what I think."
Several months ago I was in a southern state where I observed the above billboard while driving on the freeway. It gets the point across without being derogatory to others. I know some have been offended by it, but I don't find it so. The FFRF should make a note of it...
UPDATE: After posting this, my DH & I had a long conversation about this ad this morning. We see the basic problem with this ad as being (a) that it's not immediately obvious that the FFRF is not part of the UUA; and (b) that the message gleaned from the quotes is anti-religious, equating religion with theism (and a particular form of theism, as well). The DH and I have different beliefs - but a common faith. We've had this conversation about inclusiveness for theists and nontheists for years. There seems to be no end to it.
For What It's Worth: The UU World's business manager responded to one blogger's direct communication and she posted it here.
And now I'm tired of all this - and just plain tired. I seem to have been taking a blogging holiday unofficially. I'm making it official now. I'm discerning how and whether this blogging thing fits into my ministry. Be back next month, or so.