August 4, 2008

More on the Church Picketing Topic

My post asking whether atheists should consider picketing Christian extremist churches generated some great comments and spawned some interesting e-mails as well. Unfortunately, it appears that some who commented and e-mailed seemed to miss a couple of what I thought were crucial points in the original post. I'd like to clear these up and continue the discussion here.

In the original post, I was discussing the possibility of picketing Christian extremist churches and not all Christian churches. This was evidently not sufficiently clear to everyone. Remember, Christian extremism refers to a particular subgroup of Christian fundamentalism and certainly not to all of Christianity. In focusing the original post on Christian extremism, I was attempting to limit the discussion to the most dangerous form of Christianity currently practiced in the United States.

Another point of needed clarification is that I was not extolling atheists to picket churches of any kind. Rather, the post was intended to stimulate discussion around this possible tactic. Because I suspected that the idea of picketing churches was one that had not occurred to most people, I tried to convey what I thought would be the potential benefits of such an action. Of course, there are all sorts of potential risks. I figured that these were probably too obvious to need stating, but it is understandable that this led some to misinterpret my post.

In looking through the comments and e-mail, it is possible to identify some emerging themes on the subject of picketing Christian extremist churches:
  1. Such an action, if ever attempted, must be pulled off well or not at all. The potential of such a picket being a PR nightmare is high and would have to be considered. The tone of the picket would be critical.
  2. Some felt like such a picket would have to be in response to a specific instance of hatred, cruelty, or anti-atheist bigotry to be meaningful; others felt that it is precisely the extremist nature of these churches that should draw the protest.
  3. Many suggested alternatives to such a picket (e.g., attending the churches and taking notes for the purpose of challenging their tax exempt status, lobbying Congress, partnering with liberal Christians, counter-picketing, picketing people instead of institutions, fundraising, rallies, charity)
  4. Some said that they would support such an action only if it were part of a much broader effort that included a variety of other strategies. These broader approaches could also include more people than just atheists.
  5. Some suggested that protests should be directed at the media instead of churches, noting that it is media which normalizes the idiocy taught at the churches.
  6. Some recommended that we focus our efforts on promoting acceptance of reality rather than opposing religious delusion.
  7. A few said that something along these lines sounds good but were highly skeptical that it would ever happen because of the risk involved to the organizer(s).
Many of those leaving comments assumed that I was advocating the sort of picket that would be focused on mocking religion. Now what on earth would give you the idea that I'd be down for that? Yeah, I know. Seriously though, when I imagined what might be on the picket signs, it was more about what the religious teachings were doing to the community (e.g., spreading hatred and bigotry) as opposed to simply mocking their god beliefs.

The last point I'd like to make is that anti-atheist bigotry is a Civil Rights issue. I agree with most of the potential downsides of picketing extremist churches identified in the comments. But I look at the Civil Rights movement and suspect that they never would have accomplished anything close to what they managed without risky protests. Had they focused instead on simply trying to convinced the majority that they were worthy of sharing in the American dream by behaving well and trying to set an example, I cannot imagine that the Civil Rights era achievements ever would have happened.

For more on this important topic, see The Ethics of Protest from Atheist Ethicist.

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