March 8, 2010

Smut for Smut

bible3.gifThanks to Dangerous Talk for reminding me about a topic I keep meaning to address here: the "Smut for Smut" campaign being carried out by Atheist Agenda, an atheist student group at the University of Texas - San Antonio. The campaign involves the sort of porn for bibles exchange we've seen atheist groups organizing on many campuses. Here is how the group describes it:
We’ve set up a table where people can stop by and donate their religious reading material and – if they desire, and if they are old enough – receive a number of porn magazines. This can include fundamental texts like the Koran, the Bible, or Dianetics; religious apologia and self-help like Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life and Lewis’s Mere Christianity; or those unnerving little tracts that Jack Chick makes.
Now you see why they are calling it "Smut for Smut."

This probably won't come as a surprise to any of my regular readers, but I wholeheartedly support the idea. And you better believe it has people talking!

As Dangerous Talk noted, some atheists have been critical of the campaign. The criticism appears to center around the inadequacy of the approach as a vehicle for modeling reasonable behavior (i.e., if you want to convince others that atheism is a reasonable alternative to supernatural worldviews, this doesn't look all that reasonable). Of course, the concerns also involve the often debated best means of attracting flies. The critics think that efforts like these may backfire, driving others away from atheism.

Here's how Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) put it:
There are so many reasons people should not be religious. Why not give them a compelling reason to toss faith aside? Letting them know that atheists can be just as jerky as evangelical bible-thumpers isn’t helping the cause.
To his credit, Hemant does go on to acknowledge that not everyone agrees with his friendly approach and that there is room for all of us under the atheist tent.

I support "Smut for Smut" and similar efforts for many reasons. Here are some of them:

  • Religious belief is harmful and campaigns like this help to highlight that fact.

  • Many Christians have demonstrated repeatedly that they will take offense to the very existence of atheists (e.g., "Don't Believe in God? You're Not Alone" billboards). Thus, we cannot be worried about offending them.

  • The campaign sounds fun and will likely attract considerable interest. College campuses are often targeted by Christian groups trying to recruit new members. Campaigns like this show that atheists can do so too (and with a better sense of humor).

  • The subtext of the campaign (i.e., nothing is sacred) is an important meme to spread. There is nothing "holy" about any of these texts, and that is part of what is being confronted here.

I understand Hemant's concerns, and I am sure he is not alone in them. But I see efforts like this as valuable. I would not recommend them as the only approach, but I think that they help in the effort to oppose irrational belief and promote atheism. What do you think?

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