Moving beyond “Smut for Smut”


622x350In years gone by (since 2005), the students group known as “Atheist Agenda” at the University of Texas at San Antonio has offered to exchange bibles and qurans for free porn in the student free speech area on campus – their point being that religions are more damaging than Hustler magazine.

In once sense it worked, in that it attracted publicity and also lots of attention. The media loved it because it was quirky, and the believers were provoked into organizing a protest.

But things are different now, they have moved on and not only done away with all that, but have also re-branded themselves by dropping the name “Atheist Agenda. Here are some details of what is happening

This semester, Atheist Agenda renamed itself the Secular Student Alliance, one of 402 groups affiliated with an Ohio-based umbrella organization of the same name. The makeover underscores a national trend in which secular humanist groups have been dropping edgy, insult-minded strategies for more welcoming ones.

But why make such a change, what prompted this, did they get too many complaints or were they threatened? No, nothing like that at all. They took an appropriate and very skeptical look at what they were actually achieving and by doing so learned a few lessons from what had gone on previously …

“We don’t plan on doing (the smut-for-smut campaign) ever again,” said Jacob Schmidt, an officer with the newly formed group. “We encourage conversation, but we did it in the wrong way, just getting a rise out of people. And once you make someone defensive about their beliefs, you’re not going to get through to them.”

More and more atheist groups are replacing antagonism with civility, motivated by human reason to do charitable work rather than spite against all things religious, said Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of “Good without God.”

“We’re really not that interested in tearing people down anymore. We’re trying to tear down bad beliefs, but not the people who believe them,” he said. “What’s going to emerge from this is a more powerful and influential secular humanist community. There really are millions and millions of us. It was easier to dismiss us when they pigeon-holed us as anti-religious. We’re not. We’re millions of good people, working to build a better society for everyone.”

It makes a lot of sense in so many ways, no longer are they defining themselves by what they do not believe (atheism), but are now instead taking a more positive position and defining themselves by what they do advocate … secularism.

Personally if asked for a label, I generally tend not to use the word “atheist” because that is simply a conclusion on just one topic and says nothing about anything else at all. instead I would use terms such as skeptic, humanist and secularist because these are terms that describe not just non-supernatural based ethics, but also encompasses a methodology of critical thinking that can be applied to any claim. In fact the word “secular” is not about opposing religion at all, it simply advocates for an even playing field where beliefs are not allowed to have any special privileges or preference – all should have the right to believe whatever they wish and nobody should be permitted the right to impose their specific beliefs upon others.

What makes such a secular stance interesting is that it becomes a rather wide umbrella under which both the religious and non-religious can sit together, and so while we might not agree upon the various supernatural claims on offer, we can at least share a common stance of freedom for all to believe whatever they wish. By starting with this common stance, there then exists a good opportunity for some real dialogue in a non-confrontational context.

 

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