Sunday, February 24, 2008

Imagine No Religion v. Why Do Atheists Hate America?

The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II, Bishop of the Diocese of the Chesapeak and Northeast of the Episcopal Missionary Church, is the Director of the Alliance for Health Education and Development (AHEAD). AHEAD is sponsoring a "Why Do Atheists Hate America?" Billboard Campaign in response the the Freedom from Religion Foundation's "Imagine No Religion" Billboard Campaign. A Chambersburg, PA newspaper published an editorial critical of the AHEAD billboard Our view: Defensive billboard goes a bit overboard. The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II's response, Editorial puzzles billboard sponsor, represents an articulate and dense expression of the emotion laden and unreasonable thinking that unfortunately appears to predominate among substantial numbers of people who advocate establishment of monotheism. So lets review his editorial.

Thank you for your editorial, "Our view: Defensive billboard goes a bit overboard" (Public Opinion Online, February 10, 2008). I'm very glad you're letting people in the Chambersburg community know about the two "dueling billboards" and challenging them to consider the signs' meaning.

However, I'm surprised you seem to find the atheists' billboard so harmless, while you seem to take offense at our sign. The atheists' sign says, "Imagine No Religion." Perhaps if our sign had said, "Imagine No Atheists," it would be easier for you to see why I am so troubled by the atheists' message. "

The proper analogy is "Imagine no Atheism". People are not religion or atheism or any particular belief. This failure to distinguish between people and people's beliefs is a recurring theme in Nedd Council's argument. He is incorrectly elevating what is a sincere disagreement between people over conflicting pro-religious and anti-religious beliefs into a personal attack against the people who hold religious beliefs.

"Imagine No Religion," they urge, and you say you find that non-judgmental. Really? To me, the judgment of America's largest atheist group seems obvious: They think America would be a better place if all people of faith would simply disappear. Where should we go? Where do they want to send us? I suppose it would make their crusade to ban religion easier, but I don't plan to go quietly, and neither do the 64,000 supporters of In God We Trust.

People are not religion. Inviting people to consider a future world without religion is not the same as telling people who are currently religious to physically disappear. For example, Dan Barker is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former minister and evangelist. Ned Council, like Dan Barker, could abandon religion without moving from his current location.

Opposing is not banning. The FFRF is not engaging in a "crusade to ban religion" just like Catholics are not engaging in a crusade to ban Protestantism and Protestants are not engaging in a crusade to ban Catholicism. Expressing opposition to some beliefs is not an attempt to ban anyone from having or expressing those beliefs.

Instead of rushing to condemn people who want to defend freedom of religious expression by calling us "manipulative" and "craven" as your editorial has done, perhaps you should start asking a few questions that go right to the heart of this matter.

Promoting the false assertion that atheists hate America is not a defense of freedom of religious expression but it is manipulative and craven as is much of the content of Nedd Council's editorial.

First, how is "Imagine No Religion" different from "Imagine No Christians" or "Imagine No Jews"? The anti-religious bigotry is more obvious, but otherwise the statements seem interchangeable to me. (Now are you starting to see why we find the atheists' sign so troubling? I'm not sure where they're headed with this line of argument, but I don't like its direction one bit.)

Advocacy against a set of beliefs is not bigotry. People are not anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant bigots by virtue of advocating against Catholic or Protestant beliefs. Ditto for people who are against religion in general.

People eat, dress and have beliefs but people are not food, clothes, or beliefs. Again, a significant difference between Imagine no Religion and Imagine no Christians is that the former focuses on the beliefs some people hold and the later focuses on those people themselves.

Second, "Imagine No Religion" also means "Imagine No Mother Theresa," "Imagine No Martin Luther King, Jr.," and "Imagine No Gandhi." Do you really believe America -- or the world -- would be a better place if the atheists got their wish? Are you starting to get the picture?

Historical people are not retroactively lost to history due to a subsequent loss of their beliefs because historical beliefs are not the same as the historical people who held those beliefs. Famous dead people who referenced or believed in various no longer surviving religions during their lifetimes did not lose their role in, or contribution to, history when their religion disappeared.

Regrettably, religious people are more often defined in the media these days by a caricature that is not very generous, and I assure you it does not apply to In God We Trust.

Criticizing an action taken by a group is not the same as caricaturing that group. The newspaper editorial criticized the contents of the AHEAD's billboard, it did not caricature religious people. The only people who are caricaturing anyone else here are Nedd Council II and his AHEAD organization who are mendaciously caricaturing atheists and the FFRF in their billboard and in this editorial. Nedd Council's complaint about being caricatured is shameless hypocrisy.

We are not even a religious group. There are already plenty of religious groups who want to be involved in politics, and that is not what we are. Instead, we are a political group that is concerned with defending the traditional role of God and religion in American public life, because we believe it makes America a better place -- for believers and non-believers alike. I urge fair-minded people who agree with me to visit our Web site at for more information.

Ned Council II now recognizes and acknowledges a distinction! A political group "defending the traditional role of God and religion in American public life" is different from a "religious advocacy group"! After building an argument on ignoring major distinctions he now insists on highlighting a relatively small distinction. How is that for consistency?

We live in a diverse country, and In God We Trust believes it is wrong to try to imagine an America where the people who disagree with us have all disappeared, or been sent away. History is full of bad examples like that, and they didn't work. Instead, why not try to work out our differences?

Falsely accusing people who advocate against a set of beliefs of seeking to physically remove or deport the people who hold those beliefs is slander. Ned Council II is slandering atheists in his billboard and slandering the FFRF in his editorial.

We don't address racial issues by all pretending to be black. We don't address gender differences by all pretending to be women. So why on earth should we address our Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom by all pretending to be atheists? Now that's going overboard.

Inviting people to consider abandoning religion is not the same as calling for religious people to disingenuously pretend to not be religious. The FFRF has never claimed or implied that "we address our Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom by all pretending to be atheists" and I can say with confidence that they never will make such a claim. This is more mendacious caricaturing of the FFRF and atheists.

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