Friday, March 5, 2010

Westboro Atheist Church

I keep my RSS ears on in the atheistic blogosphere, mostly because if there's an issue or a challenge confronting the faith community, that's a great place to read about it. In particular, I listen in over at the friendlyatheist, a blog written by humanistic math teacher Hemant Mehta. Mehta's the guy who once famously "sold his soul on eBay," meaning, he took bids from churches in return for a promise to attend their worship.

Over the last few days, there's been some debate there about the "Smut for Smut" campaign on the part of an atheistic student organization in Texas. In the event you haven't heard of this one, it involves a pretty simple transaction. If you bring a sacred text to the table the group has set up on campus, they will happily let you trade it in for the pornography of your choice.

Their point is simple: religious texts are filthy, nasty, dirty things, and are essentially the same thing as the "smut" that religious people find so bothersome. Therefore, atheists can to show theists just how misguided they are by being as intentionally offensive and insulting as possible.

I'm not sure quite how many Christians have been dissuaded from their faith by this event. Given the dynamics of human nature, I'd say, oh, probably none. Folks have taken offense, and many may have gotten into a lather about it. Look at these UNBELIEVERS! DESECRATING GOD'S WORD!

Honestly, though, I'm not bothered by it as a Christian. Measured against the vastness of the Creator's work, it's an entirely meaningless thing. Yeah, pornography creates a deeply unrealistic and ultimately destructive view of human sexuality. Yes, it's an intentional effort to offend. But it is no more philosophically meaningful than that dude at the county fair dunking booth who hollers insults at your wife. It's just an attempt to get attention, and it does that quite effectively. I don't care what you say, clown-boy. I'm saving my money for the funnel cake.

Mmmm. Funnel cake....

But as a reasoning person, it bugs me. There is so much of value in humanistic ethics, so much that could be positively expressed. Screaming insults and intentionally offending others might be atheistic, but it is not rational or humanistic. Yes, it gets attention, in the same way that everyone gathers around a fight in the school cafeteria. As a means for changing either individuals or culture, though, it is profoundly counterproductive.

This sort of monkey-poo stunting is the dark psychotronic performance art specialty of the Westboro Baptist Church. It is a form of self-expression that calls attention to itself, but not with the purpose of changing the perspective of the other. It exists to exacerbate and heighten conflict with the Enemy, whoever the Enemy happens to be. In doing so, it reinforces the bright line boundaries between the Us, who are correct, and the Them, who are horrible in every way.

Across the little flicker of screams and swords and shouting that is human history, this approach has never, ever, ever worked. Jesus people, at least those who pay attention to what he taught, already know this. But rational folks know it too.