As Joe Hoffmann puts it, “this preposterous exercise in how to be religiously offensive is as tactless as it is pointless.”
A few years ago, I helped organize the Blasphemy Challenge. At the time, it was useful. We had a target (Christians who never read the Bible). We had a purpose (to allow atheists to step out of the “closet” and tell the world they were not afraid). We brought atheism into the media light–even before Dawkins’ book The God Delusion (2006) hit book shelves and took off running. We challenged preconceived notions about atheism by letting atheists speak for themselves. This was over four years ago.
While some may say that Blasphemy Day is the same, it isn’t. There was a message behind the Blasphemy Challenge; it was not meant to ridicule. It was meant to awaken minds. Blasphemy Day has no real message other than to say “We’re here, now STFU and watch while I degrade this crucifix!” America, and the world, has already been made aware of atheists, their large numbers (as referenced by President Obama during his inaugural speech and his discussion on faith before he became president). What possible point could such a Blasphemy Day serve?
Additionally, my ideals have changed some. I left activism because I no longer felt I believed in the direction it was headed. If this is where atheist activism has arrived, I am glad I stepped off the bus and turned my back on it when I did. Secular thought, critical thinking; these characteristics used to be the staple of atheist organizations and at some point (perhaps I am a little responsible for this), it became about ridicule and isolationism. We are isolating ourselves from other atheist communities, other freethought organizations, other humanist organizations, and now we want to isolate ourselves once again from society. By participating in Blasphemy Day, we are saying “we’re different” rather than saying “we’re the same” and the rest of the world–who have had spent all that time rethinking what they had thought about atheist organizations–will start to develop those same stigmas again. In essence, those atheists who promote this thinking are stepping backwards rather than moving forward.
I’m not saying that irrational beliefs do not deserve to be criticized–what I am saying is that irrational beliefs deserve to be criticized. When someone tells you that the world was created in 6 literal days, its okay to criticize the claim. Analyze it, discuss it–but ridicule it? I’m not sure what simply ridiculing a belief will accomplish when the person you’re talking to can not be embarrassed. If a person believes the earth was created in 6 literal days, they believe you’re the idiot for not agreeing with them. Ridiculing their beliefs is only going to make them hold on tighter.
You can’t kick the crutch out from under someone who faithfully believes they cannot walk without it. You need to first show them that the crutch is useless and let them toss it away themselves. In effect, Blasphemy Day is a thousand people kicking at a few crutches. There is no doubt in my mind that these people will simply hold on for dear life and, in the end, may even use their crutches to swing back.