The Pennsylvania Chapter of American Atheists put up a sign with the biblical quote "Slaves, obey your master" (Colossians 3:22 ).
The Harrisburg chapter of the NAACP says that the message is hateful and wants the sign torn down. They have asked the Human Rights Commission brand the posting of the sign as a hate crime.
My question is: What does this say about Colossians 3:22? What does this say about the Bible?
Somebody needs to ask the leaders of the Harrisburg chapter of the NAACP when they intend to have the Human Rights Commission declare the Bible to be hate speech and to have it torn down or banned. It is, after all, the Bible that says, "Slaves, obey your master."
I would say that the sign could have been designed better to avoid misunderstanding. A person who casually looks at the sign can easily interpret it as a message that blacks should obey their white masters.
This should be a lesson to all atheist and secular groups out there.
Test your products.
Make sure that people will understand what you are trying to say. Take a paper printout of any sign that you intend to put up, give it to somebody who does not care about the outcome to show to random people, and record their reaction.
If some significant percent of the population misinterprets the message, change the sign. Don't change it because they hate the message - many will hate anything an atheist says no matter what it is. However, if they do not understand the message, consider changing the way you are trying to communicate that message.
Failed communication will tend to do far more harm than good.
It also doesn't matter what they think of the sign after you explain it to them. When somebody driving down the street sees they sign, they will not have somebody sitting next to them to correct any misinterpretations. When the survey taker gives a misinterpretation of the sign, write down their response and walk away - and decide to alter the sign.
These are practical concerns - concerns that every atheist and secular organization should take seriously.
However, we should also look at the fact of the sign.
The history of the sign begins with the Pennsylvania legislature declaring 2012 "The Year of the Bible". In response, the Pennsylvania Chapter of American Atheists responded with a sign that says, "Hey, the Pennsylvania legislature just declared this as the year of a book that - among other evils - tells slaves to obey their masters."
Really, it is ironic that the Harrisburg chapter of the NAACP is protesting the acts of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Atheists, when they should be protesting the actions of the Pennsylvania legislature. It was the legislature - not the American Atheists - who endorsed and gave state honors to the message, "Slaves, obey your masters."
This is the type of irony that comes from people who do not actually think about what they are doing or saying, but who act on pure superficial unexamined emotion.
Just as I have done with this blog post here, the NAACP has a right to condemn the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Atheists for carelessness. This is not a hate crime. Colossians 3:22 is the hate crime.
Some Christians get upset when one mentions that the Bible and other religious text contains what can only be sensibly called hate-speech.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Bible and other religious documents were written by substantially ignorant human beings 2000 years ago. Those authors lived in a culture where hate-speech was common and, at the time, not yet questioned. They wrote these values into their religious text.
Colossians 3:22 was written by slave masters who wanted the unquestioned obedience of their slaves. In its more complete form, it says:
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God
And it was used by white slave owners in the 1800s - who taught Christianity to their slaves for this purpose - to get the slaves to obey their masters even when their master was not watching them (but God - who is to be feared - still watched). These are historic facts that no amount of manufactured outrage can change.
No decent historian can deny the fact that the Bible and other religious texts contain the hate-speech of the eras in which they were written.
The fact of the matter - whether people want to admit it or not - is that the Pennsylvania legislature and the Harrisburg chapter of the NAACP have both decided to be advocates and defenders of this primitive and barbaric hate speech - and to attack the one group that is actually saying hate speech should not be given the endorsement of the state legislature.
Finally, I would like to argue that hate-speech should not be banned. The fact that scripture contains a great deal of hate-speech (much of it directed against atheists, I should add), the principle that one should not react to words with violence trumps this fact. Hate-speech should be countered with condemnation and criticism – but not with violence. The answer to words is words, not guns. This includes the state violence of government censorship. People should remain free to read and quote from the Bible – at the same time learning that endorsing the hate-speech that is found within is not an admirable act.