Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Speech Proposal

I have written a couple of times on the decision on the part of the Connecticut Valley Atheists to put a sign up in front of city hall that shows the World Trade Center buildings before 9/11 with the words, “Imagine: No Religion.”

These posts have brought to mind an idea of how I would like to see this situation resolved. It is a fantasy - something that I think will do a whole lot of good. It would be nice . . . .

This would be for the Connecticut Valley Atheists to make arrangements to either replace these images, or to cover them, and to release a statement that goes something like this:

When given an opportunity to put up a holiday display in front of town hall, we decided to put up a sign that showed the World Trade Center towers as they were before 9/11, with the words: “Imagine: No Religion.” That sign was an insult to anybody who accepts some religion, but who would never participate in or condone an act such as 9/11. We were wrong to put up that message, and we apologize for doing so.

Two wrongs do not make a right. We are forced to endure a barrage of writers and speakers who hold up Stalin and Mao Tse Tung and say, in effect, “Imagine: No Atheism.” As if we are somehow personally responsible for crimes committed by other atheists. Crimes we did not commit and do not condone.

That makes us angry. We were not there. We had nothing to do with those events. Yet, we are being held accountable for them.

It is tempting, in the face of that type of bigotry, to strike back and say, ‘How do you like it when others do the same to you? How do you like being blamed, in effect, for acts that you did not participate in and do not condone – simply because the perpetrators happened to be religious?”

Yet the phrase, “Two wrongs do not make a right” is meant to point out the error in that way of thinking. Only hypocrites can treat other people in ways that they would consider wrong if others did the same thing to them.

We live in a country with a pledge that declares that those who are not ‘under God’ are as unpatriotic – as un-American – as any who would support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.

We live in a country that has adopted as its national motto – the most important principle of its political life – the idea that its population must be divided between a “We” who trust in God, and a “They” who do not.

We live in a country where Presidential candidates declare that freedom requires religion, and sitting Presidents insist that no person who thinks that our rights have a source other than God is qualified to be a judge.

We live in a country where we hear these things, not from a few bigoted neighbors, but from our own government and from elected officials who are supposed to represent all Americans, and not just those who agree with them on matters of religion.

In the face of this, it is tempting to find an opportunity to give people a taste of their own medicine, as it were.

However, two wrongs do not make a right. Two wrongs, almost invariably, lead to three wrongs, then four, then five. Our lives are far too short to waste in a society where people compete over who can commit the last and greatest wrong against the other. Somebody needs to refuse to take part in that contest. So, we apologize for the wrongs that we have done, and we resolve to work harder in the future to ensure that we do not do to others those things that we condemn when others do them to us.

[Speaking time: 3 minutes, 20 seconds]

And the world would be a better place.

Note: Any readers who think that the sign is morally defensible – but how think that pointing to the acts of Hitler and Stalin to discredit all atheists is not – are invited to view my previous posts on this subject:

(1) Connecticut Valley Atheists: Imagine

(2) Communication, Causation, and Condemnation – paying particular attention to the section on causation.


Alonzo Fyfe said...


Racial bigotry is wrong by definition. There is no question of whether a bigot does something wrong. The moral question is whether a particular act or attitude counts as an act of bigotry.

Racial bigotry is a genus, of which unjust lynichings are a species.

Treat religion the same way, and you would have to say that religion is immoral by definition - that we could not sensibly call something a religion unless we were first able to establish that it was immoral.

Anonymous said...

Imagine no religion:

No Catholic homeless shelters
No Spanish Inquisition
No Worldwide Christian Relief Fund
No Crusades
No religious charities for the poor
No religious bigotry
No sublime religious art
No 9-11 slaughter


Alonzo Fyfe said...

Imagine: No Black Person

No black doctors
No black rapists
No black cap drivers
No black artists
No black drug addicts
No black actors.


You tell me . . . if somebody were to put up a sign that said, "Imagine: No black people," over (for example) a well known picture of a family of white people murdered by a black drug addict, whether that would be (should be) considered bigoted.

Anonymous said...

The circumstances are not equivalent. A piece of religious art is created for a religious purpose. A black doctor does not practice medicine for a black purpose. My examples are faith-based initiatives (good and bad). Your examples have no motivational connection to race.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

A given piece of religious art is created for a religious purpose, but no piece of religious art is tied to all religious purposes.

A terrorist act may be committed for religious reasons. But no terrorist act is tied to all religous reasons.

To tie a piece of art or a terrorist act to all religion is simply nonsense.

The distinction that you mention is true, but it is not a relevant difference. It does not change the fact that both signs take a false premise that some A are linked to B and tries to link all A to B.