ABC Nightline "War on Religion"

ABC Nightline recently showed a special television program called "War on Religion" with a subtitle on their website reading "A look at in-your-face atheism in the U.S.A."

I'd like to review this video, comment on some segments, and identify some possible bias, misconceptions, and bad reporting.

I was interviewed by ABC at the American Atheists' annual convention in New Jersey, but unfortunately my interview wasn't showed in this video...Edwin Kagan and the other speakers in the video did an excellent job though.

You can, though, clearly see me at the 31 second mark smiling and laughing near the camera (picture above) and later on in the crowd on the far right side of the room sitting in the front row. Yah, yah, no big deal here for me, but it's still exciting to be shown on national news.

You can watch the short video here.

A discussion about this video on the ABC website is also here...

Right off the bat, I don't like the title on this video because it seems very biased...why not a title of "Atheism is the U.S.A." and a different subtitle instead of such a charged subtitle and title? A phrase like "war on religion" is a silly term that I believe religious people created just like "The War on Christmas." Do we usually say that people are "at war" with religion or do we say that people don't accept the claims and challenge believers?

Alright, now some of my commentary on some points from the video:

"they not only disbelieve, but are waging a war on religion..."
Again, "a war on religion" is a very odd phrase. Atheists aren't waging any sort of war, but rather the open atheists are often out and about having discussions, educating people, writing books, making videos, debating, and engaging people with arguments. Why doesn't ABC say something like "Not only do they disbelieve, but they are active about their beliefs or lack thereof" and then proceed to explain why some atheists are activists (as the video later does).

Atheists are "fighting" against religious people and religious organizations who are doing tremendous harm to the world. Educated and rational human beings who are often atheists are putting a spotlight on great issues of our time that are plagued by religion like the Evolution/Creation "debate," the fight against AIDS in Africa in which the Pope says condoms can make AIDS worse, the Vatican claiming immunity to investigation by secular authorities, etc, etc, etc. I personally feel that religion, specifically Christianity, does a tremendous amount of harm to the world and that's why I'm active.

"and mockery is often their weapon of choice"
Actually, this is simply false. Mockery is not often the atheist's "weapon of choice." To be fair and precise, an atheist is simply someone who does not accept any claims about the existance of any gods; it's impossible to lump them all together and say "this is how an atheist acts," but from my experience and my "circle of atheist friends, mockery is not a "weapon of choice" because discussion, logic, questions, and words are often the "weapons of choice" in this "war." Mockery can sometimes be used (or something that would be construed as mockery), but this often (as ABC liked to use) is simply to prove a point that nothing is sacred and religion shouldn't be immune from criticism. Everything could be mocked...and why not? If, though, we're going to have a serious discussion about why atheists don't accept the claims of theists, I won't mock the theist or the belief of the theist to prove a point. I might parodize a bit and use some humor, but this certainly isn't my main "tactic" in the "war." Everyone can and probably should joke around sometimes and not always be 100% serious...

"an increasingly aggressive atheist community"

What, exactly, is so "aggressive" about this atheist community? Is being public about our lack of beliefs and philosophical positions "aggressive?" As this excellent post explains, people ought to reject this notion because it is ridiculous. Atheists are "coming out," speaking up, and caring because they feel that there is a need for this as I previously discussed. I feel that it's also important for atheists to speak up and inspire other atheists to be active. Discussions are also important because people do change their minds and even if they don't, they gain understanding if they're actually listening. Others are "on the fence" about various issues. Many people haven't even heard the arguments from both sides... I'll deal with this discussion in a future blog post.

As I noted in a previous post from forum discussions,

Religion is not just nice inoffensive Christians of various denominations who don't bother people. It's also those who are responsible for killing abortion doctors, impeding stem-cell research, preaching the sinfulness of condom use in AIDS-riddled sub-Saharan Africa, 9/11, 7/7, repression of women, honor killings in the Muslim world, violence against homosexuals.... the list goes on and on. That's what aggressive religious people do. These things are directly attributable to religion. (It's not only atheists that say that, by the way. Those who commit those acts say it. If nothing else, we're taking them at their word, and giving them credit for honesty.)
What do aggressive atheists do? They speak their mind.
And you're saying we should be quiet?"

"The ringleader...Edwin Kagin"

This treads on the territory of viewing Edwin as "the leader of atheists," but there is no "leader" or "holy book" for atheists. This post on the Iron Chariots Wiki dispels this crazy argument. I've also extensively reviewed and responded to arguments that "atheism is a religion" from a set of videos in these previous posts here, here, and here.

"...symbolically remove the baptismal water"

The video later says that this is not a "symbolic" removal, but rather a joke that really means nothing in terms of a "official ceremony" like baptism or any other sacrament intends to actually do something and is connected to some divine source or filled with a divine meaning. Sacraments, as I have learned, are a "gift from God" in the Roman Catholic church (and elsewhere).

"sometimes you gotta have shock value...they ask questions"

This is an excellent quote from the video! It's not always easy to gain attention and various methods work for various people and grab attention. Advertisers, news commentators, and comedians use shock value to grab the attention of audiences and provoke people to think. People are often persuaded for various reasons and although shock may certainly not "deconvert" people and may turn many off, some people will think and listen. Atheists really aren't out there to convert people anyway...or at least I'm not. I'd love for people to understand my arguments, would like to see people thinking critically, and would love to be in the company of more non-theists in this nation, but I'm no miracle worker and don't expect to be. My main focuses are to present arguments [that people may not have heard before], have other people understand my reasons for my positions, and provoke thought.

"Look at them there, they're making fun of the church...we're having fun and you guys take it seriously"

Exactly. Atheists aren't taking this de-baptism thing seriously. It's fun for those participating and it's intending to demonstrate that nothing is sacred and that this ceremony is as ridiculous as baptism is.

"A new brand of in-your-face atheists"

Oh, no, another "brand" of atheists... There's nothing new about this, but perhaps you now see more people with the courage to speak up and attend events like this.

"Religion is the source for...strength, serenity...good works..."

Great, but utility doesn't matter when truth value is concerned; the behavioral effects and comfort of people who believe something don't give merit to the belief's truth value. If believers in Mithra claimed that they benefited a great deal from the belief and behaved well, does this suddenly make the belief plausible...? Of course not! As Kagin says in the video, bad often comes from religion too. We can get all the benefits from religion more honestly and without claiming anything on little or no evidence from other sources.

"Godlessness has been a force for evil...Stalin, Pol Pot"

Oh, the interviewer should have included Hitler too. This "argument" is garbage and I debunked it several times in various posts like this one. Stalin and Pol Pot didn't kill because they didn't believe in a god...they killed because they had warped crazy beliefs, formed personality cults, and were cruel and evil individuals. Perhaps Stalin had a mustache...so are people with mustaches more likely to commit evil? Oh, but people without them behave well...even though some don't. Okay, I'll end the sarcasm already.

"Why use bad works as an excuse to mock"

There's no excuse and the bad works of religion are not the reason that atheists mock or criticize religion.

"If someone is so secure in their faith, why in the least are they concerned about some atheist mocking them?"

Excellent point, Kagin! Christians shouldn't care...and it's just in jest and not aimed at attacking people as is often misconstrued. I respond to they "Oh, you're offensive and attacking me" misconceptions here.

"The right to say what you want."

That's right. Free speech is important. Christians should be able to make fun of whatever they want and atheists should do the same...and people certainly shouldn't be killed for drawing cartoons or making movies. Comedy, as George Carlin said, is meant to tickle the funnybone and simply to make fun.