Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The American Atheists' Counterproductive Billboards

This week the American Atheists unveiled two billboards that the organization will post in Charlotte, NC during the Democratic National Convention.  The billboards, the group proudly proclaims, expose “the foolishness of religion in the political landscape.”

Except they don’t do that. They don’t even try to do that.

One of the boards mocks Mormons for their, um, unorthodox beliefs about baptisms for the dead and their wearing of “magic underwear.” The other takes broader shots at Christianity in general, mocking Jesus as a “Sadistic God,” and “Useless Savior.”  Neither of the billboards mentions politics, the influence of religion on politics, any particular concerns about the separation of church and state or anything about why people should be concerned about Democrats or Republicans of faith.

In what would be considered ripe irony if only it were meant ironically, the billboards also tout atheists as “simply reasonable,” an image of atheists the billboards do just about everything they possibly can to subvert.

On a personal level, I was raised Mormon and came later in life to a worldview that does not include belief in the supernatural (or, in short, atheism). In my dealings with friends and families, I’ve tried to use reason and science to illustrate why I can no longer believe what I used to believe. A billboard that holds what my friends believe to be sacred up to public ridicule just makes my job that much more difficult. If that’s what atheists are, why the hell would they want to consider joining us!?

The funny thing is, mocking Mormons is probably a great way to entertain fundamentalist Christians, but the second billboard ensures that that larger group is also going to hate us.

On a less personal level, and speaking as someone whose career has been spent in marketing, advertising and public relations (I know, evil, right?), I’m at a total loss to understand what the American Atheists are trying to accomplish from a communications standpoint. I assume the goal here is not to win friends or influence people, but rather to engage in a PETA-style “engage-in-the- most-outrageous-stunt-imaginable-so-that-the-media-covers-us” PR effort.

But at least PETA, despite their overboard tactics, is promoting a cause to which most people, at some level, are going to be sympathetic. American Atheists can’t draw on any base of support among the general population. So a campaign like this just further defines us as cruel, sanctimonious and full of hate. Sure, let’s reinforce the worst things that most people already believe about us! That'll show 'em!

Yes, the media is covering and will continue to cover these billboards, providing advertising “value” that massively dwarfs the actual costs of the campaign. In PR, that’s always the goal. But in this case, what’s the point? They’re not making any case for separation of church and state. They can’t seriously be saying we shouldn’t vote for someone who is either Christian or Mormon or both, ‘cause who’s left?

And they’re making it that much harder for those of us who are atheists but who aren’t interested in being dicks to talk to our friends and families about our worldviews.

So thanks American Atheists.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Download an mp3 of "The Skeptic in the Room"

Every now and then someone encounters my song The Skeptic in the Room on YouTube and asks for an mp3. It was available on OpenDrive, but that doesn't seem to be working very well. So, as of now, it's available on Soundcloud.com.  If you'd like a copy, you can download it here:  http://soundcloud.com/eddiescott/the-skeptic-in-the-room

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity Wins; Science Takes Silver; Mankind Takes Bronze!

I will be, I'm sure, only one of thousands who will take to the Internet today to heap praise on the brilliant scientists and determined bureaucrats (yes, even them!) who made last night's apparently flawless landing of the Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars a reality.

As a non-scientist myself I have nothing to add to the technical musings of those are in a position to explain these things.  But, precisely as a non-scientist I stand in awe of those who could make this happen.  Dropping a one-ton Rover onto the surface of a planet that is over 100 million miles away? Doing it precisely on time and exactly where they wanted to? Capturing photographs of the landing by maneuvering another already-in-place Orbiter into exactly the right position in space? All of it boggles the mind! Who can imagine such things, let alone carry them out?

I can't really comprehend what all of this means for science. Sure I understand the goal of searching for past signs of life on Mars, and I really can't wait to see what they find (although, really, I just can't wait to see more high definition color photographs from freakin' Mars!). But knowing they were able to pull this off just makes me believe that much more in the power of man's ingenuity, creatively and, yes, curiosity.

As I surfed the web today and read what people were saying about last night's accomplishments I came across this bit from the "Bad Astronomer" himself, Phil Plait. I found it totally compelling and poetic:

"When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people."
I love the movie Apollo 13, and always get teary-eyed in that scene when the capsule finally reappears and the room full of exhausted scientists erupts in jubilation. And last night, watching the live NASA feed, I got teary-eyed again seeing that moment reenacted in real life and in real time. Truly awesome!