When I found out that the National Atheist Party had invited Westboro Baptist Church to the Reason Rally in March, I couldn’t understand why. Why would we make a mockery out of what was supposed to be a reason-celebration event?
Why invite trolls?
Not surprisingly, I’m not alone in my opinion. Kelley from the Friendly Atheist wrote an article yesterday: Why the invite? And some of the most influential forefront atheists came out to agree in the comments section.
Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience:
If they’d have shown up on their own, THAT would have been something to talk about…but this is the rough equivalent of a movie studio hiring protesters to drum up advertising.
American Atheists (Prime promoters for the group)
We would not have invited them, but now that they are coming we *can* take advantage of it.
Meanwhile, a representative of NAP, Troy Boyle, played the fool:
Do you think that our invitation, just 3 weeks prior to the event, ACTUALLY persuaded the WBC to come? You’re not that naive.
Of course not. A tongue-in-cheek snarky letter inviting the most reviled hate-group in America to “Come on out and join the fun!” wouldn’t at all serve to incite their “righteous anger” at folks like us, who they fervently believe are the reason our country is facing so much hardship.
Give me a break.
Christians Respond: Victory for Reason!
In the comments, many of the atheists predicted (myself included) that outsiders would take the invite as a sign of weakness, or at least as us not wanting to properly reason with the already self-invited Christians who were coming there to rehash arguments for the existence of God (“witness”). We were right. RatioChristi, one of the prime organizers for the evangelism effort, is declaring the invite the creation of a straw-man:
It appears as if the Reason Rally organizers are setting in place their very own–live, in person, full color–straw man fallacy. They have invited the Westboro Baptists to their Washington D.C. “Reason Rally.”
I am somewhat inclined to agree that the move for an invite was nothing more than a publicity stunt, that has the potential to go badly. Sure; its cool to point to atheists as a reasonable alternative to WBC, but that shouldn’t be the thrust of our effort. The efforts to promote a reasoned, secular worldview should stand on their own, and do not need the backdrop of the fundamental problems we fight against.
This doesn’t magically make the PR move a straw-man (a logical fallacy in which, rather than attacking someone’s actual argument, you attack a weaker version of their argument). This would be a straw-man if we claimed all Christians are hate-mongering assholes, which is far from the fundamental claims of the New Atheists. The claims of the “reasons for god” coming from the TrueReason.org camp work equally well to defend Westboro. You’re on their side.
That’s the problem I have, at least; the arguments for God eventually rely on faith and individual revelation, and from there you get good-natured priests and fag-hating fundamentaists.
No True Scottsman? Again? Seriously?
The problem is this: “God” thinks like you, and it gives people a licence to do things with a mindset that they will reap eternal rewards regardless of this life. This delusion creates problems, because the “proof” is separated from the “Pudding.” If my reputation is destroyed, I have nothing else. Atheists call each other idiots and judge based on rational, moral, and philosophical standards, and its quite easy to lose your reputation commodity as an atheist.
Dawkins’ comment about Rebecca Watson, for example, caused quite a bit of outrage throughout the atheist blogosphere. We atheists don’t have a “God told me so” to fall back on. When you do, God seems to always agree with what you want, whether it be witchcraft, hating gays, slavery, or ending sex slavery.
Such is the problem atheists have with Christianity, and in that respect, Christians trying to distance themselves from WBC are trying to pull a No True Scottsman. Westboro calls themselves Christians, work in God’s name, and believe fully that they will reap eternal joy in heaven (not in the name of satan, or in the name of no god). This is no different from Christians who cherry-pick different verses and live their lives in radically different ways, and say that the holy spirit guides them to kindness.
Westboro are assholes. So are many atheists. But I get to call them out on in with rational, reason-based authority, and if it doesn’t work, lock them up through legislation against certain asshole-ish acts (murder, theft, rape, etc). I don’t have to distance myself from asshole atheists, but WBC perfectly illustrates why most atheists get pissed off at religion.
“God told me to” ceases to be a functional rationalization only when you have no gods.
In the end, the fact that some idiotic atheist who don’t represent us all invited WBC highlights a cool thing in the atheist community. Rather than distancing ourselves, many are “making lemonade,” from the situation. So we have a diversity of opinions. So be it. We don’t have to distance ourselves from our red-headed stepchildren. I love and hate the National Atheist Party, but i won’t go around screaming that they’re not true atheists; I’ll just blog about how stupid they are.
In the end, an atheist has no metaphysical basis for being an asshole. They’re just an asshole, and I’ll tell him that to their face.