The Strange Case of Suppressing Atheism: Texan Theaters Reject Ads Again

Religious roots run deep in the culture of places and this is exemplified by communities who generate controversies out of religious preference and majority. It’s reflected in the culture of privilege and demonstrated by common uses of shrill behavior by vocal minorities who are backed up by quietly agreeing moderate majorities.

The current case that’s unfolding itself in Texas between a movie theater in Arlington, the Green Oaks Movie Tavern, and another one in Plano, the Angelika Film Center. In this case, the Dallas-Forth Worth Coalition of Reason sought to run family-oriented ads before movies (the advertisements are quite adorable, actually) but two times now they’ve been rejected by movie theaters on the basis of apparent policy or complaints after a deal had been struck to run them.

Advertisements connected to atheist interests commonly give rise to fake, astroturfed controversy. Although some of the campaigns have been loaded with deliberately caustic messages such as, “You know it’s a myth,” others have relegated themselves to simple messages such as “If you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone.” Both generate an equal level of surprise and appeal in local communities and with media organizations.

The DFWCOR advertisements display images of happy families, elderly, and smiling faces along with the message: “What makes our families beyond belief?” and “Our families are great without religion.”

Nothing stands out as controversial about this campaign. In fact, it’s possibly even more tame than any others that have received even more attention.

The first theater in Arlington rejected the advertisements after the deal was struck cited that they refused to run any religion-related ads before movies. FOX News, a news outlet well known for political and asocial distortion in their reporting, ran the story as if the advertisements were “directed at children,” rather than intended to be run in front of all movies at the theater.

The second theater in Plano recently agreed to take the advertisements, but then suddenly turned around and rejected them citing complaints from the community. Updates to the story have suggested that the decision to reject the ads came not from the theater itself, but further up the corporate chain. They had received complaints from people who had seen an article suggesting that the ads would be coming.

The story is still building, but this one is coming across like a very anti-social community intent on pushing these advertisements out of their sphere of influence.

For one, there’s literally nothing blatantly offensive about these ads to the reasonable ordinary person. Why certain community members felt the need to complain about it and the theater corporation decided to cave to their complaints feels somewhat strange.

We’ve seen this behavior several times before. With bus companies attempting to suppress or reject ads of an irreligious nature, with the florists surrounding Jessica Alquist who refused to deliver to her (although at least one was legitimately closed for the day), and even with billboard companies who refuse to put up advertisements for atheist groups. That’s not to say that advertisements haven’t been going up–sometimes not without a fight–but that there should be a fight at all, especially when billboards and bus ads in these networks run sectarian religious ads already.

I guess this wouldn’t be so apparent or demonstrable in the theater situation if the theater had done their homework initially (in the case of the “no religious ads” policy) and if the second one hadn’t accepted the ads just to have their corporate home office overrule them after that acceptance.

The problem is possibly all about exposure. If a few complaints from a small number of people can get an advertisement pulled; I wonder how many counter-complaints it will take for them to put it back up again or at least understand that they’re not dealing with a tiny minority of people they can just step on without consequence. It shouldn’t be necessary, but social pressure is already being used by one set of petty individuals.

The theaters in Plano do run advertisements for local religious organizations on a regular basis, so an atheist organization like DFWCOR wouldn’t be out of place amidst them.

Jesus Would Not be a Zombie…

I swear that I’ve observed this very-same discussion between the Way of the Master evangelicals and the Mill Avenue Resistance.

jesus-lich

Unlike many of the other mythological and fantasy archetypes, the literary addition of the lich is a relatively recent addition. Although the underlying history comes from a multitude of sources. The cognate for the word has a heavy weight from Old English and the German word lic referring to a corpse or body.

Many cultures have studies of ancient sorcerers who return after death to reanimate their own bodies. Most folklore from tribes that venerate their dead also suggest that the innate properties of the former person (given a connection to gods or a predilection to magic) could possess their former vessel. These expectations fuel a great deal of cultural awareness of the external spiritual worlds and the afterlife of the dead.

The best known example of the lich that I’m aware of comes from the Dungeons & Dragons game—which is well known for drawing on folklore and mythology of dozens of cultures (mostly European) and certainly the extent of the use of the term has grown out of the widespread appeal of D&D.

It’s not unexpected that geek culture would adapt to examine and redefine our understanding of the mythology of old and modern practices that involves it.

While each term used in the argument above is a discussion of external culture examining and categorizing internal Christian mythology and symbolism it hearkens back to the rise of the meme, “Zombie Jesus Day” in reference to the celebration of the holiday of Easter.

In a subcultural sense the terms and the argument in the poster will resonate in particular most boldly with geek culture. Well known for a sense of pedantry, an obsession with category and correctness, and that’s all that’s needed to attempt to morph a meme that’s seen as inaccurate.

Although, I doubt we’ll be seeing this meme take hold. It’s embedded too thoughtfully in the pedantry and doesn’t entertain enough of the pageantry.

As we’ve seen with previous memes often humor more than accuracy provides durability. The above poster may reappear next Easter holiday due to the nature of humans to categorize even their own thoughts and the mythology of others; however, the meme involving zombies will prevail due to its silly, irreverent nature.

If TV News Existed in 1200BC

No doubt the populations at odds in the Jewish myth of the exodous felt a certain amount of umbrage for the actions of one another. However, in the story, how could have the Jews or the Egyptians known that the god YHVH was purposefully changing the Pharaoh’s mind each time that Moses demanded that his people be released from their servitude.

I, for one, really loved the Eye of Ra transition effect between the different segments of the video.

Well produced and in some ways it pokes satire at modern foreign affairs—although sometimes these occurrences are little laughing matter.

This satirical faux news show is worthy of the Onion News Network.

Link, via YouTube.

Review: Beyond Religion

I am not a Buddhist. While I respect and admire Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, for many reasons, I do not revere him the way that many do. Rather than a holy icon, I simply see an intelligent and compassionate man who wants to help the world in whatever way he can. Fortunately, that also seems to be the way he sees himself.

Because of this, rather than the preachy and unsupported religious mandates conveyed by so many religious leaders, in his book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama appropriately shows one of the great differences between Buddhism and most Western religions by championing good ideas because they are good, not because we have been commanded to do them. He explains why he believes that these things are good for us, for the rest of the world, and why other things are not.

He explicitly is not attempting to win converts to Buddhism. Instead he seems to want to help all of us to benefit from some of its important observations about the world we live in, and how we can best live in and improve it, no matter what our views on religion may be. He simply conveys what he finds to be the best ethical ideas in a secular rather than religious framework.

Although he does show his respect for other religious traditions, given the nature of this book he primarily focuses on practical applications, real effects, and what we know of the science behind our ethical (and un-ethical) desires and actions.

To be sure, many different pieces of this book could be filled out into even longer books by themselves, so this should not be seen as the single go-to book for all ethical questions. Rather it is a book which the non-religious may benefit from by taking its good advice, and perhaps also gaining insight into their own ethical motivations and those of others, and it may also aid the religious in understanding that it is possible, and good, for all of us to follow the same basic ethical guidelines. Guidelines that don’t strictly adhere to or contradict any religious tradition, but which all believers and non-believers alike can agree on, if they are thoughtful and honest with themselves.

Rather than being an extremely in depth exploration of all ethical issues, this is a good introduction to secular ethics through the lenses of eastern philosophy and science; the lenses worn for a lifetime by its author.

There are certain things which I disagree with him on, such as the degree of difference between humans minds and those of other animals, probably stemming from a lack of extensive experience with them, and he seems to believe that there is a primarily good nature in all major religions. I can understand why someone, particularly someone in his position, might see things that way, but I do not share that view.

I do not doubt that the original believers in (if not always the creators of) almost all religions had good intentions and intended to produce something with a good nature, but every one of them was a fallible and (on a cosmic scale) very ignorant person, as we all are. Good intentions are great but when, by your own doing or that of others, negative and even dangerous ideas creep into the works, they can be every bit as much a negative force as the good parts are positive. Even worse, in many religions there is no way to ever truly remove such bad ideas…but I digress.

Fortunately the religious content of this book primarily consists of mentions of characters from the mythology of different religions, which may help to illustrate certain points to the people who know the stories, and occasional tips for believers in certain religions (or no religion). For example when discussing how to meditate, he explains how it is traditionally done, but also suggests that some religious people may be more comfortable or put into the correct frame of mind more easily by kneeling.

None of this is intended to dissuade anyone from reading the book. In fact I highly recommend it. It is simply a recognition that no one is an expert in every area, and that (as should probably be expected), the Dalai Lama’s writing is inclusive of all people, with and without faith, and despite the secular foundation of this book, it does not oppose religion – it just shows that it isn’t a necessity in building an ethical society.

Beyond Religion: Free Through December 20th

Through December 20th, 2011 Audible.com is offering the Dalai Lama’s new book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World for free!

I haven’t read it yet, but after reading a description I’m excited to see what’s in it.

In his new book "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World" His Holiness the Dalai Lama argues that religion is not a necessity for pursuing a spiritual life. Rather he proposes a system of secular ethics that transcends religion as a way to recognize our common humanity and so contributes to a global human community based on understanding and mutual respect.

I’ll post a review here once I’m done with it, but I have no doubt that it has some good advice to offer, so don’t hesitate to download it from Audible or get ahold of a physical or e-book version.

Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

After a lengthy, involved battle against esophageal cancer, cultural critic, opinionated journalist, and ardent advocate of atheism, Christopher Hitchens has died.

Vanity Fair has published a report confirming and mourning his death.

His passing will be felt by many and he shall be missed by even more.

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

- Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011.

Rick Perry: Not ashamed of being a homophobic bigot and a liar

Oh no wait, he actually says he’s not ashamed to be a Christian. However, after listening to what he said, perhaps he should be—either that or Christians would be ashamed to be grouped with him.

In his newest video, Rick Perry makes up confused lies about Obama’s administration and American jurisprudence while pandering to what can only be described as homophobic bigots as the Christian contingent of his audience.

Right now, this video has 257,247 down votes and only 5,493 up votes.

Not only does Rick Perry make himself a liar; but he also panders to Christians as if they’re ignorant, bigoted cretins. If this is the demographic that he wants to reach—homophobic idiots who don’t care about freedom of religion—I hope he loses his Presidential bid based only on that.

Gays openly serving in the military?

According to Rick Perry: non-ashamed Christians are homophobic, unpatriotic troglodytes.

Children not able to openly pray or celebrate Christmas in school?

Perry, Perry pants on fire.

The same laws that protect religious freedom of students to openly pray in school and celebrate Christmas prohibit public school officials from endorsing religion or leading prayer in schools.

Many who dislike the restriction placed on public school officials (acting as agents of the state) against endorsing religion or leading prayer often dishonestly misrepresent the trials of religious students who get in trouble in school as being it for their religion. For example, a student who disrupts class for opening her Bible and reading out loud during Geography gets sent to the principal for the disruption—not the Bible reading.

A student who gets disciplined for praying non-disruptively during lunch would have a case the ACLU would take against the school for suppressing her right to religious expression. Just like when they faced off against Colorado Springs School District 11 over a student’s right to wear religious symbols.

Rick Perry is complaining about the very underpinnings of what guarantees his right to freedom of religion.

Obama’s War on Religion?

I don’t know what people think has been going on under President Obama’s administration but he’s not really been that big of a friend of the separation of Chruch and State. Obama is also openly Christian and faced criticism for the fundamentalist views of the pastor at his church.

Religion—read: Christianity—has not suffered under Obama’s administration.

A vote for Perry is a vote for shameful bigotry and stupidity

If we want strong leaders in America, perhaps we should look for candidates who don’t insult not only the target of their bigotry but essentially portray their audience as unpleasant, shameful people.

America is already stronger than that.


Notable responses

 

Penn Jillette: An Atheist’s Guide to the 2012 Election

If anything, revealing that President Clinton was far more overtly religious than President Bush is an interesting demonstration about how religiosity is reflected in our culture and among our politicians. Especially because we’ve seen a lot of propaganda attempting to reflect poorly on President Obama by claiming he’s a Muslim, and then shortly (almost in the same breath) blaming him for the wacko-crazy Christian church that he belonged to.

Politicians pander to people in the ways they believe they’ll respond to; religion is both a great divider and a powerful motivator.

Of course, we’re probably not going to see any sort of religious vs. non-religious schism in political frames since really most of the class and language warfare is reflected between the empowered groups and disenfranchised groups. It’s about groping around and holding onto power in the face of other groups trying to take it away — or, especially in the case of the Information Age, the Internet bleeding power away from concentrated groups who maintain themselves by attempting to indoctrinate their children (or citizens, or parishioners) by lensing them a false vision of the rest of the world.

May 21st, 2011

Starting 2,000 years ago, Christians picked up the Jewish tradition of predicting the coming Kingdom of God / judgement / end of the world / etc. In fact according to the Bible, Jesus himself is depicted as predicting its imminent arrival!

“…there shall be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

- Matthew 16:28

We have records of hundreds of such predictions made by Christians since that time, and there were undoubtedly many, many more predictions made. Many if not all of these people seem to be very sure about their predictions. In fact the most recently famous prediction by Harold Camping came with billboards claiming that “The Bible Guarantees it”.

The truth is that it is possible to find numbers, patterns, coincidences and all kinds of things on which to base a prediction or other belief. When this is combined with a belief system like Christianity which teaches people to expect – even look forward to – the end of the world, you get one doomsday prediction after another, ad infinitum.

I will make one small prediction though, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here:

Anyone who predicts a date for the end of the world based entirely on the Christian Bible or other Christian teachings will be wrong.

Harold Camping, I am proud to induct you into the Hall of Fail for your incorrect prediction.

You could have looked at the long trail of failures behind you and decided not to needlessly embarrass yourself, but damn it, that numerology and bizarre Bible Math was just so convincing that you couldn’t hold your tongue.

I noticed that to cover your ass you claimed that this event was an invisible judgement that actually happened, and that the real end of the world is actually coming on October 21st, 2011. The second time around it gets even more difficult to weasel out of your failure, so I’m assuming you don’t plan to be around for that…?

Well, Godspeed ya crazy old bastard. Your senile ramblings will not soon be forgotten!

May 21, 2011

According to televangelist Harold Camping and his multitude of billboards, the end of the world is coming tomorrow, May 21st, 2001. He has previously given an incorrect date for “The Rapture”, but this time he is REALLY SURE about it, and he’s spent a lot of money on advertising, so we’d better take him seriously.

Maybe Harold made some kind of deal with Jesus for a special appearance? A reunion tour with the zombie apostles perhaps? Jesus hasn’t put anything out in millenia, so his funds must be running low. Who knows, maybe he’ll even open up a can of Divine Judgement on our asses just for fun!

So, since we’re so sure that Jesus will be here tomorrow, what are you doing in the last day before Judgement Day?

Are you making sure the house is clean for him? Looking for a hotel in case he tries to crash on your couch? Are you giving everything away to your heathen friends who won’t be Raptured? Are you the heathen friends, and if so are you fervently begging for forgiveness just in case?

Most of you are probably just like me, not worrying in the least. Perhaps I’ll spend the time writing about Christianity’s long and fruitless history of such predictions for you to read when the world doesn’t end tomorrow.

…but hey, if you want and excuse to party like it’s Judgement Day Eve……