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.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday January 10th, 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, January 10th 2009 (when it goes up.)

I was out wandering the Ave for a little while before the Resistance made their appearance. The Mill Avenue evangelicals set up outside of the Post Office, primarily in the form of Al; and Shawn3 was also present with several others.

Joe made an appearance today with a staff made out of a saguaro rib; spent most of the night speaking with a boy who was in the 8th grade about subjects spanning almost every sinew of human knowledge. Unfortunately, a great deal of these subjects require years of different classes just to grasp the interesting basics of, or at least hundreds of hours of documentaries. They ranged from basic Big Bang cosmology, the synthesis of elements, the formation of the solar system, the formation of the earth and moon, the cooling of the earth, radiology, radiological statistical analysis, the composition of the solar system (and cosmos), gravity, gravitation, and finally it slammed right into linguistics! Talk about making some ridiculous and impossible to fully translate leaps.

Fun listening though.

One of the fundamental issues with the discussion is that in philosophical epistemology there is the well known concept of indeterminacy. There is no certainty. One of the questions that the boy had about the subject had to do with colors—I the linguistic concept of definition. Definitions are definitive not certain; in fact, it’s readily shown that definitions in language are arbitrary, used for the primary purpose of communication and agreement. Everything in both our daily lives and science works on a principal of “certain enough.” I am certain enough that my pen will fall if I let go of it while holding it above the floor to expect that it shall; I cannot be totally certain because I cannot predict the future. However, for the purpose of sheer practicality “certain enough” is more than good enough for me to not let go of my pen because I don’t want to have to bend down and pick it up again.

The evangelicals also appear to have brought some wacky posters with them that play with cognitive linguistic hacks to display something? I assume that they’re trying to show that the senses of the world are fallible, but every argument from illusion has long been put down by epistemology and empirical consensus of the world. Interestingly, an image of Albert Einstein is also prominent on the poster.




These words are set up inside triangles so that each line is below the other and expanding outwards. This relies on a particular linguistic scanning trick—in natural English language cognition the processing of the words does not actually read articles and particles, they are accepted as parts of the grammar and structure but do not affect the overall meaning of the sentence. In fact, articles are even less process intense than particles (i.e. “the book” is easier to read than “her book,” as my editor has pointed out numerous times.) As a result while reading aloud the person will tend to drop the second declarative article, reading instead the first line as: “Paris in the spring.” Without saying “the” twice.

Shawn3 also brought out a big sign of his own on the top of a PVC pole.

Shawn3 requested that I spell check the sign below before I posted it… I don’t know why, it wasn’t misspelled on his sign. The words were extremely simple—maybe he didn’t write it himself. (Either that or he knows of an incident with Brother Jed where he has a banner that it thoroughly misspelled.)


This particular sign espouses the Christian myth of the resurrection from the dead of the god Jesus (a common mythological structure of a lot of cultural mythologies of gods—although interesting events of non-resurrections are also prevalent like Baldr and Orpheus’s Eurydice.) The other side had some of the usual fear and shame rhetoric about sin and I didn’t see it long enough to carve out exactly what it stated. It was a giant black velum sign with yellow and white lettering.

They also had a brief visitation by a small group of teens who wore interesting outfits. Particularly, they were wearing green hoodies with enneagrams, within which a cross set atop a circle circumscribed an inverted T (like the old map of the world symbol) all surmounted by a crown. All done with simple lines.

The symbol inside of the ennegrams is basically a version of the Cross Triumphant, or in this case a globus cruciger, with a crown above it. It is the emblem of the Carthusian monks, whose motto “Stat crux dum volvitur orbus” (the cross is steady while the world turns.) It appears to be a common component of all the symbolism connected to the United Church of Christ[1]. This symbol particularly interested me because I recognize it as extremely similar to a pagan symbol of the same concept: a dominating line over the orb of the Earth. In fact, British royalty is sworn in holding this orb in one hand (see: Scepter, Orb, and Crown.[2])

It is questionable as to why this particular symbol is then circumscribed by the enneagram. The enneagram (or nine pointed star, in this case double-inverted, making it an arch.)[3] Occult usages of the ennegram happen to include the Kabbalistic traditions, including the Christian Kabbalah from the Renaissance. The combination of the enneagram symbol with the UCC glyph lends me to believe the full diagram may be connected to a Cabbalistic tradition or at least some group that is somewhat familiar.

Example of the unknown symbol on green sweater
Fig 1.1: Example of the unknown symbol on a green sweater. Click for larger image.