God Saves

One of the more disturbing aspects of religious belief is the notion that God intervenes to save people. Why does such a seemingly loving act perturb me? Because it implies that God, a being of infinite love and wisdom, is selective about who receives his mercy.

Consider an old be still relevant article inYahoo News titled “Tornado Survivor Vainly Claims God Saved Him,” by Andrew Riggio.  It takes a very critical stab at a man named Paul Lord, who a few months ago survived a tornado that killed several others. The statement that has garnered Riggio’s ire (and my own) is the following:

“We are truly blessed. God saved us, and that’s what it’s about.”

To which Riggio responds (as I certainly would):

That’s a load of baloney for several reasons.

For his statement to be true the events would have to have been under God’s direction. If so, describing anything about a tornado that destroys a town and kills several people a blessing is unwarranted. A true blessing would have been God’s hand directing the tornado away from the town so no one got killed and nothing got destroyed.

It’s also the height of hubris to claim God saved him. For that to be meaningful it must be assumed Lord was somehow more worthy of being saved than the five people the tornado killed. Three of the victims were girls of ages 5, 7 and 10 years old. Were those three children so vile in the eyes of God that they deserved death while Lord was deserving of rescue?

I’m happy that Lord was lucky to survive, but he’s displaying profound arrogance here, even if he doesn’t realize it. What makes him so special that the most powerful being imaginable personally intervened to save him, even though millions of people around the world suffer horribly without such intercession? All of it seems so arbitrary to me.

Of course most believers would argue that this is all part of God’s mysterious plan, though that of course is an assumption, since no one really knows what God’s plan is. In any case, what kind of objective would necessitate letting children die while men like Paul Lord are saved?

Furthermore, it always strikes me as odd that survivors of a tragedy will cite their faith in God as the reason for their survival. Weren’t many of the people who died also faithful? Didn’t they pray just as hard and go to church just as often? (remember, a lot of these disasters occur in very devout rural communities). What was God’s determining factor in picking and choosing? Why is he even doing that in the first place?

The fact is that religious believers will rationalize God’s will regardless of the outcome. If people survive, God saved them; if equally deserving people die, it was only because God called them up to heaven. You simply can’t lose.

As you could imagine, given the subject matter, the responses have been numerous and contentious. It was close to 700 comments last I checked. Here are a couple I found most interesting, in defense of God:

JustinW  •  Richardson, Texas  •  22 hrs ago

[Riggio, the writer] is obviously someone who believes, as is his right, that this life on this earth is all that there is. God has always taught that His ways are not comprehendible to us, so maybe He did spare a life while taking another for purposes we cannot understand.

Maybe, but why? Why spare one life and not another? What inconceivable purpose could it be, given that God could literally do whatever he wanted in this world? He could just as easily make it so no natural disasters exist. People will make all sorts of justifications about why these kinds of tragedies are necessary, but that doesn’t change the fact that God could have made the world however he wanted, such that we wouldn’t even need a concept of tragedy or struggle.

Here’s another favorite of mine:

Kleb  •  22 hrs ago

Wooooooow. Bitter much? The author’s argument presupposes that from God’s point of view death is bad. People of “true faith”, as his last sentence mentions, are equally grateful to God for His providence in death as in life. Look at the great heroes in Christianity. When they died they weren’t bawling and begging God to spare them, they were profoundly relieved to be joining Him and, at the same time, deeply grateful for the ride they had been on in this world. From a Christian perspective, then, there is no inconsistency here. The survivor is grateful for the life God has given him here, as he should be, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also looking forward to meeting the Lord.

Really? If that were the case, Christians wouldn’t be so keen on avoiding dangerous neighborhoods, having lifesaving surgery, and doing everything in their power to stay alive (and keep their loved ones alive too). Billions of people on this Earth would pretty much live recklessly, even nihilistically, under the assumption that they’ll go to heaven anyway.

Plus, let’s take this statement to its logical conclusion: should 6 million Jews be grateful to that God wanted them to join Him during the Holocaust? What about the 5 million children – many of them devout Christians – who die every year before the age of five, from any number of horrific causes? Should I tell them to chin up because they’ll join God anyway, even while I thank God for keeping me healthy and alive?

Karen W  •  1 day 1 hr ago

Riggio, What gives you the right to pass judgement on someone else’s belief’s? I bet if you stood in his shoes and survived what he went through you’d suddenly believe in miracles too!

Get a life and get a real job! You’re obviously no good at what you do!

And for every miracle that convinces someone that God’s around, there are millions of senseless tragedies that cause untold suffering and death. Heck, there are people who thank God for helping them pass a test or win a sport’s match while accepting that evil exists in this world and there’s nothing God can or should do about it (because, again, it’s part of his plan, etc). But God clearly needs to get his priorities straight if his mysterious intentions involve helping well-off people win competitions while the less fortunate die in droves.

Thankfully, there are a few voices – or I should say words – of reason as well.

Ted  •  21 hrs ago

The problem is that human beings respect logic. If Paul Lord was honest with his assessment he would have thanked God for sparing his life and in the same breath criticized God for killing those three little girls? I mean, is God responsible for all things or not? You can’t have it one way and disregard the other. Atheists cut to the chase; they say God is not responsible for any of it; it is just nature (probabilities and chance), no mysterious guiding hand to assign blame or gratitude to. If you think about it, this makes sense.

J  •  Rochester, New York  •  21 hrs ago

Obviously, God is too busy picking baseball, football and NASCAR winners to be bothered with saving Paulie from twisters. Ask any of them… they always seem to have god’s help.

To be clear, I’m not trying to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities. I’m merely trying to make sense of this logic. I was religious once, and I could certainly see the temptation to believe in God, especially given my fear of death and my despair at all the cruelty and suffering of this world. But as open-minded I am to the possibility that there is something out there (I don’t rule it out), I have hard time imagining that it is an incalculably wise and loving being, given the problem of evil.

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Thoughts of the Day

  • Part of what bothers me about the libertarian perspective is that it often comes from people who have lived their whole lives in the very system they claim is anathema to success and prosperity. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing the status quo and seeking to improve it, but when you suggest that the entire system is rotten to the core, even as you continue to live under it, that seems to undermine your point. These folks never opt to go to Somalia or any of the other numerous countries that are, in effect, stateless. By not voting with their feet, they’re tacitly admitting that the most prosperous places in the world all happen to be those with more developed state structures.
  • It’s strange to think that over seven billion other people are living out their lives as I write this. They think, dream, love, fight, and otherwise exist just like I do, all at once. That’s a lot of stories out there.
  • It’s not easy for any of us to be good people. We’re all flawed by our very nature: the human brain is not perfect, so we’ll always have moral and ethical failings (among other problems) to some degree or another. Even the best-trained mind makes mistakes. But what makes goodness so wonderful is that we try to be decent people anyway, despite the challenges. We must always hold ourselves to a higher standard while acknowledging out innate inclination for lapses in judgement and behavior. Or so I think anyway.
  • Since religious conservatives, especially (though not exclusively) those of Republican affiliation, are so fond of attributing natural disasters to God’s wrath, I wonder what they think about this storm Isaac interfering with the GOP convention. It seems it’s only an act of God if it doesn’t get in the way of their divine political mandate.
  • Everyone lies. Even primates and corvids, among the most advanced kind of animals, have been observed doing it often. The more developed the mind, the greater the inclination to deceive. There is no point is denying this paradox: we all hate lying, but we all do it, not only to deceive others but to deceive ourselves. Lies are often a manifestation of our own preferred truth. So in many cases, we lie less out of malice and more out of need.

The Science of Compassion

The New York Times reports on two studies that give a remarkable glimpse into the simplicity of compassion.

The results were striking: the simple act of tapping one’s hands in synchrony with another caused our participants to report feeling more similar to their partners and to have greater compassion for their plight: it increased the number of people who helped their partner by 31 percent and increased the average time spent helping from one minute to more than seven.

What these results suggest is that the compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them: if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves — even a relatively trivial one — the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly.

What does this mean for cultivating compassion in society? It means that effortful adherence to religious or philosophical dictums (often requiring meditation, prayer or moral education), though clearly valuable and capable of producing results, is not the only way to go. There is nothing special about tapping in synchrony; any such commonality will do. Increased compassion for one’s neighbor, for instance, can come from something as easy as encouraging yourself to think of him as (say) a fan of the same local restaurant instead of as a member of a different ethnicity.

Simply learning to mentally recategorize one another in terms of commonalities would generate greater empathy among all of us — and foster social harmony in a fairly effortless way.

It doesn’t take much to connect to another human being, and even these trivial commonalities are enough to instill altruism and harmony. Fascinating.

Around 40 – 44% of Americans Believe the End Times Will Arrive Before Their Lifetimes

Consider this: if nearly half the population of this country thinks – heck, knows – that the world will end before their lifetime, what is their incentive to worry about climate change, combating poverty, and ensuring world peace? Why make the world better for our children if we expect it to end indefinitely?

If anything, these people may actually welcome war and calamity, considering them as sure signs that Christ will soon come.

This anticipation for the end no doubt breeds a sort of nihilism that partly explains why the US is so backward when it comes to many socioeconomic issues. All that matters is the thereafter, not the here and now. All that matters is getting into heaven, not trying to make this one verifiable life as fulfilling for everyone as possible.

Obviously, not everyone who is religious, or believes in the rapture, has such warped and maladaptive views. But a sizable minority of Americans – to say nothing of other societies around the world – do, and it’s being reflected in political ideologies that reject and even demonizes environmentalism, aid to the poor, science, and other efforts to save our planet and improve the human condition.

Ain’t No Homos Going to Heaven

The following video, which has recently gone viral, is greatly disturbing: a little boy, being clearly coached, is singing a hateful litany about homosexuals – to rancorous approval and encouragement by his adult audience.

The Huffington Post reports:

The congregation in the church, which has been identified as the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Greensburg, Ind., gives a standing ovation after the child sings, “I know the Bible’s right, somebody’s wrong…ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven.”

While this appears to be a relative small community, it’s probably not the only one that promotes this sort of hatred. Even if it’s not as explicit as song-singing, plenty of churches teach young people that homosexuals – among others – are evil enough to deserve eternal torture by their loving God. So many young minds warped into being ignorant and hateful. I almost literally weep for this child.

Thankfully, this insidious nonsense (to put it lightly) is being given the attention it deserves:

A number of high profile lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) bloggers and allies have re-posted the video, including Towleroad and Joe. My. God. All have noted that the child was undoubtedly coached by adults for his performance.

“Interview with a Vampire” author Anne Rice also posted the video to her Facebook page, noting, “In this country, Christians can teach toddlers to hate and to persecute, and we, through the automatic tax exemption for churches, foot the bill.”

It remains to be seen where this pushback will lead. Whether they apologize or not – and I’m not holding my breath on that – the fact this is just a small sample of the hate-driven indoctrination that goes on throughout this country makes me lose sleep at night.

Think of how many kids are being unwittingly manipulated, like this boy, into being bigots, when they otherwise wouldn’t be? Think of how many prejudiced adults would’ve turned out okay if they hadn’t been born and raised in this sort of ignorant environment?

My only source of solace is that each coming generation seems to be more tolerant than the previous, and that many of these children do in fact break free of this brainwashing and abuse, thanks in large part to the better organized efforts of social justice advocates – and their expert use of the internet, which has become a major force in undermining this sort of madness.

It’s a difficult battle, but the social and ideological trends are on our side. We just need to keep pushing.

I’ll end this with a song that Jerry Coyne, one of my favorite bloggers, highlighted for its astute observation. Written in 1949 for the Broadway musical South Pacific, it’s called “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Poisoning the minds of children is clearly nothing new. But thankfully, neither are efforts to counteract it.

How Americans View Christianity’s Affect on Society

Close to 80% of Americans identify as Christians of some form or another, and most of them are pretty devout. Given that Christianity is touted for its moral and ethical teachings, it should be expected that a society that is this overwhelmingly religious – more so than any other developed country – should see a positive impact in overall societal wellbeing. Wouldn’t Christians themselves no doubt expect this?

The survey above examined this very question. Produced by Grey Matter Research and Consulting, a private research organization, the report is called “What Difference Does Christianity Make? How People Feel the Christian Faith Really Impacts (or Doesn’t Impact) America.” The data is drawn from a demographically representative sample of 1,000US adults* who were asked how they feel the Christian faith impacts 16 different areas. The sample included Christians of different denominations, people of other faiths, and the nonreligious. Again, since most Americans, and thus most respondents, describe themselves as Christian, the results more or less show how our Christian society views the impact of its own teachings.

Needless to say, the answers are very interesting, considering that many Christians viewed their own faith as having little or no impact in many areas. From the report:

“Over half of all Americans (54%) believe the Christian faith really does not impact how people treat the environment. Almost half believe the faith has no impact on ethics in the business world (44%), participation in politics and voting (44%), the amount of substance abuse in society (43%), or differences of opinion being discussed in a civil manner (42%). Christianity is considered to lack any real impact in eight other areas by around one out of three Americans”

Even more fascinating is the complex view that different believers – as well as nonbelievers – have towards one another. The popular perception is that most Christians find their teachings to be effective and superior, while secular folks would strongly beg to differ. But a break down of the data muddles this black-and-white concept of religious versus nonreligious.

Consider that when asked about their religion’s affect on helping the less fortunate, Christians answered overwhelmingly (79%) that Christianity has a positive impact, which isn’t too surprising – Christians generally pride themselves on the charitable nature of their belief system.

However, atheist and agnostics were pretty much in agreement with them: 67% stated Christianity had a positive impact in this area. In fact, secular respondents gave Christianity a far more positive score on this question than did members of other religions  – by contrast, only 49% of non-Christian religious believers believed Christianity had a positive impact on helping the less fortunate.

But it’d interesting to note that for the most part, those identifying as “atheist/agnostic” had similar answers to people of “other (non-Christian) religions,” which may be because that both groups feel marginalized or ostracized by an overwhelmingly Christian society. Maybe there is some level for kinship too, since a lot of minorities tend to find common cause with each other. I’d be curious to know how this dynamic works out in other developed countries, in which non-Christians are a much larger force, while devout believers – especially conservative ones – are a relative minority.

Another interesting point to consider are the differences that exist within Christianity, namely between Protestants – consisting mostly of conservative Evangelicals and a smaller number of  liberal Mainline groups – and Roman Catholics, who are also divided politically. According to the data, while Protestants generally see Christianity as having a positive impact on everything, Catholics are more nuanced: if you look at the breakdown of the report, 41% of Catholics view Christianity as having a negative impact on sexuality, compared to only 27% of Protestants. This also puts a lot of Catholics at odds with their own Church.

In conclusion, it is clear that Christianity’s influence in society is more complex than most people think. It’s perceived as something of a mixed bag even by its own believers, having a positive effect only in certain social areas, and an outright negative effect on others (namely sexuality, tolerance, and our global image). More importantly for secularists, these results give lie to the frequent and simplistic claim that nonreligious people (especially self-identified atheists) viscerally reject and despise religion at every turn. While that may certainly be true of some of us (and is no different than how some Christians treat nonbelievers), it’s apparent that many atheists, along with non-Christians, give credit to Christianity in certain areas, especially in poverty alleviation (which owes itself more to the fact that Christian churches have an organized and well-established structure, as well as a broader belief base, through which to give aid). Furthermore, religious and nonreligious people alike didn’t differ in their answers all that much, even agreeing that religion had no impact one way or the other in many areas.

So as with most social and ideological phenomenon, there is far more complexity and nuance than meets the eye.

*In every post I’ve made in which poll data is referenced, someone inevitably brings up the point that only a small number of people are questioned, and thus the results should not be seen as representative of the population as a whole. However, that is why the sample is designed to represent society’s demographics as closely as possible. Given that we cannot ask these questions on the census, which is the only poll of its kind to include everyone in the country, studies like these are the closest we have to figuring out what the country believes. I’m not saying it’s 100% definitive, but it shouldn’t be reflexively dismissed either, unless you’re willing to disbelieve any and all statistical data (which a lot of people do anyway, so in that case disregard this post).

The Origin of Easter

Courtesy of the History Channel. Like most holidays, the rituals, history, and even timing of this event are very complex:

The exact origins of this religious feast day’s name are unknown. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Other accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English. In Spanish, Easter is known as Pascua; in French, Paques. These words are derived from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Pascha eventually came to mean Easter.

Easter is really an entire season of the Christian church year, as opposed to a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry, a time in which Christians believe he survived various temptations by the devil. The day before Lent, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is a last hurrah of food and fun before the fasting begins. The week preceding Easter is called Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; Good Friday, which honors the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection. The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with Christmas, over the centuries various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy, have become a standard part of this holy holiday

Click that first hyperlink to learn more about it. Have a great day!

Friar Maximilian Kolbe

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar who was sent to Auschwitz for protecting 2,000 Jews in his monastery. While there, the camp administrators picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter escape attempts. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, was a Polish resistance fighter. When he cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe, who didn’t know him, volunteered to take his place, remarking that he had no such family to worry about. He literally gave his life for another human being.

In the starvation cell, he celebrated Mass each day and sung hyms with the prisoners, who he reassured by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven. Supposedly, each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell, appearing calm. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards eventually opted to give Kolbe a lethal injection to empty the cell once and for all; witnesses claim that he raised his left arm and calmly waited for the injection.

In the 1980s he was canonized as a saint and recognized as a martyr of charity.

The Self-Victimization of the Religious Right

In the Washington Post’s “On Faith” forum, columnist Paula Kirby takes politicians to task on their use of person suffering, or that of loved ones, as an appeal for being elected. The piece is a bit old, and partly references the GOP faith forum held in Iowa back in November, but its message is no less relevant:

Imagine that the year is 1932 and presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, instead of addressing himself to the economic paralysis that has gripped the nation, talks endlessly about the polio-induced paralysis of his own legs as some sort of unique qualification for the presidency. He blathers on about his deep faith in God as the reason he should be elected, weeps at the memory not only of his struggle with polio but of his own sins, and generally talks to the Americans as if they were choosing a Confessor/Penitent-in-Chief instead of a president.

That was exactly the spectacle presented last Saturday by Republican presidential candidates at a forum stressing faith and family in Des Moines, Iowa. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rich Santorum and the pizza impresario Herman Cain broke down when they spoke, respectively, about the brain tumors of a friend’s son, the birth of a daughter with a severe genetically determined disability, and being diagnosed with cancer.

Boo-hoo, gentlemen. Having endured the ordinary vicissitudes or the extraordinary and unfathomable tragedies of life and having sought the help of whatever God in whom you believe has absolutely nothing to do with your suitability for the nation’s highest office. An atheist would face the same tragedies without invoking God’s help and that, too, would have nothing to do with his or her fitness for the presidency.

The Iowa forum was a triumph of the union of psychobabble and public religiosity that has come to dominate American politics. President Obama’s refusal to engage in this kind of faith-infused psychological exhibitionism is one of the main reasons why the media (and not only conservative media) have tagged him as a cool professorial type who does not know how to make a connection with ordinary people. . .

Suffering does not always ennoble but, on the contrary, can sometimes create a grandiose sense of entitlement. . . .

While I would never advocate a return to the days when photographers would, out of misplaced deference to the office of the presidency, agree not to take pictures of the president in a wheelchair, being in a wheelchair (metaphorically or literally) tells you nothing about whether a man is an effective leader. It reveals a good deal about the character of a candidates, however, when they think that they deserve votes because they’ve had cancer or a brain-damaged child. This use of personal faith and personal suffering in politics is nothing less than an obscenity.

Kirby then contrasts this view of suffering with the GOP’s increasing diffidence towards alleviating, or at least properly acknowledging, the suffering of other Americans (though some would disagree with her prescription of government intervention).

I’d also add that the problem is hardly unique to religious conservatives – just about everyone in a position of power tries to play up their “credentials” as a man (or woman) of the people, since they ostensibly endured the same experiences and suffering. Some of it is clearly opportunistic self-promotion, but a lot of it may be a genuine attempt  to convince oneself that they aren’t as disconnected or selfish as they’re made out to be. 

But from the way the Christian Right portrays it, one would think this country was enduring some atheist-led witch-hunt against the religious. Religion is under assault, the values we hold dear are being eroded, and some sinister cabal of secular-liberal elites is out to destroy Christianity, it’s values, and with it, America. This mix of paranoia, intransigence, and self-victimization has become the bedrock of religious conservative rhetoric and identity.

Never mind that Christians comprise the overwhelming majority of the population, that a good chunk of Americans define themselves as moderate to conservative, and that religious convictions, though greatly secularized, are still strong. Apparently, Christianity is an oppressed minority that must fight for its survival.

Granted, some of this is partly drawn from some understandable concerns about this country’s future prospects and the grave problems we face. But clearly it’s being taken too far. Comparing our president to murderous dictators, and invoking notions of revolution and war (sometimes explicitly) lead us down a very dangerous path. At the very least, we’re polarizing society to the point of political and ideological stagnation.

Leaving aside the political basis for this mentality, it’s clear where the religious sentiment is drawn from – the fact that religion no longer has a monopoly on public opinion and social values. To be sure, Christianity remains influential and well-resourced, especially in the realm of politics (where you have to feign piety just to get elected). By some accounts, the Christian Right is growing in both numbers and power, just as the liberal Mainline Protestants continue their precipitous decline.

But a growing number of Americans, especially the younger generations, are starting to move away from established Christian mores – there is greater acceptance of homosexuality, gay marriage, other faith traditions, and non-traditional families. Attitudes towards sex, marriage, and religious doctrines have liberalized. Religion is still influential, but comparatively less so, especially as it’s taken on a more spiritual, non-denominational, and individualized character.

So for the most part, all of this thundering rhetoric is reactionary. Any time a dominant institution finds itself the least bit threatened, especially after a long period of privilege, it starts to become fearful and indignant. Raising so much ire about a loss of sociocultural hegemony is not a sign of confidence and security.

In all fairness, however, this mentality isn’t limited to the Christian right. Both leftists and atheists are prone to this behavior as well, albeit not with the same sense of flair or rhetorical skill (the political right is far better at framing issues or invoking the powerful symbolism of the Bible or American history). Everyone feels threatened, and the mood in this country is of palpable and intractable conflict between hardened factions: left vs. right, religious vs. secular, 1% vs. 99%, and so on. I discussed most of this at length several posts back.

I think that the same problem afflicts part of the atheist movement, the part in which any real or ostensible offense— offensiveness being the mildest form of suffering — is seen not only as a badge of honor, but as a plea for self-affirmation, a kind of affirmation that, I think, detracts from the goals of our movement.  How does it advance our agenda to heap tons of opprobrium on a misguided purveyor of gelato—especially one who immediately apologized—or to blame our personal failures on discrimination against atheists?  We know we’re a reviled minority, so let’s accept that, call it out when it seriously impedes our mission, and get on with the job.