To A or not to A August 5, 2007

To A or not to A

A couple more atheist bloggers are adding to the collection of voices that aren’t displaying the Scarlet A on their websites. Like myself, they’re not opposed to the campaign, but they think it’s not as helpful as some might suggest

The Exterminator at No More Hornets writes (emphases mine):

Displaying an ugly red “A” in the margins of your home page ain’t the same as being an admitted atheist in real life. If you’ve got a solid freethinking blog, everyone who reads it should know very well where you stand in the god-belief continuum: you’re OUTside it. My no-A blog is just as godless – maybe even more so – than someone else’s A-displaying site.

I, for one, happen to be an avowed atheist in my everyday, non-blogger existence. I speak out, loudly and often. My family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances all know that I think religions are nonsense. Do I need an A to identify myself? Not as long as my voice still works.

Alonzo at the Atheist Ethicist writes:

… I figured that a blog by somebody who was not afraid to give his real name, a picture, and his home town while identifying himself as an atheist and intimately connecting his blog to the subject of morality might be an effective tool towards that end.

Both guys say much more than I’ve excerpted. Read their posts in full to get lengthier explanations.

If you are/aren’t wearing the A or posting it on your site, what are your reasons?

[tags]atheist, atheism, Richard Dawkins, Scarlet A[/tags]

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  • I don’t really understand the complaint here. Of course the A isn’t going to save the world; no one ever claimed it was everything we need. It’s just a symbol. Anyone who doesn’t like it shouldn’t use it, of course, but I don’t see the big deal, honestly. Cheers! Love your site.

  • I put an A on my site so that those who surf to it know that they have arrived at a friendly place. 🙂

  • At first I thought the “A” symbol was kinda silly. But it began to grow on me and now I really like it. I have put it on my site and I suggest others should do the same.

    Here’s what I like:

    1. Most people know the Scarlet Letter reference so it will get people’s attention.

    2. To me, the problem with most t-shirts and symbols I see atheists use, is that they only polarize people. While getting in the face of others has its uses, it does little to change peoples opinions. The “A” however, is a way to get conversation going. Someone has to ask you what it is. I am sure it won’t change many people either, but it is a subtle way to let people know where you stand and start a dialog.

    3. I think it is subtle enough to get encourage people to “come out of the closet.”

    4. On web sites it is a link to the Dawkins page which gives a very good explanation of the symbol use and purposes.

    Finally, I hope someone comes out with a nice little label pin you can wear on a suit. I’m not really a t-shirt kinda guy.



  • I think that the T-shirts would be alot more marketable if they didn’t have the web address for the Richard Dawkins website plastered under the “A”

  • I agree with Rich Orman. Take the damn ad off the shirt, I might even buy it. Let the wearer explain what it means, not the website.

    I have it on my blog, and explained why in my comment on No More Hornets.

  • The A on my site could stand for “atheist”, but I think it stands for “AWESOME”!


  • Colin

    I agree with the sentiment that “if you’ve got a solid freethinking blog”, people will *know* you’re an atheist, and there’s no need for the A. However, there’s plenty of people out there who are atheist but not militant about it, or where atheism / advocacy is not the main purpose of their site. I see the A as being directed towards the sort of people who want to quietly announce their support for the cause without being political / potentially inflammatory about it.

  • I didn’t have to think too hard about the philosophical implications of the “A” because my blog isn’t an atheist blog, it’s a blog that happens to be written by an atheist. It’s certainly no secret, but on the other hand, my identity as an atheist isn’t central to my writing.

  • Tao Jones

    I suspect the “A” campaign is more directed towards the discreet atheists or those who don’t have a voice. I think it’s just trying to encourage them to be open about their atheism. That’s fine for them I suppose. It’s just a symbol to rally around and if that makes individuals feel like they are part of a group, all the power to them.

    I wouldn’t use it because I already have a voice. I suspect that many atheist bloggers would feel the same way. We’re secure enough in our atheism that we don’t need to identify with a group or symbol.

    I don’t see this campaign lasting for a few reasons:

    The symbol itself is ugly and boring.

    Besides being a reference to the Scarlet Letter, it doesn’t really mean anything.

    What’s with the font? It looks so…. A-cademic. Yuck. Talk about a concept people can’t relate to. Atheism isn’t about liberal college students (and their professors) is it? It reminds me of a quote I read recently about the Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC. “Most of their projects fail because they hire people because they have an education, not because they have talent.” Sounds like that quote could be said about the creator of this campaign.

    The cross, the crescent, the Star of David, or even the swastika are all very powerful symbols, even without knowledge of their meaning. The “A” doesn’t come close in terms of immediate impact or indication of meaning.

  • I kind of think this “controversy” is a tempest in a teapot. Use it, don’t use it, whatever works for you: I’m fine either way. I haven’t put the A on my blog… but that’s mostly because my blog design is already too busy. But I think ragging on each other for using it or not using it is unnecessary and silly.

  • I haven’t put up the red A on my blog yet, and I’m still deciding whether I will do it.

    The scarlet A seems like a good choice for a symbol, but I’m kind of leaning in the direction of the Exterminator’s logic: my blog masthead has identified me as an atheist for years, and I’ve been writing about atheism (mixed with other topics) the whole time I’ve been on the Internet. Anyone who is paying attention to my online activities knows I’m an atheist. And that big A would take up valuable sidebar real-estate…

    On the other hand, I could see wearing a t-shirt with the A symbol on it since that would mean “outing” myself in a context where my atheism is normally less obvious. I think it would be funnier to get an FSM t-shirt though, and maybe even matching ones for my kids…

  • I posted my thoughts on the Scarlet A here: Darwin’s Dagger: In the Name of Nothing

  • I choose not to display it for the same reason I choose not to use my real name on my blog or most internet postings: career advancement. The Googling of job candidates is more commonplace now than ever before, and I don’t want a screener in HR to toss my resume without a second look simply because of some bias against atheists. Its the same reason you shouldn’t put age/gender/race descriptions on your resume (or your photograph). Everyone has biases, even those they won’t admit. I would rather my ability be the deciding factor in whether I get a job, not my beliefs (or lack thereof).

    If someone were to take the time to read my blog, they may or may not come to the conclusion that I am atheist, but that would take more time than the average background checker has the time or inclination to take.

  • I think the A is cool. I’ll put it on my blog, but I think it’s more important that I will be wearing a t-shirt. I think the whole point is that it starts to get people talking, in a non-threatening way. I think this has a lot more to do with people who are not aware that they are not alone in their atheism. Living in the Bible Belt, I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to religion. I’m pretty outspoken on my blog, though. It’s the day-to-day interaction that I think is more interesting – people seeing the t-shirt, talking to me about it, looking up the website etc.

    Of course, as a brown girl wearing a Dawkins t-shirt in Georgia, I’ll probably just get myself shot. But oh well… 🙂

  • I put it on my blog Quarkscrew even though it’s also an atheism-centered blog using my real name and with the atheistic focus spelled out right there in the masthead.

    I think it looks nice on my dark-background theme. It provides a link to the campaign site. It hopefully gives other atheists coming to my site a “you’re amongst friends here” vibe; I know I get one when I see it on other sites.

    Aesthetics vary from person to person, so if like Tao Jones you think it’s ugly, well, gustibus non est disputandum. Who said it had to be the one and only symbol? I’d like to see some others get popular too – I don’t really count the Darwin fish as it’s more an anti-creationist symbol.

    Most atheists, especially in America, have had to fight against pressures to conform their whole lives. I think it’s partly that which makes them react so strongly against anything they perceive as a ‘push’ toward conformity. Perhaps once they internalize the idea that no one’s forcing the A down their throat the more strident complainers will chill a bit.

    The A isn’t a trademarked symbol, so there’s nothing stopping anyone from producing their own t-shirts without the website address on it, or one with a smaller symbol, or a lapel pin or whatever.

  • I never really entertained the thought of putting it on my site at all. I think it party has to do with the fact that it’s obscure, and partly because I’m not the type of person to rally around symbols. Plus, my actual atheism (no belief in God) plays a minor role in my life (though I imagine that will change as I age). I also feel that it’s another of too many (weak) attempts to organize atheists when it doesn’t seem as if any more is needed.

  • The only thing that annoys me is that the “A” from the Scarlet letter refers to adultery, which can very well be argued as immoral. As an atheist, I’m constantly trying to assert my morality over anything else because some narrow-minded theists believe that you need the promise of an afterlife to be good.

    I put an A on my site so that those who surf to it know that they have arrived at a friendly place. 🙂

    I do agree with this logic; however, mine has atheist in the title so there are no misunderstandings.

  • Intergalactic Hussy (great handle btw), the point of the Scarlet Letter was that Hester Prynne wore what was supposed to be a symbol of shame proudly, because what it referred to was a true love and not the ignoble lust her small-minded community tried to make it out to be.

    That’s the thing I like best about the red A as a symbol – it is a way of saying that yes, I am an atheist, and no, it is not something to be ashamed of; I wear my atheism writ large and with pride.

  • All the comments here have been thoughtful and interesting. Perhaps I can throw in a few important details. In 2002, Richard Dawkins talked about the need for atheists to come out of the closet so that we can end our demonization and gain political influence. He said, “If my books sold as well as Stephen Hawking’s books, I would do it myself.” That was before The God Delusion, which sold a million copies (although The Purpose Driven Life sold 25 million). Guess what? Dawkins has money, thousands of fans, and unrelenting determination. Is any atheist in the world more capable of running a campaign like this?

    Remember, the OUT Campaign website was created only a few weeks ago. We haven’t heard anything about the “many exciting activities and plans” that Dawkins and friends have. I think it’s far too early to make any judgments.

    I think most of you are focusing too much on the symbol and t-shirts and not the campaign itself, but the aesthetic aspect is important too. The OUT Campaign symbol been called ugly and boring. But how is the scarlet A any worse as symbol than the lower case t (cross)? The scarlet A is also easily drawable (unlike for, example, the American Atheists symbol — a truly unsightly option) which is a plus for non-digital use.

    Besides the wonderfully clever symbolism, the A has the potential to become very meaningful. This is a fact of human nature: a single, unexplained letter is irresistibly mysterious. People will be helpless to inquire. (Does anyone remember the V from V for Vendetta?) If/When the A appears more frequently on chests, blogs, and elsewhere, it will acquire (modern) meaning. If only bloggers wouldn’t link to the OUT Campaign site, imagine the mystique it would gain! 😛

    I remember a fellow telling me that he liked the fact the the t-shirts aren’t yet obviously atheist, so that he could wear one without getting beat up. Right now I have a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster t-shirt that is a size too small and a Darwin one that is a size too big. (Perhaps when I’m finished developing my abs the FSM one will be perfect :P). I’m looking forward to getting an OUT shirt that is my size. What I’m hoping for most, however, is to see others wearing these; at one point the store was “OUT” of t-shirts! Dawkins’ wrote in his introduction to the OUT Campaign:

    Join an existing local neighbourhood atheist organization, or start one. Put a bumper sticker on your car. Wear a T-shirt. Wear Josh [Timonen]’s red A if you like it as much as I do, otherwise design your own or find one on a website such as; or wear no shirt at all, but please don’t carp at the very idea of standing up to be counted with other atheists.

    No hesitation, no excuses, no fear: I believe it’s time for atheists to decide, in the words of J.K. Rowling, “between what’s right and what’s easy.” Be an active atheist. Write to newspapera and politicians, phone in to radio shows, start a blog, make YouTube videos, start Wikipedia articles, and get yourself counted as a bright. I started an OUT Campaign group on Facebook with over 100 members and am planning an OUT video for YouTube; I’ve also being responding to anti-atheist videos. Do whatever you can to “break the spell.”

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