Fiction for Fiction March 31, 2008

Fiction for Fiction

From the forums.

Some of you may recall the “Smut for Smut” campaign a college atheist group ran a while back. If you handed the atheists your Bible (smut), they would give you back pornography (smut) in return. Because, really, it’s the same thing…

Lots of publicity. Negative publicity. It’s cute and clever, but it doesn’t get the point across to the people you’re trying to reach. If anything, it offends them.

Jennifer at Purdue University is thinking of doing something a little less… well… blasphemous.

… we were thinking of doing a “Fiction for Fiction” event. Same idea – turn in religious texts, but we give fiction novels in return. Our general message is this: while religious texts may give some moral guidance, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily true. Morals and insight into human life can be taken from nearly any fiction novel. You have to critically think about what you’re reading and not just take it at face value, or how someone is telling you that you should understand it.

That’s just an explanation I typed up this moment, but the ones we’d have on posters and fliers and such would be better. Does this sound like a good idea at all? Any suggestions on how to word things as to minimize the pissing off factor? I realize this will anger some people, and anger alone isn’t our goal. We want people to think about their believes, and if that takes some shock factor, then so be it.

I think this is much more of an acceptable idea. It still has the shock value she’s going for, but I don’t see it warranting the rage response. Plus, there are plenty of Christians who don’t take the Bible literally, either…

Any advice on how to make it more palatable to Christians?

Or how to word the fliers?

Or whether Jennifer should do this at all?

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  • It’s funny that they’re looking for ways to avoid pissing people off when the entire idea is flamebait. Calling the Bible “fiction” is just picking a fight. You can go ahead and call it historically inaccurate and mythological, but that doesn’t make it fiction– it’s just as foolish as viewing it as fact. Am I crazy, or would most people agree with that? Ancient historical texts can’t be placed on the same level as a Stephen King novel.

    Even though it’s outrageous, the “smut for smut” campaign actually rings a little truer for me. Calling the Bible “smut” is an entirely subjective (and valid) view — calling it “fiction” is making an objective claim that isn’t actually true.

    (Also, I’m not suggestion the entirely of the Bible is ancient historial text — it’s a very small minority of the OT.)

  • David D.G.

    What a novel idea! ;^D

    Actually, it might get expensive to hand out novels — ones that are worth reading, anyway. But it might be cheaper, and in my opinion it would be more appropriate, to hand out reprints or summaries of fairy tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and perhaps Aesop’s fables as well.

    Or, for that matter, you could give “myth for myth” by handing out reprints or summaries of tales from Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Norse mythology (and others, if you feel so inclined) — especially the ones that the Bible’s tales so closely copy. It seems like too good an opportunity to myth!

    ~David D.G.

  • Ah, “Myth for Myth” is something I find easier to digest 🙂

  • Adam

    I go to Purdue and would gladly help you hand out novels/publicize this event. I think Purdue is the perfect place for something like this. We have preachers on campus all the time railing at us not to drink, why not do something positive and get people to think rationally?
    Its a great idea!
    email me:

  • Cade

    Aaron, I get your argument, but I doubt that many people will be getting worked up over the subtle distinctions in the language. The main point isn’t that it’s the same as a Steven King novel, it’s just that the Bible isn’t a valid source of information. Perhaps the word “fiction” is a little off base, but I don’t think it’s far enough off to make a big deal out of.

  • I don’t know — I think using the word “fiction” is going to have a bigger backlash than people think. “The Bible equals Harry Potter” is a lot harder to sell than “The Bible equals The Epic of Gilgamesh”. If you actually want people to stop and think about it, you need to tread lightly (or you’ll just see them walk away in a huff).

  • Hemant, thanks for the plug! (This is the Jennifer from the above post). And thanks everyone for the insight, I really appreciate it.

    As for the cost, we already have a pile of used novels that members have donated to the cause. We have everything from Jurassic Park to The Odyssey (and 2001: Space Odyssey). I really like the idea of Myths for Myths, but 1) I’m not sure if students would just want printed out packets, and 2) I think a lot of people will take Myth to be just as offensive. Myth implies to many that something is completely made up. I know in my Ancient Lit class, many people were offended that we studied Bible stories as myths in addition to the Epic of Gilgamesh and such. I think we’ll try to make clear that the Bible can contain some factual information, just like any fiction novel, but that doesn’t make everything in it true.

    Maybe something other than “Fiction for Fiction”? Honestly, it doesn’t even need an official title, but I think a little punch is a good thing.

  • Kathryn

    I agree with Aaron, myth for myth sounds a bit better. “Fiction for fiction” just doesn’t seem that interesting. Plus, myth really is more accurate.

  • Aj

    Viewing the Bible as a genuine attempt at recording history is problematic to say the least, and I doubt many of us would. We don’t have to go around pretending what people believe is justified or true.

    HBO’s “John Adams” or “Deadwood” have historical events, people, and places, but they’re fiction, because there’s an element of imagination to creat them. Myth is more accurate, but fiction is also correct, myths are a particular type of fictional story.

  • Darryl

    mostly a waste of time

  • Why make it more palatable?

    Nobody is forcing people who want to hang on to their bibles to give them up! Their outrage is nothing more than a demonstration of the existence of the unwarranted privileged position their faith holds – a privilege that they don’t wish to have challenged.

    You cannot challenge the privileged position of faith by reinforcing that privilege.

    Making the message “more palatable” is exactly that – privileging faith.

    I don’t mind someone saying that they disagree with the idea of distributing pornography in principle, but it’s not simply the distribution of smut that has the precious theist privilege-o-meter alarm bells ringing here. It’s the lack of accordance of a privilege to the bible.

    What about offering a choice – trade your bible for something useful, and take your pick:

    (i) smut
    (ii) fiction
    (iii) a bag of horse manure for your roses …

    What other useful things could you trade a bible for?

  • Corncob

    Fables for fables? It’s not quite accurate so far as the novels go, or really so far as the Bible goes, but it’s got better connotations if you’re looking to avoid angering the reactionaries too much.

  • Milena

    But the whole point of the event is to show people that moral lessons aren’t exclusive to religious texts and to get them thinking outside of the Bible’s box. In that sense, I think it’s a great idea. The focus shouldn’t be on the name of the event — it should be on the message and the purpose.

  • Go Boilermakers! I went to Purdue, and I wish I now lived close enough to help out. My husband suggests “Science Fiction for Fiction.”

  • Jen

    Have I ever mentioned that I would totally trade my Awana’s Bible for free porn? I would. As long as it was good porn. On the otherhand, sci-fi bores me.

  • weren’t you okay with smut for smut when you first posted it? from the get go it’s given me a queasy feeling. offending people in such crash fratboy ways is not the way to go. they may be slightly humorously (emphasis of slightly), but they’re counterproductive … and really quite ridiculous. i’m not going to stand behind something just b/c it’s atheist. i give credit where credit is due.

    i really like the fiction for fiction idea. except that i’m sure christians will say that the bible is where morality was first brought up (which we all know is bogus, b/c there were moral religions before then). but still, like you said, it still has the shock value, but it’s packaged in a much better way.

    for the most part, i really enjoy this blog. i wonder how you have time to keep it updated as much as you do, but i’m glad you do. and where’s richard? i miss him!

  • weren’t you okay with smut for smut when you first posted it?

    I don’t think I was… like I said, I thought it was catchy, but ultimately, it doesn’t help the atheists make their point.

    i wonder how you have time to keep it updated as much as you do

    Caffeine. Lots of caffeine.

    where’s richard? i miss him!

    I do, too! He’s here. But he’s busier than usual. Hopefully, he’ll be contributing again soon.

  • stogoe

    “The Bible equals Harry Potter”

    Of course it doesn’t. Harry Potter actually has a good moral theme.

  • Kate

    Hm. Makes me ashamed to have that “atheist” label attached to my name. Thanks for the fabulous image boost, guys. Totally appreciate the good PR. We’re not hated enough in this country. Come on now, we can do better!!! Let’s BURN a big pile of babies and Bibles!!

    Go give the money to a homeless shelter instead of pulling an immature prank that will not change change ANYONE’S mind and only serve to piss people off. Let’s do something productive for once.

    Oh no wait, that’s against the atheist code. Whoops, totally forgot. Shame on me.

  • Erik

    Hemant, was it really necessary to include the line that “really, it’s the same thing” concerning the Bible and smut? Really…this coming from the same guy who wrote “I Sold My Soul On eBay”, the first book I’ve ever read from an atheist trying to bridge the divide between the religious and non-religious? Were you just putting on a front to write that book? So much has changed since last summer…

    I’m very much offended that you’re willing to equate the Bible with porn. I can understand equating it perhaps with other religious texts or ancient stories, but porn…that’s beyond the pale.

    What’s more, the fiction for fiction idea isn’t entirely accurate either. While I (a Christian) will readily admit that there is some fiction in the Bible (the story of Job is a fictional play, Song of Solomon is a poem, the entire first few chapters of Genesis are just a allegory) there are other parts which are quite factual and backed up with archeology and accurate cross-references to other regional cultures which existed concurrently with the early Jews (just one example). So yes, the Bible has fiction, it also has poetry, songs, plays, and historical accounts…how much of the narrative parts you want to ascribe as fiction is a personal choice, but you can’t write off the whole thing as worthless and certainly not on the same level as Penthouse.

    Hemant, I wrote you once before to let you know my feelings about the direction of the blog last year. Due to things like this and other posts within the past few months with similar jabs at Christians, I’ve lost most of the respect I had for you when Kate and I shared our Christian/Atheist dating story. Why did you go from building bridges to throwing mud?

    Hemant, I’m disapointed…I feel like your blog is just one more lost opportunity for peace and reconciliation in a world that desperately needs it…

  • Claire

    It’s pretty clear to me that Hemant was describing the “smut for smut” event in the view of the people who ran it, not giving his own opinion. Especially since he followed it with “it doesn’t get the point across to the people you’re trying to reach. If anything, it offends them.”

    Why is it suddenly the fashion to be hypercritical (even to the point of misinterpretation) of every tiny thing the blog owner posts? Sheesh….

  • Erik

    I think some of that was added or modified after I read when it was posted. Even if I’m wrong on that, Hement said “it’s the same thing” of the Bible and porn. Sometimes one comment can be more telling than the entire blog post. Consider the porn/Bible comment as the blasting cap and all other disparaging comments on this blog as the explosive, and that’s what made me want to share my mind today.

  • Claire

    I still think he meant it sarcastically rather than sincerely.

    So, on the topic of these exchanges, does anyone know what they do with the bibles they get?

  • Aj

    Here comes the pathetic faked indignation from a theist and special pleading advocate for religion atheist.

    a) See the “…” on the end of Hemant’s sentence, that can indicate many things, but in this case it indicates sarcasm, because of the “really” intensifier at the beginning of the sentence.

    b) Anyone who’s not willing to view the Bible as fiction is not going to trade it in, that goes for double for people who are offended by suggested that’s the case. This is obviously targetted the less interested, apathetic Christians. Get people who are willing, to think, because you sure as shit won’t get those not willing to.

    c) There’s nothing wrong with saying that the Bible is fiction. I find it offensive that someone would say it’s true. As Stephen Fry once said, saying ‘I’m offended’ isn’t important, it’s just a whine, we can’t go around expecting not to be offended. I don’t give a shit whether you’re offended, it’s my opinion, it’s my business, it affects me.

  • Erik

    Once again, AJ completely misses the point of both mine and Kate’s post. At least that’s one thing I can count on here at *FRIENDLY*…

  • Claire

    Aj, care to explain what you meant by “special pleading advocate for religion atheist”? You completely lost me on that one.

  • Aj


    Once again, AJ completely misses the point of both mine and Kate’s post.

    Oh I see, you’re just misunderstood, your comments haven’t been one long inane whinge about how you’re offended. That’s funny, because they look exactly as if someone was incessantly whining about being offended. You’re even offended by something Hemant didn’t imply, that’s beyond the pale. You disagree, noted. You’re offended, I don’t care, please stop crying about it.


    Aj, care to explain what you meant by “special pleading advocate for religion atheist”? You completely lost me on that one.

    There are atheists that think that the Bible shouldn’t be criticized because it’s religion. Some atheists advocate this special pleading case for religion, who whine that we “piss people off”. It’s ironic, because they don’t seem to mind pissing me off at all. They don’t think that other subjects should be untouched, e.g. politics, that’s what makes it special pleading.

  • Jen

    That’s funny, because they look exactly as if someone was incessantly whining about being offended

    they kind of do yes. but considering how you go on about certain things on here sometimes, I find it ironic coming from you

  • Hemant, was it really necessary to include the line that “really, it’s the same thing” concerning the Bible and smut?

    Eric — It really was sarcasm. The line you mention was the attitude of those who ran the campaign, not my own. I think I just need to work on making it more obvious when I’m speaking sarcastically…

    (And fwiw, I didn’t change anything in this piece since it originally posted. I know this because I wrote it last night, it posted this morning, and I’ve been gone all day until just now)

  • I’m glad Hemant clarified that he was meant his comment sarcastically. However, I have to agree with Erik’s overall point which is that this entire blog has been on a downward spiral of snark and mudslinging over this past year, both in the tone of the posts and in the comments. There was a lot of potential for this blog to be a place for mutual understanding and the discovery of common ground, but I really feel like this golden opportunity has been missed and that makes me sad.

  • ErinBlaze

    Hey guys, I’m a member of the Nontheists Society at Purdue, and today was the last day for our “Fiction for Fiction” event. It actually went a lot better than any of us had expected! We got a lot of religious texts, including some relatively uncommon ones like the Tanakh, a few Gitas, The Book of Mormon, some Christian Apologetics things, etc, etc. We are keeping all of them for our club library, which we made quite clear to all inquirers. The vast majority of the people who visited our booth were supportive and/or understanding of our message. I was surprised by the number of Christians who really, really like the idea of critically reading religious texts and actually PRAISED us for promoting it. Of course there were a few nay-sayers, including a young man who told us our event was comparable to the KKK setting up a booth and burning crosses…. I still don’t quite get the connection, but whatever…. But regardless, it was really fun and it opened up a lot of healthy dialogue between the theists and nontheists at Purdue.

  • I saw the event. Well-received, and definitely made a point. Smut for smut would be pushing it too far on campus and would likely draw out the holy crusaders. Fiction for fiction has a nice ring and may be more apt to make people think about what it means instead of just “religion is trash/smut/crap”.

  • Imagine Reason

    If they don’t want to be offended, they shouldn’t have such funny beliefs. As for the historicity of the Bible, the book flat-out contradicts much of history. To call it non-fiction would be hugely, hugely inaccurate.

  • Lewis

    Just curious, what do they do with the books they are given?

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