Opposing the Invisible Alien Ritual February 5, 2010

Opposing the Invisible Alien Ritual

In Tampa, Florida, the City Council conducts pre-meeting prayers.

Not surprisingly, atheists are not happy about this and they want to see the practice stopped. (I’m not sure where non-Christians are, but they have a right to be mad, too. Hell, so do Christians who support church/state separation.)

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to persuade people that your argument against the prayers is a good one.

Rob Curry, the newly-hired executive director of the Atheists of Florida, shows us the right way to do this:

… Curry took the floor, saying that roughly 10 percent of the population considers themselves atheists, and requiring people to rise and pray before government meetings discriminates against them.

“Please consider protecting atheists from discrimination, starting with something that is easy to fix, quick and harms no one. Simply replace the invocation, which is divisive, with a moment of silence or reflection,” Curry said. “We’re not against prayer, we’re against the entanglement of religion and government.”

His remarks were met with applause and [Council Chairman Tom] Scott banged the gavel again.

“There will be no clapping,” he said.

When someone has to stop the applause in your favor, you did good.

So what’s the wrong way to make your case? Let’s listen to John Kieffer, president of Atheists of Florida:

John Kieffer, president of Atheists of Florida, said since council members didn’t seem to understand the points he made two weeks ago, he would try to put it in “more simple and generic terms.”

“Believe it or not, there are people who believe in invisible aliens,” he said. “Believers usually talk to these aliens mentally and silently, but sometimes in a standing ritual.”

People who don’t believe in the aliens and decline to rise, he said, stand out like a “ketchup stain on a white shirt.”

“When you do the invisible alien standing ritual at your meetings, I don’t know what to do. You see, I’m not a believer in invisible aliens,” he said. “What should I do? Lie to fit in, or be the hated ketchup stain.”


For some reason, the article doesn’t mention a round of applause after that one.

C’mon… you have to know your audience.

You have to know they’re not going to be receptive to being called followers of invisible aliens. I’m sure it was funny in Kieffer’s head, but it was stupid to say in practice. And it only hurts your case.

To the supporters of the prayer, the city government — any level of government, really — is not the place to worship your… um… invisible alien. They have other buildings for that sort of thing.

Let’s just keep public religion (and atheism) out of the political process. There are far better issues to be debating in those chambers.

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  • Siamang

    I’ve been to enough city council meetings to have heard guys like that second guy.

    There’s always a few of them at open-mike time.

    Politicians are really good at ignoring them.

  • Great thing about atheists are we’re all kinds of people, with all kinds of idea, and only one small thing in common – a lack of belief in god(s).

    But we’re not a cohesive group and disagree on many things, not least how to state our case. And that can be a drawback when we do come to state our case.

    However, on the whole, I wouldn’t support an “organized atheism” like an “organized religion” as I really think the main bit with religion is not the “religion” bit, but the “organized” bit.

  • *giggling* “invisible alien standing ritual”

    I’ll have to remember that!

  • Twin-Skies

    Moral of the story:

    Oftentimes, KISS is the best approach to putting your point across?

  • muggle

    LOL! Kieffer’s is funny inside my head too.

    However, this is why I don’t make myself a spokesperson. I don’t have the class. I shoot from the hip and think later.

    Pretty cool that the guy who did have the class got a standing ovation, so to speak.

  • muggle

    LOL! Kieffer’s is funny inside my head too.

    However, this is why I don’t make myself a spokesperson. I don’t have the class. I shoot from the hip and think later.

    Pretty cool that the guy who did have the class got a standing ovation, so to speak.

  • Stephen P

    Mixed feelings on this one. Yes, one should start with the assumption that the people you are talking to are open to reason and act accordingly. But if they demonstrate they are not open to reason, then ridicule has its place. Having said that, someone who is on the committee of an atheist organisation would probably be best advised to take the high ground, and leave the ridicule to others.

  • Fred

    Atheists aren’t a homogeneous group, so why should their comments be homogeneous?

    As for effectiveness, different strategies work on different people. Sometimes ridicule can be very effective in getting people to think about their core assumptions.

  • I was informed of this blog post today and thought I’d pop in and say “hi.”

    On my use of “invisible alien,” or more accurately, a “thought-monitoring invisible alien,” as a substitute for the normative term for the “God” character, let me reference the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”

    Let me put my act into some strategic context: I am in the paradigm changing business, and I think that all atheists should be thinking like that too.

    I comprehend situations such as those that we confront in Tampa in which government officials use their public venue to proselytize (ie: official city council prayers) NOT as PROBLEMS but OPPORTUNITIES: indispensable opportunities to challenge normative thinking. Since religious ritual is introduced as official business in government settings, these are absolutely precious occasions in which atheists can come forward, be visible and communicate publicly the absurdity of the notions that are being promoted by these government officials. Of course, all this wonderful lambasting must be done in the context of having these religious rituals removed on constitutional grounds.

    Significantly, it is not only the officials that hear our message (in fact, that’s not really who I’m talking to), it is instead the audience in the room, on the public television channel that is played several times during the week (in some cases archived for review for years), and especially, the newspaper reporters looking for something to report. It is they who will disseminate such cognitively dissonant notions as my referencing the God character as a “thought-monitoring invisible alien” to an audience numbering into the hundreds of thousands. I ask: what effect does such an idea have on the many readers who may be “fence-sitting” on the teachings of their religious indoctrination? It is my conviction, that our atheist messages, through the gift provided by these theistic government officials, impinge the public psyche in ways that are hard to beat and far overwhelm the relatively miniscule religious promotion, if any, that these government rituals offer.

    One more time: people, we are being handed golden opportunities daily; it’s a target rich environment out there that is hardly being tapped. We have an opportunity to erode the “taken for granted” status of normative religious notions. So, get out there, get angry, demand your civil rights while telling it like it is.

    And one last thought: maybe calling “God” a “mind-monitoring invisible alien” can be compared to the fabled outcry that the “emperor has no clothes” … rude, yes, stupid, no.

  • Ridicule works on kids and slaves. Give me and example of how well it works otherwise. I enjoy a good rant, but don’t expect to make my case with it and change most minds, just piss off the receiver of my message and make everyone else laugh at my joke. Oh, yeah, and get the press and bloggers to talk about me, too.

  • Let’s engage your “piss off the receiver” concern.

    1) If anyone should be pissed, really pissed in all this, it is me, the atheist, for being treated like a second class citizen in city council meetings. Their invocations force me to choose from two totally unacceptable options: either PRETEND to pray (to keep from being identified as a religious outsider) OR be true to myself and worldview and SIT through the government prayer, be identified as a religious outsider and possibly be covertly discriminated against by the government officials and community who knows me, my family and my business lively-hood.

    2) Moreover, theists who get pissed are really not who I care one way or the other about. Recall from my earlier post, I’m in the paradigm changing business; hence, I challenge normative, taken for granted beliefs so that they are no longer “taken for granted” … and that is Step One in changing worldviews.

    Hence, my target is the fence-sitter, most of whom, I would estimate, are young people, who may get wind of my speech by reading a news reports about it … maybe even reading this blog.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  • EllenBeth Wachs

    I am curious as to who appointed Mr. Mehta the arbiter of what is the right way and what is the wrong way of approaching a situation? Applause after a speech is not an indicator of the effectiveness of the content just of the popularity of what has been said. The two cannot be equated as one cannot measure the reach of the words outside of the council chambers.

    While I may not agree with either of these styles, they both have a place on the landscape of this debate and to publicly belittle one is certainly not a productive and meaningful approach to this problem.

  • David in Sarasota

    John, My comment was to Fred as I did not see your post before mine made the thread last night. Now that you mention it, though, I assumed you wanted to remove the invocation, not to proselytize.

    I did not say it is wrong to be mad or sarcastic, just that it is not likely to work in convincing the Council to remove the invocation.

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