Is This Too Over the Top for an Atheist? May 12, 2010

Is This Too Over the Top for an Atheist?

Doug Stewart lives in Louisiana and he’s wondering if his “godless evangelism” has gone too far.

He’s very proud of being an atheist and he wants to share that with anyone willing to listen. (You might recall how Doug had previously held pro-atheist signs during Mardi Gras.)

This time, Doug is being a little more active about it all. Instead of just waiting for people to come to him, he’s helping facilitate that conversation.

First, his “GODLESS” license plate holder displays his phone number for anyone who would like to contact him to discuss faith:

Next, he put a miniature version of an atheist billboard on the roof of his car. It reads “Hello, I’m an Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?”

(And you thought a Darwin Fish bumper sticker would attract vandals?!)

Then, he decided to do something more questionable.

He dressed in his “Sunday best” and parked his car (legally) near churches so that parishioners leaving the service could get a glimpse of him — and hopefully engage him in conversation. He tried to be as polite as possible about it. In fact, before appearing at a local Catholic church, he emailed the priest to inform him what he was doing:

Pastor Calkins

I’m an atheist. www.godlessevangelist.com. I’d like to give the people that visit your church the opportunity to hear the alternate point of view.

I’m planning on standing outside your church after Sunday mass with a sign that says, “Hello, I’m an Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?” I also have some business cards with contact information and tracts to hand out to anyone that would take them.

I’d like to ask your advice on where I can stand and park my car so I’m not seeming too assertive or violating any laws.

If you would like to meet me prior to the event, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks,

Doug

He got a response fairly quickly:

Mr. Stewart,

I have received your e-mail. You are not welcome to be on the church property for the purposes of handing out literature or espousing your views.

Father Ronald Calkins

For what it’s worth, Doug had no intention of being on church property. But still, should he have gone there at all?

Doug parked a safe distance away and waited for people to exit the church:

I was acknowledged by, I would guess, the majority of people leaving. Some honked their horns; some slowed down to stare at me and did the sign of the cross on their bodies; and some just waved. I didn’t witness any angry behavior… And then the priests came out.

They told Doug they wanted him to leave. Doug told them he was concerned about the power of religion in the country, implying that he wasn’t about to move. One priest said Doug was “causing an obstruction” and Doug offered to move his car a short distance away (but still close enough to the church).

The priests reiterated that they just wanted Doug to go away.

Doug didn’t want to leave.

So the priests called the cops. Here’s Doug recollection of what happened:

The police car came almost immediately. The officer asked me to stay with my car and spoke to the church officials first. He was with them for about 10 to 15 minutes… Then all the church officials returned to the church, and the police officer, who was very congenial and understanding explained to me that even though I wasn’t causing an obstruction, the hard shoulder was reserved for broken down vehicles and I should move, which of course I had no problem with. He even pointed out that if I just pulled forward about 50 feet I could park in the lot of the neighboring business.

He also said that he explained to the priests that I had every right to display a sign that said just about anything I wanted to. (Wow! A cop that understands the First Amendment –- What a concept!)

Ok. So, Doug’s in no real trouble, but his actions raise a few important questions (some offered by Doug himself):

  • Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted?
  • Is this sort of activism good, bad, or neutral for atheism?
  • Should he do this again? If so, near other churches or denominations?



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  • I personally think the banner on the roof of his car, parking near a church, is a bit much. And I’m as atheist as an atheist can be (if that makes any sense).

    It is a little Westboro-ish to be so confrontational. I personally would have left it at the vanity license plate and “Call me” note, and that’s it. Hell, I’m even thinking of making my own bumper sticker mentioning atheism in some way.

    However, this could be his shtick, so to speak. He could easily make this his “thing” where he goes around his neighborhood, then his state, then perhaps the country, standing up for atheism and sparking debate nationwide. This could turn into a huge deal… IF he made it his “thing”.

    Not sure if that makes any sense or not. I’m pretty tired and/or hungover. 😉

  • Sondra

    I think it’s great that an atheist has given believers in his city the opportunity to think and question their beliefs, possibly for the first time in their lives. As for the comparison to Westboro, their tactics are very different. For example, his sign did not say: I HATE CHRISTIANS AND THEIR INVISIBLE GOD. Quite the contrary, he stated his beliefs and invited believers to ask questions. This sort of activism, which promotes discussion and debate, is a good thing for atheists and believers alike. And I hope that he will continue doing this as often as possible.

  • Sam

    I think its a bit too much. This is the kind of thing that fuels evangelicals to call atheism a religion. I dont like the idea of calling his website the “atheist evangelical” because it sets the wrong tone right away. While I understand his intentions to spark a conversation I think he may be going about it the wrong way, the way that religious people would. I do consider myself a “new atheist” for what is worth, but I don’t think this helps atheism one bit, all it does is validate the evangelicals assumptions about atheists.

  • alex

    I personally wouldn’t do it, as I’m more of a “I don’t give a damn about your fairy tales” type, but hey, if somebody else wants to do this, why not. I see Christians wearing Jesus t-shirts and plastering their vehicles with religious stickers all the time, so why shouldn’t an atheist also be able to do something like that? Yeah, I can see how it can be annoying, I see how someone will be offended, but that’s a given in pretty much any situation involving personal expression. “No god — no peace, know god — know peace” is offensive to me, too, but so what?

    Is this sort of activism good, bad, or neutral for atheism?

    I don’t think I follow. How will atheism (lack of belief in gods) be affected by actions of a person (atheist) who proudly wears his atheism on his sleeve? Sure, he might come off as a bit childish, but how does that make everyone else any different? Those bigots who will immediately say “argh, those damn atheists” are already there, they’ll just see another excuse to spew their hatred towards people — and I say, fuck them, too.

    And yeah, I still refuse to view atheism as a movement. Sure, atheists find and support each other, share common beliefs and interests, etc., I get all that, but this is hardly a real organized movement, really. To me, a movement based on nothing more than absence of a belief is just nonsensical — and that’s pretty much all atheists have in common. Separation of church and state, religious freedom, skepticism and rational thinking — these are all noble premises, but they are not atheism, and are not necessarily limited to atheists.

  • My main problem with Xianity in the US is how many of them are zealots. I don’t think a zealous aetheist is going to change that dynamic.

  • CelticWhisper

    YetAnotherAtheist: I see where you’re coming from, but I think I’d stop short of calling it Westboro-ish. The key difference is that Westboro formulates their presentation to flare tempers and cause unrest. This guy is just saying “Here I am, here’s what I think, here’s how to get in touch with me if you have questions.” Westboroesque would be sporting inverted crosses, wearing that “Jesus Was a Cunt” T-shirt from Cradle of Filth or, considering it was a Catholic church, holding a sign that said something like “God loves child molesters.” Not that a part of me doesn’t think that would be hilarious but it wouldn’t do anybody any real good.

    I like what he’s doing. He’s being respectful, trying to follow the law, presenting himself approachably and pleasantly, and going out of his way to be thought-provoking but not aggressive or obtrusive.

  • To say it’s comparable to the WBC, I think, is too much. The WBC doesn’t calmly, peacefully try to share their views or give people a way to understand them. All they do is insult people, tell them they’re going to hell, and making many people’s lives a living hell (like the families at the dead soldiers’ funerals). I don’t dislike the WBC for trying to inform others of their beliefs or views, I dislike them because they don’t care about that, all they care about is hurting others.

    Now, as for whether or not what Stewart is doing could be seen as going too far, I don’t think so. He doesn’t have a sign that says “You’re an idiot for believing” or “I’m an atheist, fuck you,” he has a sign that says “I’m an atheist, ask me why.” He’s not physically getting in their way, he’s not going up to them (or their children) and handing out free copies of Dawkin’s “the God Delusion” (not to make it sound like that’s the atheist’s Bible), he’s not even yelling or chanting at them. He’s just sitting there, asking people to indulge in their curiosity. If more religious people did that (quietly sitting at places with a sign that says “I’m [insert woo here], ask me why” and not yelling or being annoying), it would bother me. But what most religious people do is make noise and actively get in your way (I’m sorry, but I don’t like it when someone just shoves their beliefs or books in my face), if not something worse (which is what the WBC does).

    Going back to the WBC, they’re just assholes. They take advantage of the 1st amendment to insult and hurt people who disagree with them. Doug Stewart isn’t yelling at the church goers, hell, he’s trying to be as close as possible without being a nuisance. The moment he starts holding signs insulting or threatening the church goers, and the moment he starts yelling at them, that’s when he becomes just like the WBC and is going too far.

  • Houndies

    i’m not sure you could compare this guy to the westboro people because he isnt standing there spewing hate messages. his sign seems simple enough though i am sure xtians are offended (but when are they not offended?). i think its great that officer was fair and didnt demand he leave. i think it might be high time atheists have a voice so that the old myths of what it means to be an atheist can be dispelled. i post on ex-christians sometimes and recently had a posting titled “our tracts are blank” . it was about whether or not non-believers should be out knocking on doors like the believers do. i got pretty varied responses. i dont go out myself but if the topic comes up i am up for explaining my beliefs.

  • andrew

    I don’t see how his actions are at all comparable to the WBC. They promote hate and revel in others suffering. Doug is promoting a dialogue in a legal manner.

    If he wants to express himself this way, more power to him.

  • Just… why? Why not just be an atheist, the same way he’s just being male? It doesn’t have to be everything. It’s only part of who we are, not our entire identity. If the subject of being an atheist comes up, I’ll talk about it. Otherwise, if I’m not out with an atheist group or anything, it’s usually not even a point of discussion. It’s not like it’s the guiding force of my life.

  • amey

    He should remember that all the basic rules that move along WBC are going to move him along and he’ll end up having to deal with police (who hopefully are as polite as this officer was) enforcing minor laws. Maybe he should read up on the traffic manual so he’ll know acceptable places to park.

    That said, as someone who used to attend church, once those doors opened, I just wanted to get on with my church-free day. He might get more conversation if he parks near the restaurants or cafes where the post-church crowd goes. He’d have more parking options and could support a local business.

  • codemenkey

    the reason doug’s actions are annoying and stupid is because they lack both purpose and direction. being polite — and doug was indeed polite — doesn’t make it any less farcical. even should his goal of open dialogue be realized, precisely WHAT will it accomplish?

    i have little respect for people who wear their convictions on their sleeves and shout it at everyone they pass on the street. doing so usually closes dialogue rather than opening it.

  • Deiloh

    I don’t know how likely it is that church goers will pay much attention. I would think the larger impact would be in locations where the herd insulation and social support is not as easily available. Ultimately, it isn’t a bad idea to learn from organizations that have successful evangelical traditions.

  • Ian

    I agree with those who say he’s not comparable to WBC, but I’m not convinced his efforts at targeting church attendees is going to pay off by making more atheists. The people who attend church do so, usually because they gain something from the experience. If he were to offer “atheist church” (a humanist meetup or whatever), he may be able to poach a few of them. I’m not even sure if he’d be successful with these tactics if his sole aim was to demonstrate that atheists can be good, moral people either. About the only thing I can guarantee you that he’s accomplishing is demonstrating that his town has at least 1 atheist.

  • Have you guys considered that maybe instead of making atheists out of them, he can get them to be more understanding and less hateful towards us?

    Deconversion doesn’t HAVE to be the main goal in everything we do. I mean sure, it’s nice, but I think it’s more important that we get religious people to understand, at first, rather than go for the goal of deconversion right out of the… starting line…

    How did that turn into a sports metaphor?

  • sheri foust

    i commend doug’s activism and the respectful and honest approach he has taken in presenting himself to others. i think that it is admirable that he is not only expressing his views but also that he is opening the door for conversation about different beliefs. i do not feel as if he has pushed his opinion on other people. as an atheist (from a family and surrounding culture of rather firm believers and having been raised as a southern baptist in tennessee), i thoroughly enjoy having discussions w/ people who have beliefs that differ from my own. i am not only interested in offering my opinions and outlook, but i am genuinely interested in hearing their honest beliefs. i am not looking for controversy or defensiveness or personal insults. i like to hear what other people have to say. at times, i am looking to debate theories, if the approach is non-personal, non-threatening, and non-offensive to either party.
    in no way do i find doug to be even remotely comparable to westboro. i believe that he is looking to open people’s minds to other ways of thinking. in doing so, he is making himself vulnerable to the scrutiny and hatred of others. westboro has taken action to show hatred. the people of westboro were not looking to have discussion. their actions were purposefully hurtful. they were purposefully disrespectful and extremely offensive. i believe that doug’s activism is good for atheism b/c he has taken such great effort to make himself available to discuss the topic of religion. he is not shoving his opinion down the throats of others. he is merely providing the opportunity to talk about a subject. i admire his willingness to put himself out there in such a manner. it would be inappropriate if doug were to call or approach random people to “preach” about his theories, but he’s not interjecting himself into conversations. he’s not harassing people. he is merely providing the gateway for discussion.
    thumbs up, doug!

  • Amber

    I would find it just as obnoxious as JW’s coming to my door selling me religion.

  • Vene

    I can’t bring myself to care when I pass something like half a dozen pro-life billboards on the drive to town to pick up groceries. Get back to me when the landscape is saturated with atheism or when you get atheists calling for the death of the godly.

  • Potco

    Personally I think this is fantastic, he is not attacking anyone, or being insulting. He is making himself available to anyone who has questions. I dont think he will result in any conversions but if anyone takes the time to learn his position a little better then this is worth it. I have thought about hosting a happy hour myself to do something similar, to encourage conversation and answer questions that people may have.

  • codemenkey

    i suppose i should be more constructive…

    to doug, i would suggest the following: stop focusing on “the world,” and aim instead at smaller groups of people. talk with individuals: close friends, small groups, people you meet at the bar; but for the love of god, be yourself and don’t try to ramrod the topic of atheism into the conversation.

    to dispel the stereotypes for just one person is a major accomplishment. that’s what i think.

  • Andy

    Personally, I think it’s a little too much. It’s really not necessary to sit outside churches and “preach” or “witness” atheism to anyone. For one, I think that atheists have a reputation of laying a little low and “converting” people through logic and reason in an environment where they might be more accepted. Doing this kind of thing is about as far as one can be from being in an accepting environment and is clearly done to stir the pot. Secondly, anyone coming out of a church is probably about the least likely to be convinced that their faith is wrong.

    About as far as I’ll personally go is the FSM Jolly Pirate Fish sticker on the back of my car. Which is only recognized by fellow non-believers.

  • Siamang

    Have you guys considered that maybe instead of making atheists out of them, he can get them to be more understanding and less hateful towards us?

    That’s what I’ve been saying for years.

    I actually don’t have a problem at all with what he’s doing. He’s not making noise. He’s not walking about with “Death Solves Priestly Pedastery” signs. He’s not picketing funerals.

    If a church can have a sign out front with a message for or against gay marriage, for or against the rights of other people to believe differently, for or against the two-state solution in Israel…. If a church can ring its bells on Sunday. If a church can erect a neon cross 50 feet in the air…. then a guy can have a sign on his car.

    A month from now a church can buy the lot across the street from my house and do all those things, and they somehow have the presumption that it’s all about freedom for them.

    That said, this stunt comes off as a bit crankish. But hey, we need cranks too. I love Doug, because he liked my slogan and parades it around Mardi Gras every year!

  • That sign is lowering his gas mileage. And he’s gonna need a new phone number. Perhaps a new car and a new place to live in the not too distant future. People who are insecure in their beliefs, as most christians are, are not going to view his actions as simply exercising his right to free expression. They will take it as a personal affront, and eventually someone will retaliate harshly.

  • It is a little sad that atheist impose the double standard on ourselves. Whilst people may dislike the approach of the JWs, nobody really says it is offensive for them to show up on your doorstep and try and convert you. There is clearly a double standard that religious people impose on atheists – that we must respect their views, but they are under no obligation to respect ours. Well the same goes. Religions don’t see anything wrong with attempting to convert people, and yet a group of atheists think that what Doug did was over the top, offensive and wrong. And he isn’t even trying to “convert” people.

    Nope, Doug, good job, keep at it. I am sure there are a few skeptics at the church who might learn a thing or two. And if nothing else, you are showing these people that atheists are not the immoral scourge of the world that they think we are.

  • Nikki

    I like his sign, his license plate, and the fact that he is happy to talk with people that want to talk with thim about atheism. I even like that he will contact preachers, priests, ministers, etc. and offer totalk to the congregations. However, the part I have a problem with is going to the churches. I see it as being analogous with going to a atheist meeting and standing outside and passing out pamphlets. No matter how polite you are, I would feel put-upon.

  • It is not something I would do (as Alex stated, “I don’t give a damn about your fairy tales”), but I don’t see a problem with it as long as he is not accosting people directly. Setting up so that they can approach him *if they want to* is not confrontational.

    The Priests showed themselves to be chickens**ts, trying to remove conflicting ideas from their flock’s view.

    And comparing this to Westboro is ridiculous. The Westboro bozos create an uproar and nuisance for the purpose of just making a scene. They are insulting, and interrupt legitimate services. If Mr. Stewart were to barge into the church screaming his views, or had a stereo blasting those views in an attempt to drown out the church service, that might be comparable.

  • keddaw

    It’s very Jesus-esque. If Jesus hung out with sinners because that’s where his message was needed most then an evangelical atheist should hang around dens of un-reason to offer a way out.

    If WBC went to funerals of gay soldiers and were as civil as this no-one would care that much. Driving past someone who is quietly saying “I think being gay is a sin, ask me why” would not get national press coverage.

  • codemenkey

    @Not Guilty: as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • JD

    It sounds like it wasn’t done right with traffic safety in mind, just move to some place where you’re allowed to park.

    I think that kind of evangelism is undesirable of any belief set. A lot of it people have every right to do, but I don’t know if it really does anything but turn people off.

    BTW: regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses, isn’t there a standard sign that you can put near the house entry to tell people you’re not taking uninvited sales pitches? Like “no soliciting” or something like that. Maybe door-to-door selling was something acceptable in the last century, I just don’t see how it’s socially acceptable anymore.

  • joe agnost

    I think it’s great. He was polite – even warning the priest before he showed up!!

    Nothing wrong with what he’s doing – and it’s not anywhere close to comparable to the WBC fools..

  • I certainly would not engage in this type of social theater, but I like his chutzpah. I was approached by born-agains constantly when I was in college. Minding my own business, drinking a Snapple and pow, “Have you heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ?” It was really irritating, just like door-to-door sales people. Maybe a friendly dose of their own medicine is what some Christians need. No one likes to have their day interrupted by an unsolicited sermon.

  • Leigh

    Even though I think Atheist activism is important in circumstances where our rights are being ignored (Pledge of Allegiance, inability to hold office, etc) and in cases where we would like to debunk misperceptions about atheists, I think “evangelizing” is exactly the wrong message to send. I would talk about atheism to anyone who asks until the cows come home, but as soon as we start going where we aren’t wanted we’re no better than the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Baptists.

  • Andrew Morgan

    I wouldn’t be quick to assume that there isn’t anyone receptive to his message.

    I’d bet a good deal of money on the idea that someone is going to church because they have to or because they feel like they ought to in order to please someone. Having him outside with his little banner probably serves the same function as the “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone” billboards. Even if he never, ever gets contacted, it’s reassuring.

    I’d be willing to alienate 10 believers, who probably never would have had a good opinion of atheists anyway, if it means a closet atheist doesn’t feel isolated.

  • GentleGiant

    I think it’s a great way to expose people to the opposing viewpoint. He’s not harassing anyone, keeps a polite distance and basically just invites people, nonverbally through his signs, to talk to him if they are curious.
    Comparing him to WBC or even other religious groups who invade your property at ridiculous times over the weekend is completely over the top.
    If society has to progress we have to shed the shackles of organized religion and the more people who do this the better. This is one, very non-confrontational, way to get someone to open their eyes to alternatives and get a dialogue started.

  • Tyro

    Wow, there are some harsh self-hating atheists here.

    re Phelps – if you think that the problem with Phelps is that he’s discussing religion near secular events, you need a big help catching the clue train

    re Jehovah’s Witnesses – yeah right, like the problem with them is that they’re advocating their religion. Coming door-to-door, interrupting our days and refusing to engage in a rational discussion has nothing to do with it. Please. The comparison seems badly out of touch.

    re “no point” – man, what a defeatist! Exposing people to new views, being open about unusual or socially unfamiliar/unacceptable views creates tolerance and acceptance, creating an example are all perfectly good, valuable reasons for this. Just like gay rights, atheists are going to be accepted when people learn that there are atheists in their community and they are normal, polite people. By merely being visible & polite, he’s doing a big service.

  • If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.

    It’s a free country, and if that is what he wants to do, fine. I think he could be doing better things with his time, but that’s just me.

  • Staceyjw

    Good for him! I hope he keeps it up! For most xtians in that area, the mere existance of an atheist is offensive, there is no reason to placate them it won’t help anyway.

    I can’t believe you put his actions in the same sentence as Westboro! Phelps is not offensive because he goes where he’s not wanted! If that was all he did, it wouldn’t bother anyone. He’s offensive because he screams and has signs that say GOD HATES FAGS and THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS- at funerals. Last I checked, funerals are full of hurt people mourning, and disrupting them with screaming hatred is one of the rudest actions one can take.

    This is not even close to being the same as standing quietly, at distance, with a polite sign that says “I’m an athesit, do you have any questions for me”. He was outside a CHURCH, an appropriate place for such questions, unlike praising the death of a person at their funeral!!!

    I think what he’s doing is great, polite, and necessary.We wouldn’t be offended is a xtian did the same thing outside a Dawkins talk, as long as they were polite. He is NOT being pushy either- when a nuetral car sign,and cards makes you pushy,we’ve got issues!

    He has balls of steel for putting himself out there in this way. I hope I get an opportunity to meet him and take him to dinner and drinks- he deserves it.

  • Siamang

    Yeah, sometimes church people come knocking at my house and want to get me to go to their church.

    I just say “no thank you” and they leave.

    WOAH, that’s SO OFFENSIVE of them. I’m completely FREAKED OUT over what a line they crossed!!!!!!1

    If religious people are so freaked out by basically a nicer, less-intrusive version of the same thing, they need to lie down for a nap once in awhile.

  • Lifer

    He’s probably better off now that all those Catholics will be praying for him.

  • MaryLynne

    Mike the infidel – You’re right, it seems silly to make a deal out of something you don’t believe, but here is why some people feel it is important to speak up: Because religion is used as an excuse to impact our lives. Access to health care procedures, civil rights, education, safety of children and accountablity of abusers, and defense of our country are impacted by religion. Plus the private and public resources (tax-exempt status) that are sucked up. Religion is not a benign force.

    I think this is great and it is important that someone is doing it. It won’t be most of us and it isn’t me, but we need to keep challenging the the status quo, to show that people not liking it won’t make us go away, and that there are other ways to think. I’m glad he did it and I think he was pretty classy about it.

  • quick answer to question 1:

    Unless it was a funeral service, then no. not as bad as westboro baptist church.

  • I used to go to religious (JW) conventions, and there would be people standing outside with signs and a phone number. We never called the cops on them (they had every right to be there), but nobody I’ve known ever called the number.

    He has the right to do this, if it’s his idea of a good time, whatever. But it’s probably not the most effective thing. I’m not saying Christians SHOULD feel persecuted, but since they do, this only plays into it. Maybe he’ll be good at using any attention this brings him. I wouldn’t know how to. I personally jump to the question of: would it make a difference, and if so: why not?

    Side note: JWs are not solicitors. Those signs don’t scare them away. If you really want to be left alone, say “please put me on your Do Not Call list”. This usually works, as they are pretty organized.

    @Siamang …you’re probably even nice to telemarketers. Thank you (from my past self).

  • Epistaxis

    Epic troll is epic.

    Also, he wasn’t helping himself by calling the priest “Pastor.”

  • Nakor

    There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s notably less invasive than what many of the religious do, and people are often fine with even that (to an extent). He specifically doesn’t bother anyone who doesn’t want to be bothered, and talks to those who decide first to talk to him. I see no problems with this. I’d rather have JW’s sit a sign up and wait next to it than come pounding on my door.

  • Jeff Akston

    Yes, too much.

    Let people live their lives. I hate proselytizing atheists just as much as hate proselytizing Christians.

    I’m fine engaging in discussions in the proper forum or political discourse, but to seek them out is too aggressive.

    I want them to keep their religion out of my secular life, and I’ll keep my secular views away from their church

  • Clyde

    Here is a one-man “Atheist Bus.” What’s not to love about it?

  • Matt

    Too over the top for an atheist? I didn’t know atheists were defined by NOT being over the top. Too over the top for a person with a certain view? Perhaps. Still, I’m sure we all agree that it is his right. I’m not particularly upset myself… I did find the pastors reaction amusing though. It’s a bit like take the fight to the frontlines instead of hanging back politely in the background.

  • silver fox

    I think it’s a good thing and not at all like the WBC.

    They go out and yell at people that they are going to burn for all eternity because they don’t think like them and are basically threatening/harassing everyone in the area, with no intent of providing a discussion.

    What Doug is doing is providing a chance for church-goers to have a *conversation* with him, no yelling/threatening involved at all. He’s not being confrontational; he parked his car outside of church property and let people come to him. He didn’t chase/yell after people, telling them that their Sky-Daddy was about as real as the monster underneath beds and that their church is more like a black-hole than anything else.

    I would probably do it, if it weren’t for the fact that my town on 30,000 has ONE church left out of the 10 that we had a few years ago. The church seems to be doing a good enough job of killing itself without my help.

  • Richard P.

    Every little bit helps. If they are talking about this as much as we are, it is a great thing.

  • edwords

    I think it’s “neat”.

    Though I wish he’d keep a couple burly
    “friends” close by, just in case.

  • runawayuniverse

    I personally wouldn’t put a sign on the top of my truck, but I’m cool with everything else he is doing.

  • Fett101

    I think a more important question is ‘Does he drive around with that sign on his car?’

    It seems to be mounted such that it would cause a great deal of wind resistance while driving which would absolutely kill his gas mileage.

  • doug

    I met Doug when I lived in the area at a few NOSHA events. He seems like a really good guy and I have to give him credit this is the kind of thing I have thought about doing for a while. I don’t see a comparison to Westboro. There is a big difference between standing somewhere and wanting to engage in a conversation and what they do. I would not try it in a place like Laplace at a Baptist church. I used to work out there and I could see them getting violent. Good, bad, or neutral? I don’t know.

  • Over the top? I dunno.
    Nobody was killed, injured, slandered or libeled. Nobody was inconvenienced in any way.
    A few old men from the “Bad Touch Club” got upset and a few parishioners may have squirmed uncomfortably.
    I think providing regular financial support to pieces of shit who torture, beat and rape little kids is over the top.

  • If this was outside an evangelical church in any other country, there would be scores of churchgoers more than happy to engage in conversation. (you know.. the same ones who don’t think that ‘atheists can’t be good people’)

  • I am glad that he is being so proactive! I have been subject to religious proselytization my entire life, so it is great that atheists are finally starting to speak up! There is no need to be rude or aggressive, but I think Doug’s behavior is perfectly fine.

  • Richard Wade

    some slowed down to stare at me and did the sign of the cross on their bodies

    Amazing. The medieval magical gesture to ward off evil magic whenever something demonic is encountered. Walk into that church and ask what is today’s date. They’ll look at you a little curiously, and say, “It’s May 12, 1010 of course.”

    I think what Doug is doing is perfectly fine. We need to normalize atheism. If Father Calkins stood outside City Hall or a large business building with a sign that said, “Hi, I’m a priest. Do you have any questions for me?” very few people would think that’s over-the-top, or somehow an outrageously inappropriate way to share his views and advertise his services. I admire Doug’s courage, because there is an uncertain amount of risk to what he is doing.

    And that is because fearful people are dangerous people. It is fear, not anger that is the root of the hostility theists hold for atheists.

    I think most Christians’ faith is extremely fragile. That’s why they keep going to church every week to prop up their crumbling belief like a tottering ruin. I suspect that there are as many secret nonbelievers sitting there in those pews as there are outside. They’re just afraid of the social penalties they’ll face for telling the truth.

    Then they all walk out of the church, and there’s Doug standing outside their Belief Booster Shot Clinic and essentially saying,

    “Hi. I drive a nice car, wear nice clothes, and smile and wave politely. I’m apparently smart, sane and solvent, and I don’t believe any of that stuff that you’re trying so hard to believe.”

    It’s his normalcy that is the threat. He doesn’t look like some lunatic, or drunk, or criminal who can be dismissed at a glance. He’s normal looking.

    The parishioners’ basic reaction is fear, regardless of how it is outwardly expressed. The fragile believers are threatened by the implications of a nonbeliever who is obviously not a degenerate monster, and the secret nonbelievers walking alongside are afraid they’ll be exposed, that it will somehow show in their faces.

    I doubt that Doug will get anyone to talk to him right there on the sidewalk unless they’re screaming threats. Nobody will want to be seen by the others speaking politely to him. But by being there like that, he’s helping to make our mere existence normal, harmless and acceptable.

  • Brian E

    Doug, you are a genius! When I first became an atheist, I had dreams of doing this. My ideas went a lot further than yours, and were subsequently much more offensive, but I love what you’re doing! Keep it up! If I get the stones, maybe I’ll join you. Are you looking for other godlessevangelists to join you?

  • I don’t think it’s that bad. He wasn’t rude, he asked permission first, he obeyed all local laws, he didn’t confront anyone.

    I don’t think he’ll convert anyone, but he will raise awareness about the existence of atheists.

    We tend to be a mostly silent and hidden group (unless we’re on the internet), which makes us easy to ignore.

  • Miko

    The car billboard looks like it would reduce visibility for other drivers. If that’s the case, I’d say it’s a bad idea.

    Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted?

    Showing up where you’re not wanted is a staple of every form of protest. The problem with WBC (in my opinion) is their message, not their venue.

  • We may all have our point of view. But we cannot treat “atheism” as a religion and try to persuade people. As long as we fight to keep religion out of government, fine. But, people’s ideals, ridiculous as they may seem, have to be respected. . . As Long As, they do not interfere with public matters.

    We do not like it when religious people try to shove their beliefs down our throats. . .So we should not do that either. It sinks us to their level.

    Atheists do not have a fixed set of beliefs, except for not believing in any supernatural being or deity. We all vary on opinions, what one atheist may find moral, another may find immoral.

  • I could never do something like this, so I guess in some way I understand the arguments against it. But I dream of doing it or something like it, and this guy is my hero for following through.

    People need to learn that simply being disagreed with does not amount to an ad hominum attack. By contrast, the WBC trades mostly in personal attacks. Has it become so dangerous to trade views with those we disagree with?

  • Vivian

    @ MikeTheInfidel,

    I get that a lot from people who want to just be atheist and not have to preach it or stand out.

    I personally do not “peacock” atheism, but once in awhile I like to. It is intimidating to hear others disapprove of people’s passions for non-religion. I enjoy reading about it and talking about it, just like I do playing Wii. It can be someone’s hobby. I wish non-believers would stop telling other non-believers how to go about not believing.

  • Steven

    As always, I’m puzzled by the reaction of the priest in this situation. Why would an atheist be unwelcome? Are the members of his flock so weak in their faith that the mere presence of doubt will send them (and their wallets) scurrying away? It’s damn suspicious that folks who worship the one true god, omnipotent, omniscient, etc., etc. would be bothered by anyone suggesting he probably doesn’t exist. It suggests that they’re not all that certain after all and don’t welcome any reminders of their doubts. I applaud anyone interested in spreading a little reason around in a sea of unquestioned faith.

  • Phoenix

    I support what he’s trying to do, personally I’m tired of religious groups handing out bibles on my campus, typically there’s 4 different churches vying for your attention on my community college campus. Raising awareness and showing that atheists aren’t deranged evil people (as some of the more religious people like to think we are) can’t be a negative thing. As long as he stays respectful and polite about it, I see no problem with the way he’s going about what he’s doing.

  • Vivian: I’m not silent about my atheism. I’ve got the FSM Fish logo on my car and an ‘Atheist’ bumper sticker. I’m totally open about it. But in terms of spreading a good image of atheism, I’m more of the “live a good life and let people be surprised by it” kind of guy. I don’t necessarily want my atheism to be the first thing people know about me, because the stereotypes that already exist could make them prejudge me.

    I understand the importance of fighting against the intrusion of religion into our lives, but it’s a separate issue for me. It’s not an atheist-only issue.

  • Alex

    Too bad Doug didn’t run into a cop that didn’t care about his free speech rights and run him in for disorderly conduct. It would have made for an interesting news story. I would have loved to get the priest’s comments on TV along with Doug’s. I also imagine Doug would have gotten his bail paid many times over by atheist supporters too.

  • Hugh

    Wow! This guy has major balls, especially considering he’s in the Deep South. I wouldn’t give much for his life expectancy. Personally I am not interested in “evangelizing” anyone for atheism – you can lead a religiot to facts but you can’t make them think – but someone has to do this type of thing. Just like I wouldn’t get involved in Michael Newdow’s kind of crusades but I’m kinda glad he’s doing it.

  • Betsy

    @Miko – big cars and trucks reduce visibility for other drivers. How is the actual presence of a billboard even an issue?

    @ Steven – I suspect that is exactly it. Those who are the most uncertain in their faith are the most bothered by the suggestion that they may be wrong and are the most diligent about insulating themselves against doubt. They surround themselves only with those who believe and act exactly as they do and all others are unwelcome. Terribly sad.

  • Personally, I find it dorky and probably not particularly productive, but it’s a free country! I guess with my religious roots, I have an automatic distaste for something that screams “evangelism”. I am more of the type of person to let people come to me UNLESS there is a specific cause for action/activism. Hope that doesn’t offend anyone, jmo! 🙂

  • Jerry Priori

    Like most here, it’s not something I would do (or I’d be doing it). However, I think it’s great that Doug is “evangelizing” for atheism. I hope people take him up on his offer of discussion. He might not change anyone’s mind, but secret non-believers may feel less isolated and it’s important that atheists become more visible in the common culture.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    At worst, the guy is expending a lot of time and energy for little return, so I can’t get too worked up over what he’s doing. He’s certainly a good example of how to be in-your-face without being mean-spirited.

  • Trace

    …so polite….

  • Ubi Dubium

    I think what he’s doing is OK, but I question the effectiveness of the place he’s chosen to do it. I think there are better places, where he might meet people more willing to engage him in conversation. Someone walking out of a Catholic Church is less likely to be in the right mindset, or may be unwilling to be seen by the other parishoners talking to the “infidel”. College campuses are good, for one (particularly when the godbots are out preaching). And my community has an annual festival where local businesses and churches set up booths with information. How nice it would be to see a booth with a big cheery sign saying “Have you considered the benefits of asking questions instead of believing what you are told?”

  • joemccarthy

    I considered doing the atheist prosletyzing after I was hit with a bolt out of the blue; the overwhelming realization that there isn’t a supreme being and then feeling an almost Kubler-Ross sense of death; Denial, anger, barganing and depression which for me happened over a couple of days and then an acceptance and almost a “spiritual experience” from my frontal cortex that made me feel that everyone deserves to know the truth. Very similar to religious experiences. Later, as I felt grounded in godlessness and examined my life experiences being raised as an orthodox RC I slowly became more and more outraged that these inane fallacies are being perpertrated on my young nieces and nephews and then there was rage. I can see putting a sign on the car and handing out pamphlets and explaining the word of science to people who might be on the fence as someone mentioned; there at church because the wife or husband or family has always blindly done so. This man is a bright light for all of us who ache for people we know and love to realize and live each day for each other and not in obeisance of religion.

  • Jonas

    It happens I met one of my best friends, (a sometimes officer in the local Boston Ethical Culture chapter) thanks to an FFRF bumper sticker on my car. — But seriously I think he went a little overboard. — not legally. Yes to carrying tracts, the license, and plate holder.

    But a better way might be to work with the congregation. Not against them — It’s a little simplistic to think all religionists are the same. (Some might be closet atheists – who knows)

  • Aaron

    re-door-to-door preachers (is there a more proper word for them): I had some knock on my door a while back and they said “We would like to tell you the good news about Jesus Christ!”
    I replied, “Already heard it, thanks.” and closed the door.
    The looks on their faces was priceless.

  • Nakor

    But isn’t that exactly what he’s doing? If there are closet atheists, those would be the ones who might stop to talk or call him. I don’t think he went against the congregation at all. (Against the clergy, maybe, but it’s more against what they teach.)

  • I admittedly have not read all of the comments here, but I think that Doug is difference from WBC in that he was polite about his activism and that he did not harass anyone or attempt to approach someone who was obviously uninterested.

    I don’t know that showing up near churches with signs about atheism is good for atheism, but I think that the attitude with which it was done (polite, courteous, legal, contacting the church ahead of time) is good for atheism. Doug is passionate about atheism just like some people are passionate about christ, and he demonstrated that passion in an acceptable way.

  • No. He’s presenting him self in a polite fashion. – Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted?

    Neutral but just short of bad. – Is this sort of activism good, bad, or neutral for atheism?

    Yes & yes. Should he do this again? If so, near other churches or denominations?

  • Phrosty

    As a Cajun atheist, I have to say: yes. He should definitely keep it up. Louisiana desperately needs it.

    Is this sort of activism good, bad, or neutral for atheism? To atheists: good. To the religious: bad. To those who just don’t give a shit: neutral. All-in-all, time will tell.

    Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted? Pretty much, yes. :/

  • lurker111

    Following up on what Andrew Morgan said, I’m sure that in each church group there are a number of children who are thinking, “This is all nuts!” It would be a great help for them to see that at least one other person on the planet thinks as they do.

    If Doug has the balls to do this sort of thing, I say, more power to him.

    And if you can get one, wear a Kevlar vest.

  • Alex

    He sounds a lot less intrusive than the guys handing bibles out on college campuses. He’s even less intrusive than the guys who go around actively debating people on college campuses.

    I’d say he’s just trying to tell people what he’s about, but not trying to cram it down their throats. Neato!

  • Vivian

    @MikeTheInfidel,

    Understood. Well said about the “surprising” people with it. I like that as well.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    It’s not something I would do (I live in a little liberal pocket city surrounded by the religious South so there is a fair amount of freethining here) but I don’t think it was too confrontational in the sense that he was really respectful and even gave the pastors fair warning.
    The cops were correct in this case that he has free speech and is on public property.
    This shouldn’t be any more offensive to anyone than the holier-than-thou sayings on church marquees. At least this guy seems to want to have a *discussion*.

  • James McKaskle

    All he did was stand across the street from a church with a sign asking if anyone would like to ask him some questions. He was polite, amicable, non-confrontational, and non-judgemental. How is this going too far?

  • BlueRidgeLady

    would like to ad that he CAN accomplish something positive with this. Many church goers (especially young people) have “never met” an atheist- as in they have never had a conversation about atheism with someone who is openly nontheistic- even though they have certainly spoken with someone who is atheist and just didn’t know it. He could do some serious positive representing for us. Someone may see that people can be kind w/o religion and that’s a big deal to me.

  • Santiago

    I’m all for this. The tone and attitude is *extremely* polite, if religious people get offended then that’s their problem. No one, and I really mean pretty much NO ONE, would object to a christian or muslim putting up a sign near an atheist convention as long as it merely said: “I’m a [religion of choice], do you have any questions for me?”.

    In fact, from the atheists I know they’d be GLAD to have the chance to debate a religious person that’s actively encouraging debate.
    I think it would be healthy for these christian churches and their congregations to learn something about tolerance and dialogue and freedom of speech, and this guy’s idea is a spot on way of doing that.

  • I proposed to my local atheist group that we go to all area churches so they could meet an atheist IRL, see that we weren’t evil, and learn a thing or two about us in the hopes the ignorance and hate would subdue a bit. We decided against it for whatever reasons (I can’t remember why and no, I’m not biter…really. Not biter at all.)
    Anyway, this seems to be a similar type action and I applaud it.
    Would I do it myself?
    Hell yes…but I’d be drunk and wearing a bikini.

  • riverrunner

    As I posted on his site. I was approached by evangelical christians with tracts after seeing a michael moore movie, that mel gibson torture movie, and whilst going to office depot. he is not going too far at all. tit for tat.

  • Ha! I love this guy. He’s my next New Orleans tourist attraction. 🙂

  • Doug Stewart’s quiet “atheist evangelism” is much less “in your face” than John Safran’s response to the LDS missionaries who woke him up early on a Saturday morning:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U58wgn-9Y3c

  • AxeGrrl

    A guy stands in an area where he knows believers will be walking by, saying ‘Hi, i’m here if you’d like to ask me any questions’……no condemnations, no shoving pamphlets in peoples’ faces…..

    I’m at a loss to see what could be described as being ‘too over the top’ about such a gesture.

    Ooh, offering a conversation to anyone who wants one (and only to those who want one)…..scary stuff!

  • The problem wasn’t that Doug is an atheist. The problem is that Doug referred to the priest as “Pastor”. “Pastor” is a protestant term. No wonder the priest went off the deep end. Doug was way out of line. He should apologize to the priest for calling him a pastor. Perhaps, then he could park his car across the catholic church and hand out atheists fliers. 😉

  • Jeff P… do my eyes deceive me, or is that the Jesus art from injokester’s collection on stripcreator.com? Now there’s a blast from the past…

    On the topic… Well, I would never be game to do what Doug has done, but I have an immense amount of respect for him. I have seen plenty of Christians push their faith in far less respectful ways, and I see no issue with his behaviour. I also commend him on being so respectful and law-abiding.

    A lot of things that Christians do would seem a bit freaky when done by atheists, and would no doubt cause godbothering freakouts were we to engage in them Imagine if atheists rocked up in pairs to know on your door on a Sunday morning, all smiley in their neat suits, wanting to share the good words of Richard Dawkins.

    If nothing else, Doug’s actions illustrate the double standard in the community – that some Christians feel entitled to be creepy and pushy – and I think that’s a good thing.

    Holding up a mirror so your opponent can see how ridiculous he looks is never a bad thing.

  • Is he comparable to WBC? I think so, but only as far as both groups exercise First Amend. rights where he wants to–usually in places he isn’t wanted. That’s no big deal.

    This sort of activism is the only way to combat real religious issues. Sure, some people will sit around, listen to real reason and logic, and then say they’ll take it under consideration, but I don’t think that anything but bull-headed persistence and an uncomfortably close display of pride and stoicism is enough to change the minds and behaviors of the most ignorant of all people: the religious.

    He should do this at every possible convenience. Atheists don’t have churches or conventions or get-togethers on Wednesday nights to read and interpret the Darwin, and they don’t send their kids to Science School from ages five to fifteen, and they certainly don’t bake cookies and chow up to mourn by chanting gibberish over dead bodies. So there must be another way to make this point, to communicate this fact that religion is silly, dangerous, and irresponsible, and that an atheist view of the world is the only one, true, correct view that should be held by any person who wants to be considered human instead of a base animal.

    The game must be played by rules already established. If this doesn’t work, then we must turn to violence. And when that doesn’t work, then we use more violence until it does. There is a time for reason, and that time was thousands of years ago when a bunch of guys were standing around talking about rising form the dead and faith healing, and nobody stood up and said, “That . . . that doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

  • DexX,

    Yes that image (minus the halo) is from injokester’s collection at Stripcreator.com.

    I’ve also used a couple of your images in some comics as well.

    like in this.

  • littlejohn

    I’m not sure what this guy hopes to accomplish, but he’s clearly within his rights.
    What astonishes me is how reasonable the cop was. I would bet 99 out of 100 cops would have run him off with the threat of a beating, or a frivolous arrest.

  • Manksteve

    I’d ask him what is that sign doing for MPG? 😛

  • Sev

    This guy is nowhere near as obnoxious as Westboro Baptist. First of all, he’s standing near a church on Sunday, not during a funeral and certainly not at a politically-charged time or place. He has an unquestionable right to advocate his beliefs in a public space the way that religious missionaries do all the time.

    He was neither rude nor confrontational in his approach. He acted respectfully and simply invited people to ask questions if they desired. I don’t see anything wrong with this. These days, people too often assume that they have the right to be protected from opposing points of view. There is no such right and I applaud Doug for his efforts.

    He’s really no different than those Mormons, JWs, or other evangelists who knock on doors after church on Sundays. Even better, he’s not even going to people’s houses to bother them. The decision to contact him or not rests completely with his audience.

  • Brian

    I totally support Doug. I have been preached upon many times, people still bring religious magazines to my door.

    I wish there were atheist missionaries visiting my home many years ago when I lost my family to jehova’s witnesses.

    Ever time I have the opportunity I “preach” my atheism. And I am very proud.

  • fritzy

    Comprable to WBC–hardly. He’s not hateful and he’s not attempting to hurt anyone emotionally.

    Pointless and a little obnoxious–Yeah, it really is. I understand he’s trying to create dialogue and stand up for something he believes in (that religion is destroying the world) and I admire him for that but I really question the effectiveness.

    Then again, if there is just one person he encounters who is starting to question their faith…

  • Chakolate

    I wouldn’t do it, partly because I’d be afraid of violent backlash, but mostly because I really want to respect believers. They can believe anything they want, so long as they keep their beliefs out of the schools and the government. (I know, I know.) It just feels wrong to go to their church. Like Westboro.

    All that said, I admire the courage it took, and I can never tell someone else what they can or can’t, should or shouldn’t say. Free speech, you know?

  • Is he breaking the law? No. Is he being Westboro-ish? No.

    Is he being annoying? Hell yes.

    I don’t care if he’s an atheist or a blue cow lover. I see this as nothing different than street corner preaching or those annoying advertisers dancing with billboards on corners. Neither effective nor endearing.

    I’m not saying that atheists should never be forceful or up-front about their atheism. But while this guy did nothing technically wrong, there’s really no point in being a dick for the sake of being a dick. I get annoyed when Christians do it, and I get annoyed when atheists do it. I get annoyed when advertisers do it. It has nothing to do with his philosophy and everything to do with his presentation.

    Be Socrates, not Billy Mays, kthx.

  • Ben

    I would prefer it if he was doing something a little more constructive. For example, instead of “Ask me a question?” he could start up a simple website where he could post relevant information about common doubts, and about how to deal with telling family and leaving the church. Have the sign say, “Having doubts? Visit www…….”

    This way, instead of being in-your-face for the sake of it (though there are certainly other motivations, they’re just not clear — especially to the church-goers), it would provide an anonymous way for doubters to get more information and support.

  • AxeGrrl

    neosnowqueen wrote:

    while this guy did nothing technically wrong, there’s really no point in being a dick for the sake of being a dick. I get annoyed when Christians do it, and I get annoyed when atheists do it. I get annoyed when advertisers do it. It has nothing to do with his philosophy and everything to do with his presentation.

    His ‘presentation’ being ‘hey, I’m here if you’d like to ask me any questions.’

    How, exactly, is that ‘being a dick’?

    And why are you characterizing his actions as ‘being a dick for the sake of being a dick‘? ALL of his actions reflect thought and repect; hardly the behaviour of someone who’s ONLY goal was to incite/stir up a hornet’s nest.

    And the only thing he was offering was to answer questions from those who would choose to accept the offer.

    Yeah, what a dick!

  • Brian Macker

    Hey, at least he didn’t build a big building professing his beliefs, stick a big symbol on top, and ring a bell every week. You’d have to be a real big prick to do that.

  • Priest, pastor, same damn thing.

    And GO DOUG!

  • I think I completely support Doug. Whilst I personally don’t have the guts to do something like that, I definitely think there is a place for people like Doug. He was completely non-confrontational, he began by attempting to open a dialogue with the priest at the church who was incredibly rude with his response. His message was simple, non-denigrating, and inviting others to increase their knowledge – never a bad thing.

    This is all in complete opposition to the WBC lot who seek simply to offend, and never to have an open dialogue.

  • Dawkins Witnesses? Atheiologists? Great. Next thing I’ll be eating lunch in the park, and some atheist will be there saying “Can I tell you the bad news?”

    Can we call atheism a religion yet, now that you are the ones with the placards preaching at us?

  • lala23

    It is real simple. Atheists do not proselytize.

  • Chucky: “Can we call atheism a religion yet, now that you are the ones with the placards preaching at us?”

    Only if you’re ready to call barefoot a shoe style. Or bald a hair style.

  • martin

    The reason I do not think this crosses the westboro line at all is everything He has on his car in view of everyone is just talking about himself. He has no signs making claims about anyone else, not even the sign says the usual there probably isn’t a god, it just says I am an atheist, which I feel kept this from going to far. He didn’t confront anyone, and didn’t attack anyone in his message, no words of hate at all.

  • Is any more proof required that fundamentalist crassness comes in many forms, even atheistic ones.

  • alex

    Matt Stone:

    Evangelist, maybe. Fundamentalist, no, that would imply some sort of dogma, which is absent in this case. And what is so crass about his message? “Ask me about my atheism”?…

  • Too bad we don’t have The first Ammendment in Sweden. I’d love to go out with a sign having my opinion about religion and how it is bad.

    But a sign like that here in my neighbourhood would definitely get me arrested for “aggravation”. If you’re opinions are to upsetting, they send you to jail.

    Oh well, excellent article. Thanks for this.

  • plutosdad

    Can we call atheism a religion yet, now that you are the ones with the placards preaching at us?

    He didn’t preach at anyone, just stood there.

  • Bayou Girl

    People like Doug make it possible for all of you to sit here and pontificate about whether or not he went overboard with his tactics.

    Have you ever thought that his exposure will make believers realize that there are people in their communities who don’t share their insanity?

    That very action alone means that they can’t impose only what they want without some discord. They’ve seen us with their own two eyes and now they have to recognize that this vast country of ours isn’t a theocracy afterall.

    It’s sad how many atheists sit on their hands (and asses) and agonize over doing something, anything that will bring attention to themselves. Scary! At least people like Doug are willing to do something civilized and non-confrontational.

    If it upset a few of the Catholics that day, then so be it. Maybe they need to be a little uncomfortable? They’ve pushed their beliefs on all of us for long enough and it’s time we pushed back a little.

    Good going, Doug! I wish there were a whole lot more just like you!

  • Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted?

    Yes and no. He is intentionally being provocative towards a group he knows disagrees with him. However, his signs state information about himself in a neutral way instead of about others in a negative way, so in that sense, he is nothing like the WBC. Additionally, the WBC clearly has no intentions of having a reasoned and thoughtful conversation with the people they encounter whereas all indications suggest that this gentleman is willing to hear other people out.

    Is this sort of activism good, bad, or neutral for atheism?

    It’s irrelevant. People may define atheism a certain way but all it is, is a lack of belief in a god or gods. I’m also a non-musician but no one judges all non-musicians based on my behavior. The more atheist individuals use terms that suggest we are all unified in some way the harder it is for people to understand how it differs from religious belief and other dogma. Questions like this can be safely dismissed out of hand.

    Should he do this again? If so, near other churches or denominations?

    It depends on why he wants to do it. It doesn’t appear to be a particularly effect tool as he hasn’t actually been engaged by anyone other than an angry pastor and a few waving passers-by. On the one hand, I get a little Mr. Burns-ish style glee knowing that it riled up the pastor but at the same time, it seems like much ado for no payout. But in terms of what the individual gets from it, if he’s not hurting anyone, if he’s enjoying it and if he’s following all applicable laws, then I say, have at it.

  • “He didn’t preach at anyone, just stood there.”

    He does in his previous posts.

  • > Or bald a hair style.

    Yeah. Because bald people go around standing outside barber’s shops with pickets.

    In fact, they set up websites where they unquestioningly parrot the words of their great leader Richard Baldin’, suggesting that having hair is a virus.

    You’re right. That doesn’t sound like a religion. It sounds more like a cult.

  • bullet

    It takes some guts to do this in St. Tammany Parish. Good thing he practiced on the Catholics – I don’t think the the Pentecostals will be as nice. I hope he has the good sense to stay in incorporated areas. It’s unlikely the St Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department will be as accommodating as Mandeville PD.

  • Chris

    One part of me thinks “What a attention whore”, the other part of me thinks “Well, kids could see him, then at least start thinking about there being no god”. My visceral reaction still is one of douchiness though, and it’s hard for me to not see this as self-defeating because of how many people are gonna see this guy as a loser. Like really, you’re gonna call this random dude on the street because you’re doubting your religious beliefs? More likely: You’re gonna call this guy because you’re pissed off at him.

    I think as Atheists, too, we have an inherent disrespect for anyone who drinks the kool-aid this much about ANYTHING, even causes we agree with. We all know there are crazy Atheists too.

    Tough to quantify his impact positive or negative, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with the guy.

  • Melissa D.

    Doug isn’t being a jerk about his lack of belief in god the way the WBC are being jerks (possibly stronger language needed) about their religion. Besides, in Louisiana, what do church-goers know about atheism? Probably just what their pastor tells them. Seeing a positive, non-confrontational (I just can’t believe that sitting in your car with a banner is confrontation, unless, like someone else pointed out, you have a sign that says “Jesus is a cunt”), polite person who doesn’t believe in god might not win people over to atheism (though as someone else pointed out, why should that always be our goal?) but it might challenge people’s ideas of atheism. And if more Christians would think of us as people, and not the devil’s spawn, that might open up the doors to more conversational as opposed to argumentative discourse. And that would be a good thing for everyone.

  • Heidi

    I like him. Go, Doug! If all Christians and Muslims ever did was stand around with a “do you want to talk to me?” sign, I’d be pretty happy about it.

  • Dan

    Is he at all comparable to Westboro Baptist Church, exercising his First Amendment rights by showing up precisely where he is not wanted?

    NO! How are you seeing a similarity?

    WBC go with pro-active and OFFENSIVE signs, and sing and speak without first having someone talk to them. They’re signs INSULT and PUT DOWN and DEMONIZE those that they are picketing in front of.

    This man had no such sign. He simply labeled himself, and offered conversation. And he did so all the while in a way that said “I’m not here to insult you”.

  • Thank you all sooooooooooo much for your comments. Thanks also to everyone that called me. Judging from the number of comments alone atheist proselytizing/godless evangelism is a controversial subject, even amongst the free thought community.

    I’ve done an extremely unscientific analysis of the comments and I estimate them to be about a third either neutral or negative, (this is roughly split down the middle), and just about two thirds positive. Hey, with a two-thirds majority Congress can go to war! So, as a “fundamentalist atheist” I have permission to fly a building into a plane right?

    Anyway, I’d like to take this opportunity to rebut a few of the criticisms.

    As you’ve probably picked up, I’m a great advocate for atheist proselytizing/godless evangelism. Evangelical Christianity is the only religion that’s gaining ground in this country, and the reason for that is in the word “Evangelical”. So the argument that I’m “just like the religious” in that respect is exactly true. Religions have had thousands of years to evolve the extremely effective viral thought mechanisms that they have today. Not learning from the opposition’s ‘play book’ is insane!

    However, there’s a difference between using religious tactics and calling atheism a religion. Apart from the obvious illogic of a non-belief in something being a “religion” which implies that we’re all “religiously” non-Zeus, non-Jupiter, non-Thor believers, why isn’t anyone that stands up for say, women’s rights ever accuse the feminist movement of being “a religion”? I also happen to be a fanatical LA Laker fan, but it’s a stretch to say that I’m a Kobe Bryant worshipper. (However, my wife would disagree.) It’s simply because it’s a knee-jerk reaction to accuse a protester of being exactly what they’re protesting against. (That’s why the Ted Haggard and more recently George Rekers stories are classical!) For example, feminists are often accused of just being ‘anti-men’.

    The ‘purpose’ of this exercise was to: –

    1. Show the most religious in the community that atheists exist. – Showing they’re ‘normal’, maybe even likable, is a bonus.
    2. Engage in dialog with theists and give them some “reason” to think.
    3. Become known in the community so if anyone wants to talk to an atheist, they know where to go.

    From only my most recent experiences, I think I’m achieving all three of those.

    As much as I would like it, a Christian leaving a church service and having a chat with an atheist and then loosing his/her faith would be a ‘miracle’! (This would prove there is a god.) So that ‘purpose’ isn’t even on the list. But maybe it’ll be ‘chipping away at a mountain’, ‘the little engine that could’, or maybe even the ‘straw that broke the camels back’? (Too many metaphors eh?)

    The goal of the activity is that maybe, when these people enter the voting booth and vote for a politician that’s going to take away gay’s rights to marry/serve openly in the military, women’s rights to choose, stem cell research, death with dignity, evolution in the classroom, separation of church and state, and do it with uncontested certainty that it’s the ‘Will of God’, that certainty wouldn’t have been so uncontested. It’s funny that if I was demonstrating against any one of the above issues I’ve mentioned no one would bat an eyelid. But as I’m demonstrating against the belief that causes those issues, that becomes an issue.

    The argument that “religious people can believe what they want” (of course they can) “as long as they keep it out of my secular life” is also bogus, because they DON’T do they? The other argument of “why bother” is equally lazy with the irritating stench of defeatism. It’s like a black person attacking Rosa Parks for ‘causing unrest’ when she said “no” to sitting in the back of the buss.

    I do have a web site http://www.godlessevangelist.com but my own personal view is that the internet ‘battle’ has been pretty much won by the atheist perspective. People like Hemant, and PZ do a much better job than I ever could. I loved Thunderfoot’s video “The Internet – Where Religions Come to Die”. His point that religious belief requires community so it is not viral in the one-on-one interaction of a person and a computer. In that environment, people are forced to think for themselves. That’s why I want to focus on the ‘real’ world and enter the belly of the beast, ride into the valley of death, sail towards the mouth of the monster, (okay, that’s enough metaphor again), and talk to people where we can see each other’s body language and facial expressions… like humans used to do.

    I called the top clergyman a Pastor because on the churches website, http://www.maryqueenofpeace.org/contact.html , he refers to himself as Pastor Rev. Ronald Calkins. Then in his email reply to me he refers to himself as Father Ronald Calkins. So, I have no clue!

    Lastly, @Ifiguresomeonewillreadthis I hope I’m quoting you out of context when you say “The game must be played by rules already established. If this doesn’t work, then we must turn to violence. And when that doesn’t work, then we use more violence until it does.” WTF?

    I’m interested in social psychology, especially when it involves religion. I’m specifically interested in why religious belief has a free pass in society. My theory is that just as genes are analogous to memes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme as biological and cultural replicators, the biological phenomena known as ‘allelopathy’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allelopathy, where plants emit toxins that inhibit the growth of other plants, religion emits ‘toxins’ into the cultural system that ‘inhibit the growth’ of reason by making it ‘uncomfortable’ to dismiss or even question the irrational beliefs in it’s presence. This applies to theists and atheists (as evident from the comments) alike. Anyway, I thought I’d do a social experiment where I ‘plant a seed’ of atheism in ‘soil’ where one would think it would immediately die off. That’s outside a Church after Sunday morning worship.

    So’ I’m definitely going to not only do this again, but make a regular community occurrence out of it.

  • AnonyMouse

    Without reading all the doubtless excellent comments that have come before me, I would like to weigh in. I would say that while it was Westboro-style intrusive for him to park so close to the church, it was nowhere near the levels of offensiveness that the WBC has achieved. He didn’t stand around declaring that he (or, even worse, the being he purports to be Master of the Universe) hates all Catholics, or that something terrible was going to happen to them because of their actions or beliefs. He merely demonstrated his own existence and asked for a (presumably peaceful) dialogue. The priests and church members had every right to get offended, but they had no good reason to.

  • Just looking at this from a purely PR or promotional perspective, I would ask if the effort is getting any results. And by “results” I mean “converts” or new members to local freethought groups. In sum, is it working?

    Of course this assumes that Doug’s goals and mine would be the same. But perhaps Doug has a different purpose. If so, what is it, exactly? What does he hope to accomplish?

    Because if the goal is to increase the number of local organized atheists, a traditional church is simply the wrong place to find that audience. In which case I would regard Doug’s strategy as “bad marketing.” He should prefer locales where unorganized nontheists might be more in abundance, and more willing to talk–such as political rallies populated by lefties and libertarians (as just one example), or UU churches (as another). I mean, if he’s going to put in the time, he may as well try to maximize his recruitment stats.

  • Moxie Maria

    It’s not my style, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still awesome as far as I’m concerned. He’s not being abusive, obscene, or obnoxious. He’s standing off to the side, letting people see who he is, and making himself available for those who are curious. At worst it has an “Am I bugging you? I’m not touching you!” tone to it.

    The goal doesn’t have to include deconversions in order to have merit. When you consider how grossly misunderstood atheism is the mere act of introducing yourself can be a benefit. Revealing that there are a lot of us out there and that we’re not evil is a pretty decent start in my opinion.

  • Abigail

    If any of those church people were questioning religion, they could easily go on the internet or to the library and explore the issues. Atheism isn’t some big secret, and a man outside a church with a sign seems a bit pointless. I wouldn’t want someone holding a religious sign outside of my secular group meetings. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right, but it seems pointless.I honestly don’t see anyone changing their minds because of it– especially when the people he is targeting are leaving church. Plus, most church goers probably wouldn’t want to look bad in front of the other people leaving church by talking honestly about atheism.