Hey, Chicago Tribune, What Up With That? June 17, 2010

Hey, Chicago Tribune, What Up With That?

Because I read the Chicago Tribune article about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s latest bus ads online last night, I didn’t pay too much attention to the print version in today’s paper.

When I checked it out earlier today, though, I noticed this at the end of the article, urging people to comment on the Tribune’s website:

How should you respond to a culture that challenges your right to your own beliefs? Weigh in online.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…

The FFRF bus ads are not at all challenging people’s right to believe whatever they want.

Everybody has a right to their own beliefs. FFRF — just like every major atheist group in the country — believes in the freedom of religion.

You don’t have a right not to be offended. You don’t have a right not to be criticized. But you certainly have the right to listen to or ignore the ads. It’s your choice.

What a horribly worded question.

I don’t know who wrote it, but an editor somewhere at Tribune Tower dropped the ball on this.

***Update***: Some of you in the comments are saying the wording is fine, assuming that the question is intended for atheists. (How should atheists respond to a culture that challenges your right to your own beliefs? Weigh in online.)

Considering that the majority of the Tribune’s readers are presumably religious, I’m not sure I agree it’s referring to atheists.

I could see it going both ways. But if that’s the case, it’s just more evidence that the question is poorly worded.

***Update 2***: I’ve been told by the Tribune that the wording is from (Humanist) Rabbi Adam Chalom‘s blog post on the subject. He’s writing about it in reference to religious people who challenge atheists. NOT the other way around.

I’m not sure why they used it — it’s confusing without any context. A clarification should be issued.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dave B.

    When I read that, I assumed it was referring to how to deal with American culture as an atheist. Going to the circled web address confirms that this is what they meant.

  • I agree. Very poorly worded. We don’t (shouldn’t) have the right to believe things that are untrue. Think if a political party was founded to “oppose” gravity, and began to pass laws based on the fact that gravity did not exist. (You know, requiring upside-down escalators, everyone to be fitted with shoes with suction cups, etc.)

    This sounds ridiculous, but it brings to mind some other party right now that seems to think oil reserves, the atmosphere, and the oceans are infinite. Their initials are G.O.P.

    A constitutional democracy/republic has as its basis this logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum.

  • Greg

    Ditto Dave B.

    Personally I think the question is worded fine…how would you respond to a “culture” that challenges your right to your own beliefs. They’re clearly (to me) not implying or saying that the bus ad does challenges anybody’s right to their own beliefs.

  • What Dave B said.

    Read the article; it’s about how atheists are often attacked and denied the right to hold our beliefs.

  • Emily

    any chance we can go overflow that site’s comment wall?

  • JSug

    Actually, Jeff and Dave, I just read the article. The whole article. It’s a response from a secular humanistic rabbi (didn’t realize there was such a thing), who’s basically saying that the adds represent a counter-attack against religion, and we should just shut up and be happy, tolerant atheists.

    Here’s the important bit:

    There are three ways you can respond. You can burrow down and hide, but that damages your dignity. You can fight back, matching their fire with your brimstone in the ire of your un-righteous anger. Or you can, in Gandhi’s words, “be the change you want to see in the world” – if you want a world that is more tolerant of a secular perspective, stand up for yourself but in a tolerant way. The more we skeptics attack religion, the more we exemplify exactly what we find objectionable.

    Apparently, anything we do or say in response to religious claims represents an unhealthy attitude.

  • Parse

    I read that in the same way that Dave B. did – as sympathetic to the plight of the nonreligious.

    I don’t see it as saying that ‘Atheist Culture’ is challenging everybody else’s right to your own beliefs. Instead, it’s addressing the point that referenced you:
    “In fact, nonbelievers have felt alienated for decades, said Hemant Mehta”
    Also from the article: “Historically scorned and forced to live in silence for decades, atheists, agnostics and self-described freethinkers are basking in the glow of a renaissance…”

  • Dave B.

    Yeah, the rabbi says some stupid shit. But he’s saying it as an answer to how atheists should respond to a culture that challenges our right to our own beliefs.

  • Brian

    Hemant, I’m pretty sure they intended it to mean:

    How should you (if you were an atheist) respond to a culture (normal American culture) that challenges your right to your own beliefs (atheism)?

    As in, the bus ads are one way that atheists have responded. If you, the reader, were in their shoes, how would you have responded?

  • Adam Tjaavk

    How should you respond to a culture that
    challenges your right to your own beliefs?

    You mean like, for example, shunning Christian ones? – murderous Islamic ones?

    BTW Hemant: “people’s right” surely – peoples’ would only make sense in an anthropological sense.


  • Slickninja

    Really, living as an atheist any day of the week is dealing with a culture that challenges your own beliefs.

  • The wording is terrible. The Trib is a fine paper, but that’s inexcusable.

    The ad campaign does not challenge anyone’s rights (it doesn’t even make reference to “rights” of any kind); it challenges the beliefs themselves. BIG difference.

    Newspapers are supposed to illuminate the issues, providing clarity. But this invites people to misunderstand the story and the underlying issue.

  • @Adam — Fixed! Thanks.

  • JSug

    Yes, I get that the question was aimed at non-theists, but it’s excerpted from an article that is criticizing the bus ads (and other recent forms of advertising by non-theist groups). The answer, provided by the good rabbi is (I’m paraphrasing): “Be like Ghandi and don’t respond at all.” Which is a stupid statement, because while Ghandi promoted non-violence, he was also in favor of civil disobedience, and I’m pretty sure he never told people to be silent. Being critical of religion does not amount to violence.

  • Nadine

    Whoever it was directed at, “right to” wasn’t appropriate.

  • Alan McGowan

    A religious mind no matter how “secular” they claim to be is still stunted with the faulty logic as written in the bible and Koran. In a religious mind things like re-animating the dead, interdimensional travel, eternal life, torture, anything– is all possible through the power their god bestowed on them. So why would it shock us when they can’t understand the concept of context?

  • Hitch

    I’d agree that context matters. Still, I actually kind of like the question, because there is a sensibly good answer! Namely that people have the right to believe whatever they want.

    It’s actually a boring question. A more interesting question would be: How do you respond when decisions are made based on false, irrational, ill-formed, or uninformed beliefs.

    That is the real question. So yes, people can believe whatever they want, but what happens when people hold to beliefs that have real world ramifications. That is where it starts to matter.

  • I think that in context to the article – about the atheist bus ads – the question makes perfect sense. The atheist bus ads are one way of responding to a culture that challenges one’s right to believe what one likes. Discuss. It seemed obvious to me.

  • Dan W

    It seems to be intended for atheists to me. After all, the overall culture in the U.S. views holding some form of religious belief as the norm. And of course there are plenty of theists out there who think it would be better if atheists just shut up and let them try to screw up the country as they please.

    I do agree that wording is pretty bad though.

  • Baconsbud

    I think it is a question that any group can believe it is directed at them. I could see it getting comments from many different groups of people who believe others are trying to force different beliefs on them.

  • Rarian Rakista

    We should send in enough replies so they swamp the religious nutters, lol.

  • Sandra

    It was poorly worded. However, being a wordsmith, I can see one different way of looking at the question. To challenge (in a certain way of thinking) is to promote deep thinking about why and how you believe certain ways. I challenge myself often, by questioning why I am an atheist, giving myself more foundation. When I am able to, I challenge christians, in discussion, making them talk about why they believe the way they do.

  • I agree that it was poorly worded, especially since a majority of the readers of the Chicago Tribune are Christians who most likely interpreted it to refer to their own rights.

  • muggle

    Please it can pertain to anyone and numerous situations. I’ve been ostracized for daring to cricticize Dawkins, for Pete’s sake, among so-called freethinkers.

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