Being Edgy Yet Friendly August 19, 2010

Being Edgy Yet Friendly

At the Secular Student Alliance convention last month, Jen McCreight spoke about how atheists like to be edgy — and that can be a good thing — but it’s important not to go overboard when you’re holding events.

There’s a ton of great advice for anyone who’s part of a local or campus atheist group.

… Also, don’t have safe-sex orgies while burning an effigy of the pope.

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  • Jason Baur

    But, but…I already sent out the invites.

  • There are instances in which being edgy, even unfriendly, is our obligation. I would submit that it was the moral obligation of every newspaper that believes in free speech and freedom from theocracy to publish the infamous Muhammad cartoons. That’s something that would be regarded as “edgy”—and certainly 1.2 billion Muslims would see it as “unfriendly” to say the least—but the principle is more important. I think this happens on a smaller scale all the time.

  • Lenoxus

    Are you saying the orgies should be without protection? That would completely counter the purpose of safe-sex orgies, which is to offend the Pope.

  • Jordan

    I only got into atheism for the swinging couples scene.

  • Jagyr

    Effigy-burning first, then the orgies. As long as you don’t try to do both at once, you’ll be alright.

  • Hitch

    Really nice talk and spot on. Humor can be a really good way to deliver criticism with a laugh. Some of the harshest critics of religion are comedians, and often even believers crack up when a comedian skillfully excavates the absurdities.

    But the biggest thing is substance. I’d almost invert that “Not just edgy” probably could be “substance with an edge”.

  • Ted

    She shouldn’t tell us what we should or shouldn’t do with our time. It takes all kinds to effect people. Her way is NOT the “best” and/or “only” way to go about effecting change and/or thought.

    I hate people that try to tell people not to be offensive. Much of the time, being offensive is very effective. You do it your way, others will do it their way… don’t fuckin’ tell us that your way is the best way – it’s not. The purpose is to invoke thought, and sometimes holding religion in complete contempt and ridiculing it gets to others that your way doesn’t.

  • Very excellent presentation. I agreed with 100% of it, and it’s something that the more active of us should keep in mind. This kinda goes along with the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech from TAM this year.

  • Aj

    Comparing pornography to the Bible because of its sexual content is a point, comparing fiction to the Bible because of its fictional content is another point, they should not be seen as alternatives. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with pornography, submitting to taboos is the same as re-enforcing them. An argument against using pornography could be that it’s “mission creep” and a “package deal”, that we should focus promoting individual ideals so people don’t have to sign up to everything. Although that’s clearly not been advocated by the SSA where people brought identity politics and other issues into discussions of secularism. The context is important, in some places pornography isn’t a big deal. It’s not like there’s an equivalent to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, or that you can compare the Bible’s daughters who get their dad drunk to fuck him, and books with mild romance, where as that specific scenario can probably be found in pornography (I’m not joking).

    Who gets to decide what’s too offensive? I’d like to know what this is being based on. Popularity? Taste? Democracy? I don’t like burning books for other reasons, I don’t think I could separate burning the Qur’an and drawing Muhammed on how offensive they are. Non-Muslims don’t give a fuck and quite a few Muslims don’t either. Isn’t this just encouraging people to be offended by ever increasing expression, so that in the end we can’t say anything? I don’t think politics for the sake of politics is a good idea either. I don’t think a good point should be dropped because some people don’t want to hear it.

  • Hitch

    I kind of think there is a huge difference between drawing a smiling stick figure and burning a Quran.

    While both may speak to taboos, they also live in associations.

    I have very positive associations with smiling stick figures.

    I have very negative associations with book burnings.

    And the message is different. Smiling stick figures articulate the point that satirical art about religion has to be permissible. Qur’an burning are a crude and destructive form of disagreeing with a book.

    There is what we say and how we are received. If what we say is “up yours with anything the Qur’an says” then one should not be surprised if people perceive it as such.

    If the message is “we should be able to draw images of Muhammad because the prescription against idolizing him doesn’t make sense for non-believers” that is a very very different message.

    The second part is, is it received. But if your message doesn’t give space to explanation it’s limited to that reception. If however it has a positive explanation, one has the chance to repeat and reinforce the explanation, and have it stick even if initially, or with some people, there is resistance to it.

    I short, we can say whatever. But in terms of reception, one can set onself up for not getting across what the point is, or making it hard to get across, or one can make it easier.

    It’s just being convincing and honest. But yes, a good point should not be dropped just because people don’t want to hear it. I think we are the kind of community who understand that very enlightenment principle as it is meant.

  • Dan W

    Great speech. I agree with most of it, especially the bit about humor being a good method to get your point across. I agree that atheist groups should try to get the points of their events across while being edgy. And I liked the point Jen made about how, no matter how friendly your events are, there will always be some who take offense.

  • GSW

    Actually, there have been cases made for killing people (unbelievers) for touching a Qur’an without washing their hands first.
    Unbelievers have been flogged for dropping the Qur’an and not so long ago the mob went after some people who had used some paper they found to block up holes in their hovel, because there were a few sura written on the paper.

    So, although I personally shiver at the thought of destroying any book, this ist just the difference between quietly saying:
    “listen guys,” it is rarely women, “you have your beliefs and we have ours, we have to agree to disagree”
    and loudly shouting:

  • numsix

    No book should be burned, especially a book that encourages/teaches/leads to people doing bad things.
    Ignore it, teach the true that hurts the true believers in the book more.

  • Thanks Jen! I loved it!

  • Fantastic talk Jen.

  • Jen,

    Very good advice for the intended audience -people starting or participating in secular groups.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    I would slightly disagree with the idea that offense should be collateral damage. Rather, I’d say that it’s okay to set up a situation that can be expected to cause offense so long as those who are offended are offended for the wrong reasons. If someone gets offended just because you offer free hugs or point out that atheists (*gasp*) exist, that helps bring irrational prejudice against atheists to the surface. That’s not collateral damage; that’s actually useful.

  • Hitch

    That’s a really good point.

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