Question to the Homeless: Would You Cross God Off Your Sign for $20? February 14, 2011

Question to the Homeless: Would You Cross God Off Your Sign for $20?

Mike Lee, the religiousantagonist, is back with a new video. This time, he’s not reshelving books in a library.

Instead, he’s trying to cut a deal with a homeless person: Will he remove the word “God” from his sign in exchange for $20?

My initial reaction was: Dammit, Mike, why are you being a jerk? How dare you exploit a homeless family like this? If you want to help them, just give them the money. You know what? From now on, I’m just gonna call you Dammit Mike.

After the encounter, Dammit Mike readily admits to all of that. But he asks us to keep in mind the real point here:

Is the homeless person’s faith clouding his judgment and common sense? If he needs the money so badly, and he’s not against asking for it, is the string Mike has attached to it really that big of a deal?

Remember: he’s not trying to convert them to atheism, he’s not disparaging their personal faith, and he ends up giving them the $20 regardless of their decision.

When I shared some of my concerns with Dammit Mike, he added this in his response:

I won’t knock what it must be like to live in the Miracle Bus. These people don’t deserve to be criticized for their situation… but their homelessness is almost irrelevant to the meat of what this video is about: when you’ve hit rock bottom, do you climb your way out? — or do you wait, faithful that someone (God) will save you?

Your thoughts on the video?

Side note: Part of me wonders whether the homeless man in question would have acted any differently if there wasn’t a camera in his face.

Maybe he felt the need to look especially pious so he didn’t come off as a hypocrite to the camera, regardless of how strong his actual beliefs are. Hell, if I were in his position, I’d probably get more sympathy (and money) with a sign that included the word “God” than one without, so I’d want to play that up.

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  • Sue D. Nymme

    Don’t think of it in terms of “This homeless guy won’t even take $20, which he desperately needs, because he thinks his God will punish him if he does so (or will reward him if he doesn’t).”
    Think of it as “This other guy is asking him to violate his beliefs, principles, and integrity, for a lousy $20.”

  • Liz

    I feel like the fact that they live in ‘the miracle bus’ means that they’re much more preachy about their religion. I’d like to see this question asked to multiple homeless people (although it is somewhat mean).

    Every time I see a homeless person with a sign ending in ‘God Bless’ I wonder if they’re really religious…I’ve always thought that if I were in that situation I might lie about my lack of religion, because it might make people more likely to give me money. But, I’m not really sure if those words help the homeless or not. Hopefully I will never be in that situation to find out!

  • I fully understand why they wouldn’t give up their sign for 20$. It’s denying God before the world for material benefits and it’s completely unacceptable as a believer. They would have been violating their values. While I find the whole thing befuddling from a noner POV, as a human being I can easily see how a value or moral is worth so much more than 20$. I would be curious to see what happens if he offered millions though. Having said that I think its kind of cruel to ask someone to violate their beliefs for money. *Shrug*

  • Oh and also? He totally wouldn’t have done it if the camera was off either – that guy is a total believer fundie, not just someone using God to milk more empathy.

  • dersk

    No, Mike’s just an insufferable prick. I mean, I would hope that the stuff I believe in is worth more than twenty bucks to me. Would he lie about being an atheist for cash? Kinda doubt it.

    And there’s just something kinda creepy and paternalistic in the way he relates to the homeless family, as if they were somehow less able or less entitled to make their own decisions.

  • I’m sure the camera was a factor in all of this, but not to the extent that one might think.
    As I pointed out to Mike when he posted his video on my Atheist Tees Facebook page, these people would have made decent candidates for suicide bombers had they been born in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.

  • Liz

    I would TOTALLY lie about being an atheist for $20, especially if I was poor as hell and had a child. Hell, I would get baptized, praise satan, or punch myself in the stomach for money if my son were cold and homeless.

    It’s not like part of the bet was to hold the sign up for the rest of the day, they could have gone and made a new sign the second they got the money.

  • DA

    What dersk said.

    Seriously, I don’t usually play the “what will theists think?” card, but this is one thing that would make me think atheists were a pack of assholes if I weren’t already one (an atheist, I mean, not an asshole).

  • Boris

    What’s the big deal? Mother Theresa made a career out of carrot-and-stick behavior modification techniques, and didn’t she receive sainthood for it?
    I wouldn’t worry so much about theists condemning us for this–they will anyway.

  • Claudia

    OK, I’m sorry, even with the explanation, he’s a complete prick. He’s exploiting a homeless FAMILY to make his point.

    Guess what? Homeless people have principles too. They have dignity. They may not appreciate being used to make your damn point.

    Now, they were playing for the camera, especially at the end when they said that they were “keeping god”. I don’t doubt for an instant that without a camera if he offered them “any amount of money” (or maybe even the $20) for the destruction of the sign, they would. If not they weren’t Christian, but Christian AND crazy.

    However I can see a homeless person refusing to dance a jigg for you in exchange for a bit of money. How offended would some atheists be if Christians went up to a homeless atheist family and offered them $20 dollars to get baptized on the spot (baby included)? They are not your fucking monkeys.

    I know they were playing for the camera, but I sincerely hope that some church organization sees this and decides to make a point of helping this family. In fact, I’d like it even better if a HUMANIST group decided to help them, help the parents get a job or help put them in a permanent home, in the name of our humanist principles.

  • I agree with Mike on this one. I Used to be like those people living in the bus. I was not homeless like them. I was caught up in an abusive relationship and with two small children thought that god was testing me. I was still a christian when I woke up and left him. It was after studying the bible and really delving into it that I became an Atheist.
    I especially like what Mike said at the end about personal accountability. That is very much lacking in religion.
    Mike is a thinking man with a heart. If he were the jerk everyone think’s he is then he would not have given them the money at all.
    I am angry with the couple in the bus. Why isn’t the father out looking for a job? Why is it that mom looks like she ate them out of house and home. Where is the little kid going to school? In case you didnt know you can not enroll a child in school unless you have a home to live in. You have to show proof that you have a roof over your head. Living out of a bus does not count as a home. So my guess is they are possibly homeschooling the kid and with their mentality that is not a good thing.

  • Silent Service

    Mike Lee’s only point in his vidio was that he’s an asshole. Grade A, prime asshole at that. How the homless man would have acted with or without the camera around is completely beside the point. How Mike acted is the point. What a jerk.

  • Cindy

    @Cherokee S.
    It is not true that you cannot enroll in school if you are homeless. Schools must accept homeless children. I’m not sure how they determine appropriate district, etc., but homeless children can go to school.

  • If he needs the money so badly, and he’s not against asking for it, is the string Mike has attached to it really that big of a deal?

    Yes. That’s what we call coercion. You’re not asking him to convert to atheism, but you’re still being a dick. I’m not a fan of faith-based service organizations because I find them inherently coercive of people who are already compromised in their agency. And this is directive and awful.

  • Cheryl

    If I really needed money/help due to being homeless, I would play the god angle, too. I’d have a better chance of survival here in the Buybull Belt. As good ol’ PT Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

  • And this is why most people think we Atheists are know it all, arrogant elitists.

    If i give someone money, there should be no strings attached.

    I am no better than a homeless person and a homeless person is no better than me.

    This is stupid. Like someone noted, I don’t try to think what a theist might be thinking.

  • Chad

    Would this guy go to church for money?

  • Sarah

    Technically these are unfair tactics. I think he could have done this more thoughtfully–for example, by bringing materials for a new sign and buying the old one on condition its replacement contain no religious references–but then he’d have risked little or no argument, which wouldn’t have illustrated his point (although, as this family apparently consider their bus-house miraculous, perhaps it would have still earned the appropriate result.) As it is, the test is rigged.

    Examining the homeless family rather than the antagonist, it is a disturbing symbol when the parent not only gives away the part of the sign that is actually related to the family’s need, but gloatingly shreds it.
    Also, what are the implications of the name Miracle Bus? Was it a miracle they had that much (implying gratitude)? Is it based on a hope that a miracle will save them (implying futility/entitlement)? Is it a meaningless theological reference (implying sammiches)?

  • Carlie

    I Used to be like those people living in the bus. I was not homeless like them.

    Then no, you haven’t been like them. They’re homeless. You weren’t.

    I am angry with the couple in the bus. Why isn’t the father out looking for a job?

    Who says he isn’t, and that he can’t find anyone to hire him? We’re still in a recession with a 10% unemployment rate.

    Why is it that mom looks like she ate them out of house and home.

    Crappy high-calorie food is cheaper than nutritious food.

    Where is the little kid going to school? In case you didnt know you can not enroll a child in school unless you have a home to live in.

    Yes, you can.

    Wow, nice to know that your own struggles have made you so nonjudgmental of your fellow humans. [eyeroll]

  • My first thought: “Wow. Way to use a homeless family as props to make a point, you arrogant douche.”

    My second thought: Pretty much the same. Especially now that I’ve read his response to your concerns:

    …their homelessness is almost irrelevant to the meat of what this video is about…

    Actually, it’s absolutely central to it. He needed someone who was suffering to make a point. They were more willing to be humiliated and dehumanized because they were so far down. People who are homeless tend to give up on expecting to be treated like people, and he took advantage of that.


  • Kari

    I’m calling BS on the family, or at least the wife. She said that she wouldn’t accept a million dollars to cross God off of a 20 cent sign. I have to agree with Liz on this one. If my kid were cold and homeless, I would do anything (that was legal), to get them off the street.
    I’m not saying that Mike isn’t a jerk, but he does make a point. These people are so wrapped up in their faith that they put their child in danger so that they won’t piss their “God” off. I think that’s messed up.

  • Kristi

    It really is astonishing that I witnessed a “Christian” say: “I have God!, and he has the trash!” (Keep in mind that “trash” was the “Please help keep my family warm”) The “trash” was about their family. How nice they consider their family as trash, but not god, who has not helped them one bit.

    These people… well, what can you really say about it? Would they let that baby starve over that word on a sign? It seems to me they would. That’s very sad. That poor child. He needs some better parents.

  • Kristi

    “Think of it as “This other guy is asking him to violate his beliefs, principles, and integrity, for a lousy $20.””

    And so? People do this day and day out to one another. It seems OK so long as the people in question are not needy? That’s wrong. Mike’s entire point was, are people really willing to let reality go for faith and the answer is yes. It’s very sad. Would the situation be any different if that baby were crying of hunger? Would they take the $20 to feed him if it meant crossing God off the sign? I would hope they would, but I doubt it still.

    Mike’s point is that even under the most desperate of circumstances people are still programmed to fear punishment from unknown forces. It’s a lie, and people are suffering for the ignorance….Their child is going to be the one suffering for it, not them. They are making the choices and the child gets no choice. They are putting “god” before their family’s needs and it’s nothing short of wrong in every sense of the word.

  • Jonas

    >> I’m calling BS on the family, or at least the >> wife. She said that she wouldn’t accept a
    >> million dollars to cross God off of
    >> a 20 cent sign.

    As I saw it, the wife did take more offense.

    When I see such signs, I do agree with Mike Lee in principle. — ‘If God is all powerful, and good, why is He being such an A** in driving me to homelessness?’ — But I’ve also taken ‘God Bless’ or ‘God Bless You’ and the polite way of saying ‘Thank you’ to whoever stops to help.

    (same way you one says ‘God Bless You’ after a sneeze)

    Also Mike Lee made several assumptions – first that ‘miracle bus’ and ‘God’ referred to the Christian God. – Jesus was never mentioned, except by Mike Lee in the example of Satan tempting Jesus.

  • People, people… there were NO strings attached.

    Remember: he’s not trying to convert them to atheism, he’s not disparaging their personal faith, and he ends up giving them the $20 regardless of their decision.

    Did you guys not read that part above? Regardless, he ended up giving them the $20.

    Now, would I pretend to believe in a god for $20 to feed my homeless children? You bet your ass I would. The well-being of my children is not worth sacrificing just so I can stand up in my lack of belief in a god.

  • How do you feel about groups that feed the homeless but insist that they say grace if they are going to get any food? I’m guessing that most people here dislike that a lot. This seems very similar.

    Note that if one really believes in something resembling the traditional God then crossing out his name for 20 bucks is clearly the wrong thing. Would he have complained about hypocrisy if they had been willing to do so?

    This is seriously dickish and uncool.

  • When it comes to feeding and sheltering one’s family, and especially children, religion beliefs should take a backseat every single time. To do otherwise is child abuse (neglect at best).

    Seriously, if he intended to give the money regardless of their response, what is the problem?

  • Hello everyone – this is Mike from the video.

    I just want to thank everyone for checking this clip out and leaving your comments. I’m certainly not going to attempt to persuade or convince anyone as to the merits of my video. (I’ll leave the converting to the religious.) I’m just going to post a couple thoughts:

    This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused with being exploitative in my methods. Sure I’m being a jerk in what I’m asking and attempting to demonstrate…as I say in the video – what gives me the right to say that their beliefs are wrong?

    HOWEVER, I’m not the one on the street corner holding a sign asking for money. My original thought was that most people that write “god bless” on their sign just do it because THEY ARE exploiting the religious majority and playing up the “god angle” for money. What I stumbled onto with this family was MUCH different than what I thought was going to happen. This was the only family I filmed – and it was astonishing what I walked away from.

    I’ve heard some great comments including similarities to the testing of Job, the godless monster above makes a suggestion that with hardcore faith and this kind of reasoning – if they weren’t christian but were muslim, they would make ideal suicide bombers(the child included.)

    To me, the power of this video comes AFTER my dick move of setting the parameters for crossing the god out for $20. Watching their faith take over for common sense is difficult to watch; but poignant to people that consider themselves non-believers. When they say they wouldn’t even except a million dollars to cross god out – camera or not, you have to question these parents sanity. After all, they are homeless and have a son to provide for. (How many parents out there – religious or not – would give their lives for their children?) And I’m just asking them to give me their sign.

    We all know that religion feeds off of rationality – and this clip (in my opinion) demonstrates EXACTLY what is wrong with religion.

    As with all of my videos, I don’t mention atheism or agnosticism in anyway; so as to avoid any negative fallout. (Although the mother does refer to me as a worker of satan fairly frequently.)

    Once again, thanks for checking the video out and posting your comments.

  • Mike Lee might have made an actual point if he was offering the family jobs, three meals a day, and decent shelter to cross God off their sign. Then you’d have a real argument that faith was blinding them to their needs and those of their children. But 20 bucks to violate a strongly held personal belief? That’s just insulting.

    Hey, Mike, want to make a similar valid point without looking like a jerk? Go find a well-heeled suburban Colorado family who is homeschooling their children into utter ignorance, or a bunch of middle class faith-healers praying while their kid dies. That’s faith blinding you to the needs of your family. Not tossing Jeebus overboard when some snot with a video camera waives an Andrew Jackson at you…not so much.

  • Mike may come across as an elitist douche, but so does ‘the mom’.

    They insulted people who live without a god and she is so harsh and judgmental of people who don’t believe in her magical father. It shows that their irrational beliefs run really deep. And that they don’t have a firm grasp on that whole ‘love one another’ business.

    I was most surprised that the word ‘god’ on the sign almost became their god. I felt that they stopped thinking of god as an actual being and started treating the ink on the sign as if it were holy. I wonder when it came time to make a new sign, if they would have cut the word ‘god’ off of the old sign and put it on a shelf in their miracle bus. Would they have tossed a used, damaged sign in any other circumstance? Or did they become extremely pious because of the camera.

    It sucks that they are homeless and it sucks that they are living out of an RV. But, being a mother, I would have given the shirt off my back for $20 to feed my child, to wash our clothes, to buy tooth paste or even just be $20 closer to renting a room somewhere. I have been ‘homeless’ before, but instead of an RV, my family and I lived out of some really seedy motels, I’ve had to go food pantry hopping and I can say that I have never been so principled and pious that I wouldn’t take free money, even if it meant having to make a ‘new sign’. Everyone is different, but it really seems that the belief in a god makes you act in irrational ways. Which I think is the point that Mike was trying to make.

    It was a SIGN. Ink and poster board. It was a written word. It was easily replaced and she stated that not even for one million dollars would she EVER cross the letters o, d, and g off of a sign. She wasn’t capable of taking a step back and looking at it through a different lens. She wouldn’t even let Mike take the sign if her god was still on it. That is crazy to me. Does she love her god more than she loves her family? The god that made her homeless. Seriously?

    Making a homeless person choose between money and their beliefs sucks, but I think that mother proved his point. Is there ever a situation so dire, that a Christian would turn away from their absent god and choose to actually help themselves?

  • Kurt

    I have to think that in the back of the homeless family’s mind was the capitalistic calculation that in this society, a sign with “God Bless” on it will get a lot more handouts than one without–definitely more than a $20 bump (not that they have Ph.D.s in micro-economics).

    But turning down a million bucks would have been a lot harder if it weren’t hypothetical…

  • Mike Lee being an asshole doesn’t help anybody.

  • Would you go to church for $20?

    Hemant, how much did you get per church when you “sold your soul” to Jim Henderson? Mike Lee is asking for a lot less that that.

  • For the first time in a long time, I sympathized with the theists, as there was something noble in a Sisyphusian way about them.

    The offer is appalling and Mike’s film is downright slimy. Let him set-up a Paypal account so we can all contribute a couple of $$. Have him bring it to them in our name and apologize.

  • Philbert

    People who are suffering and desperate can act irrationally. Exploiting homeless theists is no better than exploiting sick atheists, or crowing over “foxhole conversions”.

  • Drew M.

    Woah. Deja Vu.

  • Rich Wilson

    Can’t watch right now, but whenever I’ve given money to someone, and they’ve said something like “God bless you”, I say “I’m an atheist, but thank you anyways”. Or if the sign references ‘God’, I’ll say “I assume donations from atheists are o.k.?” as I’ve handed them the money. That is, I give them the money first, and don’t ask them to change anything. I’m just making it clear to them that a non-believer just helped them out a bit- so maybe we’re not all baby eaters.

  • HumanistJoel

    I was approached last week by a homeless man in D.C. asking for money. I told him that I didn’t have any cash, but would be more than happy to buy him dinner at the fast food place we were standing in front of. He replied “God Bless You, God sent you to me, praise God.” I replied, “Actually I don’t believe in god, I believe in being good for goodness sake.”

    It turned into a 30 minute conversation over nasty fried chicken. I know that I probably didn’t change his irrational belief in a deity that apparently doesn’t care for his plight, but it seems much more proactive then “forsake your beliefs for $20…you’re homeless and irrational.”

    I think Mike feels that he’s being thought provoking, but he comes off as a bit of a douche. There are ways to help and have actual impact in peoples lives that aren’t confrontational and mean.

    Just my thoughts, Joel

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    I think the point that Mike was trying to make (that “faith takes over common sense”) was lost in this video and that much more harm than good was done. The idea that religious people act irrationally is expressed ONLY if you assume an atheist point-of-view. If you don’t believe in god, then of course giving up $20 for a word is irrational. But atheists already know that faith makes people make irrational decisions. To the atheist audience, the video says nothing new.

    To the theist audience, the video shows the homeless family defending their beliefs. If I were a theist, I’d be cheering the family on: “Don’t sell out your faith to that jerk! Faith is worth more than money!” Some have noted that they are not being asked to give up their faith, just a few words. But crossing out god does have deeper meaning to a theist (I’ll bet most atheists would similarly feel dirty if they ever kissed the pope’s feet, even if it didn’t mean anything.) To a theist, the family plays the hero, and Mike plays the bad guy.

    So all in all, the video fails to bring its intended message to either audience and just makes atheists look like they fit their stereotypes.

  • While I wasn’t supportive of Mike’s library stunt, I see this in a slightly different light. Sure, this venture could have been staged or presented differently, but I wasn’t offended. Well, not completely, anyway.
    To me this video merely demonstrated how some folks will behave in ways that are not in their best interests when under the influence of woo.

  • JimG

    How often do we criticize religious groups for only providing aid to the needy if they also accept religious indoctrination or sit through some sermon or ritual? I don’t see that this is any different.

    For those saying “Oh, it’s not the same, since Mike gave them $20 anyway” – no, it is the same because that was not made explicit at the outset. Relenting at the end is not the same as offering no-strings-attached help for people who need it.

    I also suspect that hidden under the family’s rhetoric was the simple calculation that a sign including “God” would garner more long-term benefits than one godless contributor would offer. Mike tries to portray this as “faith tak(ing) over for common sense,” but how was this family to know how the video would be used? Had this been a private, unrecorded encounter, then just making a new sign would be more practical. But the family may have figured that if the video was publicized, they could reap benefits from any religious group which saw it. The fact that they knew this encounter was being filmed, I think, negates Mike’s contention that this is unarguably an expression of faith over calculation.

  • Revyloution

    I’m with Liz. If my daughter were cold and hungry, I’d fall on my knees before any idol or god you put before me.

    But only after I’d exhausted every possible means of supporting her myself.

    Just like all people, the homeless are a diverse group. I have no doubt there are frauds who have false piety, just as there are truly devout believers who think they are being tested.

  • I know I would go to church for $20. That’s basically a $20/hour wage, more than most average jobs pay. I’ve done worse for less. 😉

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    Mike Lee says:

    As with all of my videos, I don’t mention atheism or agnosticism in anyway; so as to avoid any negative fallout. (Although the mother does refer to me as a worker of satan fairly frequently.)

    Although he didn’t say “the A-word”, it’s pretty clear what Mike’s religious inclinations are. He called religion a fairy-tale in the video and his handle is the religious antagonist. This brands him as an atheist whether he uses that word or not. The fallout is not avoided. The reputation of atheists/agnostics is hurt by this video and harmful stereotypes have been reinforced in the minds of any theist who watches it.

  • Hiruc

    i think dammit mike is jus about to cross the border towards fascism with his stupid statement.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Yeah, a long time ago there were these people called Romans, and for a couple of centuries there they would occasionally put Christians into arenas to be eaten by lions and other wild animals. Plenty of those Christians could have avoided that fate by denying their religion and turning their backs on Christ. Some certainly did, but it seems plenty did not. The Christ meme is very powerful at producing this kind of blind faithfulness, even though I’m sure these people would have blinked if you brought out the lions. In fact, St. Valentine was a Christian martyred by a Roman emperor for his faith, so Happy ‘Die a Stupid Death’ Day.

  • Kristi

    “Would you go to church for $20?”

    Absolutely I would. I know where my beliefs are, I know, mentally, where I stand. If I needed $20 and someone offered it to me for a simple task of spending an hour in church…. sure I would. Many charity organizations demand those they help “pray” before they eat. How is this act lower down the pole?

  • Jeanette

    This is why I don’t give money to religious charities. Embarassing when it happens with an atheist.

  • $20 is simply not a sufficient motivator. But also, beliefs don’t have a monetary value. I’m not an atheist because it’s more profitable so I can appreciate that other beliefs are not bottom line oriented as well. Also, asking someone to violate their beliefs as opposed to asking someone to drop their belief is a mixed bag. You’re acknowledging they have a code of ethics and you’re trying to find the value at which they become something of a hypocrite. The Religious Antagonist makes us all look bad.

  • Liz

    Oh Darwin Dagger reminded me of that book “She Said Yes” book about the girl you got killed at Columbine for admitting she believed in god.

    I was in middle school when that book was super popular, my catholic mom read it and cried…and all I could think was, “wow, what an idiot. If some crazy Christian came to my school wielding a gun and asked me if I believed in God, I would say YES in a heartbeat and vice versa”

    Now, of course I felt badly about thinking this girl was an idiot. I mean, she as only a teenager and she was horribly murdered. But as a 12 year-old I felt like I had more common sense than she did and couldn’t really understand why someone would chose a few words over life…especially when they could just confess their sins and be forgiven the next day =P

  • Lauren

    Using homeless people to “make a point” is exploitative. Admitting you are exploitative does not negate that fact in some sort of meta-ironic twist.

  • totally off-topic, but Liz: that Columbine story is an urban legend.

  • I keep contrasting the image of Mike sitting in his warm, comfortable den, talking to the camera with the image of him taunting a family of homeless people in a cold parking lot.

    Think about that contrast.

    Think about the impact of that contrast when the general public mulls over this video.

    Now, think about the high rates of unemployment and economic distress in the world right now.

  • Timberwraith, is there anything else that I need to think about?

  • Tyler, perhaps… a nice cup of tea?

  • Principals and values, PFSHT! You’re freaking homeless! I’m not saying start prostituting yourself or mugging people, but it’s just an effin sign. You can’t even put a roof over the heads of your children, you need to be doing whatever the hell it takes to keep those kids safe and alive. I agree with Liz here, if I were homeless I would totally lie about being an atheist for $20. Sheesh, as rough as it is these days sometimes you have to put aside your petty pride and overblown self respect so you can feed yourself!

  • Liz


    hmm…interesting to know.

    Also, I was just thinking about this video in parts and why would they refuse to sell him the sign for $20? It’s just a piece of paper, it doesn’t even say something like, “God is the savior” just “God Bless” which is pretty much a valediction. Words usually lost right after you read them. It’s not like THEY would be cursing the name of god by selling a paper with his name on it.

    Would they have PAID Mike Lee $20 to not destroy another piece of paper that Mike had written on? What if Mike gave them a new sign with the word God on it and then asked to buy it back. Would it have the same value to them since they hadn’t written it?

  • Revyloution

    An odd thought experiment:

    Why is it unethical to pay homeless people to sing and dance for your entertainment, but perfectly OK to pay celebrities to do exactly the same thing?

    Why is paying these people $20 to expose their beliefs on camera unethical, but paying Bill O’Reily millions to do the same is right?

    If it’s the amount of money that’s the issue, I’d say that $20 for what looks like 10 minutes worth of work is a pretty good rate.

  • As dreadful as watching Bum Fights.

  • ff42

    When there term “$20” was uttered, it appeared that the homeless man looked up at his wife and shortly thereafter she jumped into the conversation.

    I have to wonder it the situation would have been different if 1) no camera, and 2) no family around.

  • Vas

    Another Soul For Sale

    20 bucks to go to church… hmmmmm, well really how long of a time are we talking about. If it’s $20 for an hour sign me up, Sure it’s a low wage but I’m still game. If we can come to terms on a regular rate I’ll go to as many as you want over and over. Provide more financial intensives and I’ll get baptized, study the bible,eat the flesh whatever. I live in Orange County CA so if any O.C. xtians are lurking around here let me know if you are up for it. After reading the beautiful train wreak of posts on this site over the last week, I don’t really feel very close to the atheist “movement” anyway, perfect time to swoop in and get me while I’m down, I know how xtians love that maneuver. I promice to be quite, respectful, and all that mess. If you like I won’t let on to my lack of belief. Really whatever you want. I’m not homeless but times are tight and I could use the money.
    This stunt Mike pulled is almost exactly the same as the standard operating procedure for a great many christian ministries. Go to service and THEN we’ll feed you, Salvation Army… ring a bell for anyone. So come on all you xtian soldiers, my nihilistic ass is up for grabs, If you can fund it, I’m ready to sell out.

  • This is why people don’t trust atheists. I like you Hemant, please stop promoting this dick.

  • Vas

    “This is why people don’t trust atheists.”

    Oh bullshit, don’t be so naive, and don’t count on the readers here to be possessed of enough naivete to buy into simplistic crap like that, it’s insulting to treat us like a bunch of chumps. The reason people don’t trust atheists is not because Mike is a dick, or even because a bunch of atheists are dicks. As I pointed out, the Salvation Army has been pulling the same type of crap, turned 180 degrees, for years and people trust them, and like them, and give them chocking wads of filthy cash to do exactly the same thing Mike was doing.
    Oh and by the way Mike, just for the record, I think you’re acting like a dick, but I’m OK with that.

  • GaR

    A dude goes out of his way to give money to a homeless family despite their irrational objections and he’s the bad guy?

    I don’t buy that for a second. Sure, Mike came off as a bit of a dick in the video, but he gave them the money by compromising on his deal. I suspect he would’ve ended up giving them the money regardless.

  • Lauren

    @Revyloution When power differences come into play there is a level of coercion. And in capitalism money is power. When celebrities are being paid to do something they have more choices available due to their status. Also celebrities audition for those parts. if you saw halle berry on the street and said “I’ll give you $20 to do a little dance” she has enough money that $20 doesn’t affect her life that much, which means she has more power to say no to such a demeaning request. If I am starving and you make me dance for money to buy food that is humiliating and abusing the power that you have over me.

    People have mentioned that religious people attach strings to aid as well. Just because they do it, doesn’t mean we should jump on the band wagon.

  • I don’t see what the big deal is… He wasn’t asking them to deny or reject their beliefs, he was just asking for them to remove the word “God” from a sign that they could easily replace. If I were in their situation, if I had a wife and kid who were hungry and cold, I’d do just about anything to get money. It doesn’t mean I’m denying my beliefs or my principals, I’m just faking it for money that I desperately need.

    What do I know though… I’m 21 and I live with a single parent and a brother who’s mentally unstable. My mother is very fundamentally Christian and my brother has a gf who is almost exactly like the wife in this video. It’s sad when you see people who are this deluded. It’s even more sad when you have to live with them. People who are so wrapped up in their beliefs that they would let their family live out in the cold and beg for money rather than pretend to deny their religious faith even for a moment. It’s deeply depressing to me personally since after my family left an abusive father, we could have easily fallen into this life.

    I’m really concerned for that family know, especially the kid. I want Mike to send this video to local religious establishments in hopes that they’ll be so proud of the family’s faith and thus help them out. I bet if a church’s leadership watched this, they’d want to take advantage of this situation and help them out just to send their congregation a “God helped them out for remaining faithful” message.

  • penn

    Someone may have mentioned it, but is it possible that the camera made the guy think he was being tested and would actually get more money if he stuck to his belief? That seems like a more likely occurrence than an atheist offering money to remove god from the sign.

  • Peter Mahoney

    It’s no big deal.
    Mike was amiable/non-belligerent the whole time. He civilly invited them to accept his offer of money, yes with strings attached (just as there are strings attached when our jobs offer us money). They could accept or decline, so he respected their rights. He was flexible in letting them negotiate with him (to the point where he didn’t get them to cross off the word God, and nor did he even take that word ‘god’, and still he gave them the $20).

    Mike himself says “Obviously I’m being a jerk”… but that he did so to make his point.

    But I would say he is being no more a jerk than religious charities that pitch religion while doing their charity work.

    In the end, he gave them $20 for a sign worth 40-cents, which was honoring the deal all parties agreed to (except the wife ripped up, yet Mike stayed calm/cool with that), then he shook hands and left them while still being amiable to them (admittedly while not pretending to respect their beliefs), and he walked away.

    Where’s the problem?

  • Peter Mahoney

    PS: speaking of money changing hands in exchange for someone displaying actions consistent with what they religiously do NOT believe in…..

    … didn’t someone once auction off his soul on ebay?

  • Daniel

    I would absolutely pretend to be religious to ensure my daughter got at least one hot meal a day. I’d pray in the soup kitchen, sit through a bible lecture study, let them dunk us in water, or whatever else it took.

    Primarily because my beliefs are that this life is the only one we have.

    If they sincerely believe that whatever happens to them now is secondary to an eternal afterlife, then it would be a direct violation of those beliefs to trade $20 for turning on that god.

    Expecting $20 for that seems to wildly understate their faith, particularly if their faith is all they have right now.

    As an aside – I used to work in Long Beach, CA. There are ~800 homeless students there.

  • gsw

    Sorry people, but this whole video – and most of the comments – are based on a misconception.

    These homeless people were not particularly intelligent – they did not understand the offer. They – and obviously a number of religious commentators with them – thought he was asking them to give up their god for the 20 dollars.

    Like many (most?) religious people, they confuse the symbol with the thing – understandable – the symbol is all they have!
    This is similar to all those muslims rioting over a cartoon – or death threats for insults to a book or christians getting strung up over the removal of a symbol of torture from young children’s classrooms!

    When the symbol is all you have to worship – the symbol becomes sacred – and the people get all unreasonable.
    The child looks healthy and happy.

  • dersk

    Look, it doesn’t matter if the Salvation Army and Mother Theresa did the same thing. You’re now looking to religionists for moral guidance and justification? Sheesh.

    A lot of folks seem to be having an empathy failure. Lots of Christians are sincere in their belief, and it’s just not true to say that you’re asking them simply to cross off a word on the sign, you’re asking them to lie. It’s a bit depressing that so many of you would pretend to be something you’re not for a few bucks (go to church, whatever). Personally, I think my integrity’s worth more than twenty bucks.

    The more I think about this, the more I think this is morally equivalent to those Bum Fight videos.

  • Lost Left Coaster


    Personally, I think my integrity’s worth more than twenty bucks.

    I’ll second that. I can’t believe how many commenters on here seem to be stunned that homeless people are standing up for their own integrity and their beliefs.

    @Peter Mahoney:

    But I would say he is being no more a jerk than religious charities that pitch religion while doing their charity work.

    Part of the reason I feel it is important for me to publicly take a stand as an atheist and a secular humanist is because I am so disgusted and appalled by that kind of behavior on the part of religious charities. I think that religious charities should do good works with no strings attached and without trying to convert anybody, and I’ll be damned (metaphorically, that is) before I find that kind of behavior acceptable on my own side.

  • Robert W.


    These homeless people were not particularly intelligent – they did not understand the offer. They – and obviously a number of religious commentators with them – thought he was asking them to give up their god for the 20 dollars.

    I think they understood exactly what he was doing. He told them at the beginning that he didn’t like religion and was asking them to remove God from their sign in exchange for money to be used as a symbol that they would deny their faith for cash or that they would deny money in order to keep their religion. Either way he was going to use their actions against them. They held onto their beliefs which is admirable.

    As for his actions, I think the test was ill conceived if the premise was to prove that religion makes people do what seems to be illogical. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the religious mind and though process.

    For Christians, we trust God despite our circumstances. This family, if they believe like they say, understand that they are not to disavow God for any reason, much less money and they are to trust him to take care of their needs. I’m sure unwittingly, but Mike actually helped God help these people. They were able to get $20 while at the same time affirming their faith and spreading the Gospel to a non believer and thousands more though the internet.

    For the record, I don’t think Mike was a jerk in how he handled this. He was upfront and polite. I think the family got the best of him though.

  • Yes, let’s all on our computer talk smack about a religious homeless woman with conviction. THAT makes me feel real good about myself.

    It seems like it’s somehow gotten into fashion for comfortable, housed, employed people to go around screwing with homeless people. As if to say – this person has nothing and is in a desperate position, so I’m going to see what I can make them do.

    And hey – I’m going to give them the money anyway, so no harm no foul right?

    I don’t think so. I can’t support that. I don’t care what the point trying to be made is, I don’t think it’s ever justifiable to screw with people who are in really bad situations.

    If you’re going to give them money, give it to them. If you’re going to offer them money but only if they do a little dance or take a word of their sign, you’re a total asshole even if you give them the money regardless of what they do. You’re taking advantage of another human being and their unfortunate situation (and subsequent mindset) in order to try to make some stupid point that – because of the way in which you went about making the point – means nothing to anyone except those who are already looking for that result.

  • Sinistra

    @Rich Wilson: I have done exactly the same thing when giving homeless people money. It’s interesting to watch their reactions when they realize an atheist person just did something nice for a total stranger. 🙂

  • @pinkocommie

    If you’re going to offer them money but only if they do a little dance or take a word of their sign, you’re a total asshole

    Yeah, how dare you ask someone to do anything in return for cash…

    We all do stuff in return for money. Many if us do jobs we hate just to support ourselves or our families. Money is earned most of the time rather than given away. The problem I have with religious charities is they pretend like their donating and supporting homeless for free, when they are really just holding that charity over the heads of desperate people and making them jump for it by going to church and attending bible studies. If you want people to work for money, don’t call it charity. Dammit Mike didn’t do this. He offered them money in return for a favor. He never claimed it was a charitable donation, and furthermore, he was willing to be as lenient as possible to let the family have the money. If this family refused to do anything to their sign in return for the money, I’m sure Dammit Mike still would have ended up giving it to them in the end regardless. This is not what religious “charities” do. Religious charities make strict rules as to what you must do to earn a “donation” and if you do not comply, they have no problem tossing you out in the cold until you’re willing to swallow your pride and grovel to their demands.

    tldr; asking someone (not demanding) to do a favor in return for cash does not make you an asshole; the real assholes are the ones who demand you grovel for their charity.

  • It’s interesting to see how so many people are quick to call Dammit Mike an asshole or a jerk, and have nothing to say about the woman who was clearly being verbally abusive. Simply for asking them to remove the word God from their sign, he was called a miserable human being and a worker of satan. Dammit Mike took those insults with a laugh and a kind smile, never fighting back.

    In my opinion, she was being more offensive than he was.

  • Drew M.

    @Larry Meredith,

    Dammit Mike pokes people who are down on their luck and is able to laugh off a provoked response. This is… a good thing?

    The fact the woman was a douche does nothing to mitigate Mike’s douchbaggery.

    The worst part of it all is that he thinks he’s making a point. This is the second time he’s failed miserably. Tip: If you have to explain what your point is, you’re doing something wrong.

  • Liz

    For the most part, if your ‘integrity’ is more important than your child’s well-being…you should not have children. If your moral code doesn’t involve doing anything (not harmful towards yourself or others)for your child then your integrity isn’t worth much.

    Unfortunately Christians are told to sacrifice their children if that’s what god wants.

    I guess you could also argue that crossing the ‘name of God’ off your poster could hurt you in the long run, but if you give religious people the benefit of the doubt in this case, you’re just playing into their beliefs and making it seem more reasonable for them to believe this shit…which they probably shouldnt

  • Rob

    I can appreciate what he’s trying to do, but I think its a dick move. You’re asking him to choose between helping him feed his family, and eternal damnation. He’s made it very clear he’s a religious man, so really he’s just antagonizing a fellow down on his luck.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Larry Meredith:

    tldr; asking someone (not demanding) to do a favor in return for cash does not make you an asshole; the real assholes are the ones who demand you grovel for their charity.

    Dammit Mike wasn’t asking that homeless guy for a favor. He was asking him to do something that he would consider debasing for his own amusement. He might as well have asked him to bark like a dog for $20. That’s not much different from asking him to grovel.

  • Peter Mahoney

    J. J. Ramsey Says:

    He might as well have asked him to bark like a dog for $20.

    So, what’s wrong with that? If someone offered me $20 to bark like a dog, I could decide to accept or decline the offer. Simple.

    Meanwhile, if the person offering me $20 was as polite and amiable as Mike, then it’s no problem. I can accept or decline.

    He’s not threatening them with violence (not even mythical torture in hell). Just offering someone $20. No biggie.

  • Drew M.

    @Peter Mahoney:

    For starters, asking someone to bark like a dog is demeaning. It’s an absurd request that can only be made for the purpose of entertaining the instigator.

    Now think about the context.

    If you asked a drunk college kid in line at the all night cafe to bark like a dog for $20, he would probably laugh and take you up on it. His inhibitions are already low, he could use the cash, yet he’s nowhere near desperation.

    If you do the same thing to a homeless person, you’re using their bad situation as a lever to get your jollies at their expense. This crosses the line into exploitation. Sure, it’s a mild form of exploitation, but it’s exploitation nonetheless.

    Now if someone was holding up a sign that said, “Will do performance art for cash,” then go for it.

  • Liz

    maybe they SHOULD be holding a sign that says will do performance art then. Or a sign that says ‘will work for food/money’

    No offense to homeless people, i don’t want to sound like a complete ass. By why does ANYONE ask people for free money simply because they’re in a poor situation. I’m not saying it’s a horrible thing and I’m definitely not saying that people shouldn’t give them money for free, but I have and will always have more respect for the homeless people with the “will work for..” sign as opposed to the “help me” sign.

    And how can anyone be overly offended when someone offers them money to do something… embarrassing or not. I don’t understand why proposing an embarrassing deal is some how worse when the person needs the money to live as opposed to just needing it for bills.

  • Drew M.


    Your naivete is showing.

    The people who simply ask for a handout are the honest ones. Next time you see a Will Work For Food/Money sign, offer $20 bucks in exchange for picking up litter or mowing a lawn. Let me know how that works for ya.

    And how can anyone be overly offended when someone offers them money to do something… embarrassing or not. I don’t understand why proposing an embarrassing deal is some how worse when the person needs the money to live as opposed to just needing it for bills.

    Can I have a blowjob for $20?

    I honestly hope you never learn first-hand the difference between making a late payment and not eating for days.

    Sitting in front of a computer with a full belly and worrying if you’ll lose your internet connection is in no way the same thing as hoping that the next dumpster has some food that won’t make you sick.

    In the first case, you’ll laugh at my offer of the blowjob. In the second, you might consider it.

    That is the fucking difference.

  • Drew M.

    And I’m laughing myself silly at my use of “offer” instead of “request.”

    Oh well.

  • Tip: If you have to explain what your point is, you’re doing something wrong.

    Proceeds by explaining his own point


    I find it funny how the propositions being considered “equal” just get more and more demeaning. It started out with removing the word god from a sign for $20 to barking like a dog for $20 to getting a blowjob for $20. Seriously…?

  • Drew M.

    Care to expound there, Larry?

    I often do find that when I do try and make a point in a way that’s clear to me, I fail miserably. For example, I overuse hyperbole and tend not to explain why. Sometimes I leave out an implied conclusion because I think it is the inevitable outcome of my argument when it often isn’t.

    When I say he’s doing something wrong, it’s because I can see it in myself. I’m also smart enough to understand what a tu quoque fallacy is.

    Of course, we’re dealing with comments that we banged out in a few minutes. If I ever decide to make YouTube videos with a message, you can bet cashy money that I will make sure I don’t have to explain it.

    On second thought, don’t bother expounding. “wut?” is the smartest thing I’ve ever seen you say.

    ETA: Nice edit.

  • Drew M.

    To address your edit, she opened the door with “embarrassing deal.”

    This is an example of my overuse of hyperbole. I should have mentioned that I was trying to illustrate why there’s a difference between paying bills and going hungry.

    Not everyone has the same threshold for what is demeaning. I’ll happily bark like a dog for $20, or cross out God from my sign. Just because some people don’t get offended by it, doesn’t mean that the request isn’t dickish.

    ETA: You know, I understood that the “bark like a dog” comment was hyperbole. Perhaps the problem isn’t solely with me.

  • Drew M.


    I apologize for the insults. I was irked by the lack of explanation for your, “wut?”

    I also appreciate the irony of mentioning logical fallacies whilst engaging in one myself. I can only wish it were intentional.

  • Liz

    I have friends who have proposed work to a homeless person and the homeless people were glad to do it. They didn’t even give a set price before hand, as if to say, “this is what you WONT get if you DONT mow my lawn”. maybe homeless people are more honest in the (somewhat small) town i grew up in when they say ‘will work for food/money’ or maybe that’s just telling you they need money more than people on city streets who probably make enough money just sitting around all day. I mean you just need a few people to give you $5 and you’re making above minimum wage..

  • Liz

    Also, I would probably be offended if you asked for a blow job no matter what my situation. But if I were homeless I still wouldnt consider it, I would just steal whatever I needed instead.

  • For the most part, if your ‘integrity’ is more important than your child’s well-being…you should not have children.

    Which is why I would consider someone an asshole for putting another person in that position. If you’re a good parent, you WILL do debasing things for money. That’s why it’s not OK for some asshole to walk around using homeless people for his own enjoyment – the people who are good people are more likely to do terrible things for the sake of their kids than people who are jerks, so the worst case scenario is some asshole making a good person do something terrible for their own amusement.

  • He accuses them of irrationality and then buys a mangled begging sign from them for 20 bucks? Okay I suspect he is being human, rather than rational here, but it just kind of struck me as funny.

  • Juli

    Mike, whatever “power” was in your video pales in comparison to the power it has to turn people away from atheism.

  • Mike was trying to get those people to humiliate themselves for $20. There’s no difference between this and asking a homeless guy to flap his arms and cluck like a chicken for $20.

    Mike was not being a jerk. This was inhumanly sadistic.

    Religion is an enormous social problem in the United States. But this homeless family is not part of that problem. In fact, given the culture of the USA, their “God Bless” message is good marketing. Crossing it out would have made the sign useless to them for further panhandling.

    As a lifelong atheist — someone who does volunteer work and gives to charity because in the absence of a god, improving the world is the only way to ensure our survival as a culture and a species — I cannot imagine having the state of mind required to psychologically abuse a homeless family.

    The atheist community should disavow any endorsement of Mike’s activities.

  • Kayla

    Wonder what experiment Mike will come up with next. Since Christians are so irrational, dumb, pathetic, etc., what won’t they do? It would be great if he could respect people whether he agrees with their beliefs or not. You don’t have to agree with their belief in God to understand where they are coming from.

  • «bønez_brigade»

    Mike [Lee] is right. The closed-mindedness of the parents is going to hurt the kid’s future. I applaud him for exposing the silliness of faith.

  • Chunky Punky

    I think Mike looked like the bigger JERK. They got the money and still kept God. You would think Mike Lee could find better things to do.

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