Ask Richard: Am I Being a Good Atheist? February 24, 2011

Ask Richard: Am I Being a Good Atheist?

Dear Richard,

The other day, I was trawling the Internet looking for nice music when I came across a singer with a beautiful voice. Her name is Christina Grimmie, and she does mostly covers of other people’s songs. I was happily listening to her sing until I saw that she calls herself a “full-on Christian” in her profile and mentions that she sings for Jesus.

Now I’m confused: do I listen to her to enjoy good music, or do I just turn away and ignore her because of her religious orientation in order to show solidarity with the atheist community? I don’t know what to do, because I’m probably as “full-on atheist” as one can get without being outright militant, and I want to be a good atheist who doesn’t support religion. Yet, I find myself supporting a Christian singer who, although she has a lot of skill and talent, is still a religious person. Does listening to songs by religious people (that aren’t worship songs; I despise those) make one a bad atheist?

In a similar vein, should one even support societal institutions that, in one way or another, have their roots in Christianity or other religions? I have been conflicted by the issue of gay marriage in America recently (I don’t live in America, I live in Singapore where the act of homosexual sex itself is illegal), as I support LGBT rights but I do not believe in the institution of marriage. I want the gays and lesbians to be happy but wonder why they want to voluntarily bind themselves to each other through the institution of marriage, which has its roots in religions which reject their very right to love and exist. Why are atheists even supporting gay marriage when marriage has roots in religion? Shouldn’t we as atheists be calling for the abolishment of marriage and the freedom of men and women to love as they wish rather than supporting further institutionalizing homosexual love within religion when it has been free all this time?

Thank you,
“Andy”

Dear Andy,

Your question seems to be more about antireligionism than atheism. Many atheists have some antireligious views, ranging from many who merely hope that organized religion will eventually die out, all the way to a few who advocate its forcible abolishment. In between are those who would prefer to avoid supporting organized religion in various ways, but they can sharply disagree on what measures they should and should not take toward that end.

As an atheist, you probably don’t just passively lack belief in gods, and you probably have more opinions than just opposing religion. You probably also value and support things like critical thinking, science, education, social justice, policies based on reason, and many other things, and your decisions can be guided or influenced by those things.

But when you take such a collection of ideas and values to ask yourself questions like “How would a ‘good atheist’ handle this?” or “If I do that, does it mean I’m a ‘bad atheist’?” you immediately open the possibility of judging other atheists as “good or bad atheists” by comparing their decisions to yours.

When we hear Christians, Muslims and other religious people dismissing each other as “not true Christians,” or “not true Muslims” because of some minor difference in their preferred boundaries, it all seems absurd to us standing on the outside. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to atheists. I wrote a post about this back in 2007. Although my original question was about the various labels we use to name ourselves, such as atheists, or humanists, or freethinkers, it generated a long discussion about many issues that are found under the umbrella of non-believers.

Atheists seem to be highly prone to individuality and independence. They have either broken away from a herd mentality, their family’s religion, or they never were raised to follow a herd, so very often they will strongly object to any implication that there is a “party line” in atheism that they should follow. Having solidarity in the face of oppression is great, but if something reminds them of dogma, they won’t like it.

There’s a practicality problem with wanting to avoid supporting in any way someone or anyone who calls themselves a Christian. If you’re going to live in civilization, at least for the next couple of centuries you’re going to have to interact with, and have transactions with people who are religious in varying degrees. They are everywhere, and they provide your essential goods and services.

You should also consider if refusing to buy or even listen to an artist’s music just because she is a Christian crosses an invisible line into something else. What would you call a Christian who refused to stay in a hotel simply because it was owned by a Jew? Or a Muslim who refused to buy fabric from a Hindu just because of her religion? Or any religious person who refused to buy any goods or services from an atheist?

There are some who would call such people good Christians, or good Muslims, and so forth. Others would call them bigots. Now, I’m not saying that you’re a bigot, and I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy implying that what you’re trying to decide has to be either legitimate opposition to organized religion, or it has to be bigotry. There may be other choices, other ways to look at it. I’m only saying take a long, unblinking look at it.

You’re wondering if you should boycott this singer’s music because you might indirectly be supporting her religion. I suppose if you bought her CD, she might put another dollar in the collection plate at her church. Is that your responsibility? In your letter, you sound like you’re afraid that you are somehow betraying atheism just because you’re enjoying her music. If she beautifully sings a non-religious song and she sings it “for Jesus,” so what? There’s nothing in her private motives that you must oppose. I enjoy viewing Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. He was very religious. I don’t think I’m betraying any of my principles. I enjoy and admire the work of musicians, actors, dancers, and writers. Some of them are very religious. I don’t give a damn. What goes on silently between their ears is none of my business.

As for your question about marriage, I’m not a historical anthropologist, but I think that marriage or its equivalent preceded organized religion by many centuries. I think people have pair-bonded and have made public declarations of their sexually exclusive relationships since we began living in settlements rather than roving bands, and perhaps even before then. Religion did not invent the practice but only later co-opted it to gain more control over people and to make itself seem more necessary. Again, the practicality problem arises here. If you want to abandon everything in civilization that was ever touched by religion, you’re not going to have much left.

Andy, instead of wondering how to be a “good atheist,” concentrate on being a good person who happens to be an atheist. That will not diminish the importance of your atheism. It also will not diminish the importance of anyone being a person.

By your description, Christina Grimmie sounds like a good singer who happens to be a Christian. If you would want her to treat you as a good person, rather than as an atheist, perhaps you should treat her as a good singer rather than as a Christian.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • heironymous

    Along the same lines, I love Christmas carols – even the most religious ones. Why? Because they’re beautiful.

  • balls

    sounds like Andy is thinking to much like a christian.
    As an atheist I’ll watch/read/listen to who I want regardless of their incorrect beliefs.

    Would any body be offended at a song about Aliens or Sasquatch? no of coarse not. (maybe a bad example as we all know Bigfoot is indeed real)
    point being If they get to preechy and annoying for my taste I’ll stop. But it’s not Like I refused to read Lord of the Rings because I don’t believe in hobbits, elves and dwarvs.

  • Diane

    I’m an Atheist and I like some Christian bands – for the music – not the message they convey

  • Steve

    As long as an artist doesn’t produce Christian music – and sings about Dog and Jesus – I don’t really care that much. It’s especially irrelevant if you only listen to recordings and don’t have to hear any statements made in interviews or concerts.

    As for marriage. It was a private and secular institution for thousands of years before Christianity co-opted it. That didn’t occur until the middle ages. Before that, marriage was not a sacrament and didn’t require a priest.
    Today, in all Christian countries marriage is really a civil contract (for Protestants that was the case back in 17th century already). There may be religious stuff tacked on to various degrees, but it’s the legal recognition by the government that actually matters.

  • Lauren

    great response! But you also left out the legal rights that being married conveys to ones spouse. A very important issue to address; I would love my marriage to be devoid of religious connotations as well to stand in solidarity with my gay borthers and sisters, but I want those legal rights, as of course they should have access to as well.

  • Sarah

    The beautiful thing about having no religion is having no rules, such as a church. I can do yoga, love Christmas carols, tell my children about the Easter Bunny, and still not believe a word of religious texts. There is no institution to tell me what I am loving in my amazing life is wrong. There is no good atheist, and there is no bad athiest, atheists just…are. Don’t overthink it, just love your life on your own terms.

  • moesy

    If we are going to discount any and all good Christians’ contributions, we’d better stop learning about Isaac Newton and his freaky laws of motion. He wrote more about theology than he did about science.

    I totally agree with Richard though. And I completely LOVE religious music. I won’t stop listening to Mozart’s Requiem. Handel’s Messiah Chorus is still really beautiful. Christmas carols by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are still my favorite at Christmas time. Michelangelo’s Pieta is still an amazing sculpture. The Elgin marbles are still gloriously beautiful. The Bamiyan Buddhas were wonderful too- stupid Taliban. 🙁

    I think just because something has a religious background and connotation, it doesn’t stop it from being beautiful. And I definitely don’t think it should be enough reason to keep me from enjoying it.

  • Barrett

    I listen to and love Mike Farris, a very Christian musician. I love his music and his voice, so I’m not going to stop. I also listen to Bob Dylan’s albums from his Christian period. I don’t see any problem with it.

  • Not all marriages or relationships are monogamous. I personally prefer not to include monogamy in the description of relationships worthy of recognition or respect. Monogamy or non-monogamy is a sexual choice, like masturbation or viewing pornography or whatever floats your (sexual) boat that’s between consenting able-minded adults, and as a free thinker, I believe we all should make the best sexual choices for ourselves and for/with our partners. Monogamy has been bandied about several times in discussions of relationships on this blog and, although I respect it as a relevant, legitimate and maybe even more popular choice among the masses, I think we should be careful holding it up as the paragon of sexual choices for couples. What is right for US is not necessarily right for OTHERS. As you said above:

    “Atheists seem to be highly prone to individuality and independence. They have either broken away from a herd mentality, their family’s religion, or they never were raised to follow a herd, so very often they will strongly object to any implication that there is a “party line” in atheism that they should follow. Having solidarity in the face of oppression is great, but if something reminds them of dogma, they won’t like it.”

    That, I believe, would include the promotion and adherence to monogamy in a committed relationship.

    Just my humble opinion. Great blog and I appreciate all that you share with us here. Keep up the great work.

  • Andy,

    Feel free to use whatever criteria you want in forming your tastes about music or attitudes about social issues. Just realize that these criteria are yours and may not fit other atheists. About the only thing atheists have in common is that we don’t develop our criteria to make decisions based on some perception of what some deity would want us to do.

  • MamaGump

    Look at it this way, Andy. She may sing for Jesus, but Jesus can’t hear her and you can. So enjoy the music. But steal it. Don’t put money in her pocket. Let her pray for money and wait for Jesus to rain down gold upon her.

    And as a gay person in a same-sex marriage, I reject the “religious” aspect of marriage. Marriage is a civil right that offers emotional, legal, family, and social benefits. In America, no marriage is legal simply because some religionist priest/preacher/bozo says so. It has to be a secular, civil government-licensed marriage. Religions fantasize they’re in charge of marriage. They are not.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Oh I do wish someone could tell me what the rules are for being an atheist. Then I could go and break them all. There ain’t no excommunication in atheism, bitches;)

  • Stephanie

    Twenty some years ago, when I met my husband (also an atheist) he was in to heavy metal. One day, I realized he was listening to one of the Christian heavy metal groups of the time and made fun of him for it. His response was; “So what? I also listen to a lot of songs with satanic or occult stuff, too. It’s all made up so what’s the difference?”
    It made me realize I had a double standard.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but with regards to music the musician would have to be a spokesperson for some bigoted group or make some public gesture against atheists before they would catch my ire. Being pro-religion is no biggie in my book. I find it silly and nothing more. I have much bigger issues giving to the RIAA than some small amount going into a collection plate somewhere down the line.

  • Silent Service

    I’m still listening to Country. Not going stop. I just don’t pay attention to the Dog Bothering. My wife still loves Gospel Music even though she’s a nonbeliever. There’s no requirement that we do or not do anything other than be good people.

  • Richard Wade

    So enjoy the music. But steal it. Don’t put money in her pocket. Let her pray for money and wait for Jesus to rain down gold upon her.

    Please don’t steal from artists, regardless of their political or religious views. There’s no principled rationalization for stealing an artist’s work. That’s just greed. If you like their work, pay them for it, just as you should be paid for your good work. The more people steal from artists, the less artists will create beauty in the world.

  • As for marriage. It was a private and secular institution for thousands of years before Christianity co-opted it.

    no, you are incorrect. i have a PhD in pre-christian religions and i’ll tell you right now: “pagans,” Jews, Hindus, and many other cults that predated xtianity had a deep and very religious interest in the construction of marriage. it’s not always been a “purely” religious event and institution, but you’d be hard pressed to find many cultures in which religion and marriage were not at least connected, if not posited as a specifically religiously significant event.

    Steph, that’s a great example. it’s all bunk, so who cares? Satan, Jeebus, whatever; sing your heart out, if you have talent i’ll enjoy it. heh, i went to bed last night listening to Mahalia Jackson singing a gospel song about going home to her lord. it was meltingly beautiful.

    but to avoid hypocrisy, i’ll say that in general, i don’t patronize religious businesses. or places that put the owners’ religious beliefs right out in front for patrons to see, etc. sorry, i’ll take my money to a place less constipated with religion.

    as a gay person who was married to a man before i came out, i’ll just voice here that there are some of us queers who really, really don’t like the focus on marriage that is the obsession of so many queer activists today. get married, or don’t, i don’t give a crap. but in terms of gay rights, i feel like the push for gay marriage has been a terrible waste of resources and distraction from greater issues.

    equal rights, and not marriage rights, should be the focus of any pro-LGTB activist or supporter, imho. i’ll never marry again and frankly i’m a tad disgusted by all these aging queers who want to conform to heternormative standards. once upon a time our culture celebrated the fact that we’re not like Ozzie and Harriet types. these days, queers are falling all over themselves to act like the very republican traditional families who oppress us. ick.

    but because i don’t believe in “sin” or the notion that my womb must produce bounty in the name of the loard or whatever, i get annoyed by the idea that there is something “better” about being in a monogamous, married relationship than there is being a non-monogamous person with varying degrees of intimacy with her partners. yes, i understand sometimes marriage conveys financial and legal benefits and that’s a motivation i can understand, even if i don’t elevate and laud the state of matrimony as being “special.” it’s not.

  • oh dear i hope this doesn’t get me banned:

    Please don’t steal from artists, regardless of their political or religious views. There’s no principled rationalization for stealing an artist’s work. That’s just greed. If you like their work, pay them for it, just as you should be paid for your good work. The more people steal from artists, the less artists will create beauty in the world.

    respectfully, Richard, i disagree. one can “pay” artists… by going to their shows and buying the goodies they often sell at the tables outside. that money, artists mostly keep). but buying a CD? sorry, 90% of that money goes to RIAA types, not artists. a friend of mine manages a well known rock group. his take on their gross? 60%. and he contributes nothing to their music or art, other than lining up gigs for them and talking to the press on their behalf. sure, he deserves a paycheck for that, but not 60% from five guys’ paychecks. i’d hope you can agree.

    it’s even worse once you get to the level of record company executive or radio channel corporate owner. and frankly, artists have always been poor, across the course of human history. that’s never stopped them from making art. what artists want is fame; money is a nice benefit that comes with fame, but i don’t know many singers or painters who would say no to just fame. gold digging barbie doll corporate created media whores? well, let me just say: Brittney Spears is not an “artist.”

  • I am as atheist as anyone can get. I love music. If the beat and melody is good, I like it. There are tons of christian and religious songs I love. Of course my favorite song of all is Imagine by John Lennon.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Andy
    I believe that music – art – can be said to exist in its own right once it is created. Beethoven was not a nice man, Wagner was antisemitic and an adulterer, dali was weird, etc etc.

    To be metaphysical they were the conduits for these expressions of the human spirit. Indeed if it were not for such art I could gladly see homsap go the same way as the dinosaur.

    What I am trying to say is that beauty has no smell, it is untainted by its source.

    In my opinion

  • Mihangel apYrs

    Chicago Dyke
    I really want to marry my partner of 36 years. You know why? So I want all the goodies and protections society gives to marrieds – inheritance, next of kin, pension, etc etc

    I’m in a civil partnership in the UK, but I’m sure there are some things not equalised in it, and I don’t want to find out when the s*t hits the fan!

    Equal rights include the right to marry. All civil marriage is is a recognition that the people involved take on responsibilities and rights each to the other, and that they are recognised as a legal entity. All the rest is what you want to make it.

    And to Andy: atheism is a non-belief in god, it doesn’t govern your life, but gives you more freedoms

    But you need to make peace with your non-belief, it isn’t a fight.

  • martha

    In the U.S. marriage is a secular institution with benefits and detriments conferred by government. If you are gay you should be able to participate in this institution. Religion is irrelevant as in the US marriage IS a civil union.

    I agree that great art can be made by any kind of person. But if an artist is someone who disgusts me personally and they are still living and may benefit from my purchase of their art I am not likely to purchase it. That said, sometimes, depending on the art, my disgust with the artist actually taints my view of their art. Like I have no desire to see a Mel Gibson movie.

  • walkamungus

    Like @moesy, I love religious music: gospel songs, settings for the mass, the _Messiah_, Gregorian chant & other early and medieval music, Christmas carols, etc. Beyond religious music, when the radio station plays George Strait’s “I Saw God Today,” I’m going to sing along, not turn it off. I’m not less of an atheist because I enjoy this stuff — it’s beautiful.

  • mike

    Marriage has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Whether it first existed before any religion or not is up to anthropology (and does it really matter?).

    Christian marriage did not begin in earnest until the 9th century, because the early church thought that virginity was best. Finally, marriage became a sacrament in 1215. So you see, christianity has not recognized marriage longer than they have recognized it, which makes their presumptions to define marriage completely ridiculous.

    As for me, I don’t think that states or the federal government should issue marriage licenses. Leave that to churches and other social organizations to define their own “marriages”. I think that the federal government should issue a few standard legal partnership arrangements to accommodate those who wish to share equal person-hood with another as well as other common arrangements. For example, a birth certificate normally establishes an inheritance relationship, but does it have to? Or, what if you want your Spouse to represent you in all aspects in your absence but not at all if you are present.

  • Poyndexter

    Is this a serious question?

    This guy sounds like a parody. Then again many of the comments on this site sound like parodies as each one tries to out-include and out-sympathize the other.
    So who knows. On second thought, if there is a “community” Andy seems like he’d fit right in, parody or not.

  • Richard Wade

    chicago dyke, I like and respect you, so that’s why I’m responding:

    but buying a CD? sorry, 90% of that money goes to RIAA types, not artists. a friend of mine manages a well known rock group. his take on their gross? 60%.

    So, then it’s okay with you if I steal 10% to 40% of your hard-worked income? If that’s too high, let me know what’s the acceptable percentage for me to rip you off.

    and he contributes nothing to their music or art, other than lining up gigs for them and talking to the press on their behalf. sure, he deserves a paycheck for that, but not 60% from five guys’ paychecks. i’d hope you can agree.

    And so it’s your role to somehow make that equitable and fair according to your judgment, and you accomplish that by stealing from all of them?

    what artists want is fame; money is a nice benefit that comes with fame, but i don’t know many singers or painters who would say no to just fame.

    As a former artist who got tired of starving, I beg to disagree. I was ripped off more than once, and it hurt badly. Putting your creative effort out to the public is very hard work. Once you finally get exposure, people steal from you and/or criticize you cruelly.

    gold digging barbie doll corporate created media whores? well, let me just say: Brittney Spears is not an “artist.”

    Before you call anyone a whore, stop being a thief. At least whores work for their pay.

    Please stop pretending that you’re some kind of guerrilla social justice fighter in the world of popular music. Taking what is not given is stealing, and it’s despicable. Trying to justify it with a posture of moral superiority to your victim is ridiculous. It’s not worthy of a person of your caliber.

  • Robert W.

    Mike,

    Christian marriage did not begin in earnest until the 9th century, because the early church thought that virginity was best. Finally, marriage became a sacrament in 1215. So you see, christianity has not recognized marriage longer than they have recognized it, which makes their presumptions to define marriage completely ridiculous.

    I hear this alot in discussions about marriage and frankly, it is simply not correct. Paul in his letters to the first churches talked multiple times about marriage and the roles of women and men in them. Jesus talked about marriage and sexual relations outside of marriage. So from the very beginning marriage between a man and a woman was a deeply Christian tradition.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    As a devout metalhead, I listen to a lot of music that doesn’t reflect my religious beliefs. Many of the bands I listen to are satanic or devoted to Norse mythology. And I love it! No need for your music to reflect your exact religious beliefs, in my opinion.

    And @Richard Wade: thanks for speaking out in the comments against people stealing music. Many of the bands I love are not very commercially successful, and their prospects are even more limited because they cannot make money off of album sales, not because of greedy record labels (they’re not, for the most part, on majors anyway), but because of people like chicago dyke who steal their music.

    It’s great to romanticize the starving artist, but most starving artists aren’t able to keep making art for long. Fans should support them by paying a fair price for what they do. I certainly don’t expect bands to spend months writing songs and painstakingly recording albums just for me to enjoy it for free.

  • So from the very beginning marriage between a man and a woman was a deeply Christian tradition.

    But marriage existed long before Christianity. And the history of civil and secular marriage, entirely separate from religion, is a long one. Religion didn’t invent marriage, and we shouldn’t let religionists continue to claim it as their own.

    As to the topic of music: Are atheists morally obligated to not listen to Christian music? I agree with Richard — no, of course not. There’s no reason to feel bad about enjoying it if we do. But I also think that if Andy is just not comfortable or happy listening to Christian music, that’s valid, too. There’s some music and art I can enjoy without fretting about content I disagree with… and some that I just can’t. It depends on the content (and to some extent on how good the music/ art is). I definitely have a harder time unreservedly enjoying music with very religious lyrics than I used to. I care about this stuff too much now. I think if our personal discomfort with the religious content of music outweighs our enjoyment of it, then it’s reasonable to decide not to listen to it.

  • Joan

    I agree that there are no rules for being a “good atheist.” (By way of disclosure, I identify as an agnostic, but whatever.) I love good gospel music, and I love Christmas music.

    Randy Newman (the “Short People” guy, not the Christian author), a famous atheist of Jewish descent, once said that that gospel music is the best indigenous American art form. “It’s almost enough to make you convert,” he joked.

    There’s no reason we have to agree with the ideology of the musicians we enjoy. I’m sure there are plenty of right-wing Republicans who enjoy listening to Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, for instance. There are probably gun control advocates who enjoy a screeching Ted Nugent record. I just found out on Wikipedia that Alice Cooper is a born-again Christian who once called John Kerry a “treasonous moron.” Who knew? But I love his music and I’m not gonna stop now.

    Anyway, enjoy, and don’t worry about it. (But don’t steal the music.) 🙂

  • Richard P.

    The only time I will refuse to do business with religious folk is if I feel it will effect our dealings together. I find dealing with xians can lead to getting screwed if your not careful.Especially if they use it as a reason you should trust them. That’s always a sign your about to get screwed. If they own a store and I am buying a product it won’t matter, if it is hiring a financial adviser or a contractor, not a snow balls chance in hell.

    That said; I watched “Women of Ireland” special on TV a few times, They have a few religious songs, but they sing like angels. It’s great music. My favorite song, Amazing grace, When they sing it, it will send shivers down your spine. Not because of the words, they’re crap, but by they way they sing it, it’s beautifully done.

    Get joy out of life wherever you can, it seems to be in limited supply.

  • Kaylya

    I think it is reasonable to avoid supporting individuals or groups who very actively campaign in favor of views you disagree with.

    However, there’s also a balance between that and discriminating against people who simply hold a belief. It would be completely and utterly impractical to try to avoid supporting anyone who simply holds a belief that you disagree with – and even if it were possible, it would simply build walls between groups of people.

    You have to chose for yourself exactly where to draw the line – but if you think her music is beautiful and she just happens to be religious, you should not feel bad about buying her music and supporting her. If she’s involved with fund raising concerts for an anti-gay marriage group, maybe it’s different.

  • Sue

    I consider myself a solid atheist. I spent 9 years in a community college choir, where all the music (choral) was religion based. (I must say that singing Mozart is amazing!) It bothered me quite a bit, at first, until one woman complained that all of the music we sang was Christian, and since she was a Jew, it made her uncomfortable. Our conductor heard this and made a statement that has stayed with me over the years. “This is a professional choir, if we’re singing a negro spiritual, I expect you to pretend you’re African American for the duration.”

    Listening to a piece of music sung by someone’s voice you really like doesn’t mean you suddenly believe in a god. And, the way I look at it, there’s only one rule to being an atheist; not believing in a god.

  • Demonhype

    So enjoy the music. But steal it. Don’t put money in her pocket. Let her pray for money and wait for Jesus to rain down gold upon her.

    Please don’t steal from artists, regardless of their political or religious views. There’s no principled rationalization for stealing an artist’s work. That’s just greed. If you like their work, pay them for it, just as you should be paid for your good work. The more people steal from artists, the less artists will create beauty in the world.

    No, don’t steal. See if you can buy used copies if you have that much of an issue supporting a particular artist. That way, it’s still legal but you’re not directly paying the artist so you don’t have to feel like a hypocrite. (IF that makes you feel like a hypocrite–not everyone feels that way).

    I’ve had that kind of problem before, but with writers. I used to love Humberto Ramos’s art (and still do) but his work from Crimson on got so religious that I couldn’t take it anymore–and then I got wind of his new project which would feature an atheist main character who was “searching”. It was fairly obvious where he was going, so I stopped buying his work. Years later, with all the good art gone from the comic world and Wizard focusing only on the boring Marvel and DC universes, I wanted to at least enjoy his artwork. So I went on Amazon and bought a used copy. (BTW, I was right. Beautiful unique artwork but a whole lot of the usual misrepresentations of atheists, based more on what the believer assumes atheists must be like, rather than anything obtained from an honest observation of atheists–the usual fare when a believer takes a shot at writing a doubting character.)

    I did that with Left Behind too, since I didn’t want to give any money to Jenkins and LaHaye but I did want to follow the story with the Slactivist. Fortunately, Goodwills and other thrift stores are lousy with discarded copies.

    I hate RA Salvatore, but that’s because of the way he stacks smug and santimonious heroes against cardboard villains–and then preaches to the reader as if he is imparting some kind of great wisdom within these absurd dichotomies that we all should adhere to. (Okay, that and he also has some significant admonishments against some absurd little misrepresentations of both atheism and science.) I didn’t want to buy any new books because I didn’t want to subsidize such garbage, but a lot of my own ideas are sparked by garbage (I’m also a MST-ie). So I bought used copies. Problem solved.

    There’s this band I LOVE, and what I love is the turn of phrase of the lyrics, the sound of the music, and especially the look and voice of the main singer. I do not tell people I like this band, however, because I make it a point not to know anything about any artists I like, or at least as little as possible. Especially about musicians. I am enjoying a great looking guy singing some catchy tunes to some great music, and I do not want to know anything about him because I don’t want to learn something I will not like that will make me stop enjoying his music. Because I’m a lot like the letter-writer above–if there is something about a musician that makes me lose too much respect for him/her*, then I simply can’t enjoy the music anymore. It’s just how I am, however irrational it might seem. So if I like a band or singer enough, I take care to not learn anything more than what I take from the songs.

    Of course, all of my used-copy examples involve people who are weaving all their ugly little religiosities into the creative work itself, not someone who does otherwise secular work but also is a believer. That wouldn’t bother me, because believers really are everywhere. But if it was the kind of believer who isn’t just generally a believer, one who is so religious she says she “sings for Jesus”, I’d be kind of leery that she’s trying to pull a reverse-Creed. And I might not worry so much that she’d put the money into a church collection plate in general as I’d be worried she’d put the money into anti-choice legislation or those fraudulent Christian pretend-clinics, or into supporting anti-gay legislation both here and abroad (like in Uganda), or any of the other hateful agendas overly-religious people often seem to support. So if she was religious enough to make that big a deal of it then it would have already compromised my ability to enjoy her music, so I’d have to find out her other views. If she’s a really nice Christian who just really loves her religion, but also understands C/S separation and is pro-choice, has plenty of respect for the rights of others including those who disagree with her, etc. (ie: not a Teabagger or Republican or fundie), it probably wouldn’t be that much of an issue.

    *Overt religiosity or right-wing political views are two of them–which is why I don’t usually watch South Park anymore, because they started losing my respect in 2000 and it just kept going downhill, so while I’ll watch DVD’s of the old stuff I just have little interest or pleasure in watching the new stuff.

  • JR

    instead of wondering how to be a “good atheist,” concentrate on being a good person who happens to be an atheist

    Really well put Richard, your response is a perfect example of why I am proud to be an atheist :).

  • A Portlander

    I suppose if you bought her CD, she might put another dollar in the collection plate at her church. Is that your responsibility? . . . I enjoy and admire the work of musicians, actors, dancers, and writers. Some of them are very religious. I don’t give a damn. What goes on silently between their ears is none of my business.

    I strongly disagree. It is our responsibility to prevent our economic energy from being subverted for theistic purposes, and to not contribute to the market for theistic cultural artifacts. What goes on “between their ears” informs the art these people produce, and consuming that art confirms them in their biases & affirms the privileges of their sympathetic audience at large.

    Richard, I get that you don’t have a high opinion of playing for ideological purity brownie points, but some of us are actually participating in a culture war. These sorts of “vote with your dollar” gestures are what we have to shoot with. If Andy decides he wants to participate in that fight, I thank him for ratcheting up the strength of his convictions, even in so seemingly trivial an arena.

  • A Portlander

    @Joan,

    I just found out on Wikipedia that Alice Cooper is a born-again Christian who once called John Kerry a “treasonous moron.” Who knew? But I love his music and I’m not gonna stop now.

    See, that’s what I don’t get. I cannot muster an iota of respect or artistic appreciation for Cooper since I found that out a couple of years ago. He’s nothing but a hellhouse operator writ large, an shock rock proto-Juggalo using his position to flog a bronze age agenda. It’s one thing to allow him his freedom of expression in the abstract, but not adjusting your opinions based on what views it turns out he’s actually expressing just seems careless. He’s a messenger. Do you disregard the message just because you like the bassline?

  • Drew M.

    @Richard Wade:

    I do not think I have ever stood up and shouted, “YEAH!!” while reading something. I have done it plenty of times while watching basketball, but never while reading something.

    When I read this, that is exactly what happened:

    Before you call anyone a whore, stop being a thief. At least whores work for their pay.

    I loathe music theft because normally moral people are so swift at rationalizing it.

    Thank you!

  • gsw

    Strange posting – stranger question. Why did the writer not apply the mirror-test?

    You know: If this were mirror reversed how would I act?

    As an atheist, I should not expect a theist to reject my work on the basis of my (lack of) religion. I might boycott on the grounds of certain actions, but certainly not for thought crimes.

  • It doesn’t matter what someone thinks or what someone believes. All that matters is what people do. If a singer believes in Jesus or in the ZoomZoom of Mars then this is irrelevant. If they are giving their money to pay for the Christian Taliban then it isn’t. If you like the music then listen to it. It doesn’t hurt anyone, does it?

  • JustAGuy

    Richard:

    Love the discussion that the letters generate.

    I read JRs comment above. He picked out the best part. Why did we have to work to get to this gem?

    I double-dog dare you. For your next letter, write your response then edit it down to 50% of the previous length. I bet you’ll be happy with the result!

  • See if you can buy used copies if you have that much of an issue supporting a particular artist. That way, it’s still legal but you’re not directly paying the artist so you don’t have to feel like a hypocrite.

    Don’t forget your public library! I get 99% of all my reading material from the library, in addition to CDs and DVDs. Many libraries also have weekly or monthly sales of various items, the proceeds of which go to support the library, not the authors or artists. It’s a win-win situation. You get to enjoy material without compromising your values.

  • doglovingirl

    @JustAGuy:

    For what it’s worth, I’d be urging Richard to NOT pare down his responses. They’re wonderfully thorough and evocative, well thought-out, a treasure trove of ideas and perspective, with lovely pithy gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout. 🙂

    I love every word of them.

  • Nordog

    Please don’t steal from artists, regardless of their political or religious views. There’s no principled rationalization for stealing an artist’s work. That’s just greed. If you like their work, pay them for it, just as you should be paid for your good work. The more people steal from artists, the less artists will create beauty in the world.

    Absolutely.

    Thanks for that.

  • Most of the statements I have read here make the point very well. I remember all the born again Christians saying that if you buy an Ozzy album, you are supporting devil worship, or if you buy a Michael Jackson album, you are supporting the Jehovah’s Witnesses or if you bought the song “Love Stinks” by the J. Giels band, you were supporting their belief that love does stink. I disagreed with all of that back then as I disagree with the notion that if you buy a CD from a Christian artist, you are supporting their religous beliefs. I buy a CD because I like the music and nothing more. I listen to Stryper quite a bit and their “Jesus” lyrics effect me no more than when I listened to Mercyful Fate sing “Hail Satan.” My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the music.

  • P.

    I’ve heard of people boycotting Tchaikovsky because he was gay. These people are missing out on some of the most beautiful music ever written. As a musician who hopes one day to make money off what I love, I say buy her music. You’re supporting her talent first and foremost, and what she does with the money is out of anyone else’s control. She may choose to donate the money to her church, but she may also choose to donate it to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, or install a swimming pool in her backyard, or buy a gold-plated DeLorean. Just as watching John Travolta movies is not a direct endorsement of Scientology, buying a Christian’s CD is not a direct endorsement of Christianity.

  • absent sway

    @ Richard P:
    “I find dealing with xians can lead to getting screwed if your not careful.Especially if they use it as a reason you should trust them. That’s always a sign your about to get screwed.”

    Amen, brother!
    Someone close to me who is still a Christian decided years ago never to work for Christians again, for instance. He’d been taken advantage of too often, and now makes three times as much and is more appreciated… Obviously there are many reliable and exceptional Christian businesses, etc. but it pays to beware.

  • Nordog

    Someone close to me who is still a Christian decided years ago never to work for Christians again, for instance. He’d been taken advantage of too often, and now makes three times as much and is more appreciated… Obviously there are many reliable and exceptional Christian businesses, etc. but it pays to beware.

    Yeah, I too have seen that too many times to count.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    Oh I do wish someone could tell me what the rules are for being an atheist.

    @Darwin’s Dagger: Oh, that one’s easy.

    1. An out atheist is a better atheist, so out yourself as much as possible. Your atheism is more important than your job, or being ostracized by your family or your community. It’s only your life, after all; surely your atheism is more important than your life! Duh!

    2. Support science and history, except when they don’t portray atheism in the best possible light. For the exceptions, distort science and history so that people think of atheism in the best possible light. You know, like when those damn sociologists discover that religious people are more charitable than secular ones. Flip it around and make it look like secular types are more charitable (or at least as charitable) as religious types by lying with statistics. Or make it look like the Founding Fathers had not an ounce of religious belief in them. That’ll show those damn sociologists and historians what’s coming to them for doing sociology or history!

    3. Whenever some small town, population 500, puts up a Nativity scene on public property, force them to move it 10 feet to the right where public land ends and Farmer Joe’s land begins. Suing usually does the trick. It’ll help make atheism (un)popular again and waste tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars that could go to local schools on far more important cosmetic church-state violations.

    Did I miss anything? 🙂

    Oh, wait – that’s organized atheism. Doh! Sorry for the confusion.

  • Chicago Dyke wrote:

    i’ll never marry again and frankly i’m a tad disgusted by all these aging queers who want to conform to heternormative standards. once upon a time our culture celebrated the fact that we’re not like Ozzie and Harriet types. these days, queers are falling all over themselves to act like the very republican traditional families who oppress us. ick.

    Uhm, you’re “disgusted” by other people because they have different wants/needs than you do when it comes to their relationships? Lovely.

    And how presumptuous of you to assume that queers (‘old’ or otherwise) are ‘conforming’ or acting like the “traditional families who oppress us” by merely getting married. You do realize how much variatiohn can exist within marriage, don’t you? You realize that marriage doesn’t prevent anyone from: having open relationships, having polyamorous relationships, or not having sex at all…….yes?

    As a fellow queer, I’ll say this to you: quit being so presumptuous and judgemental of other peoples’ choices. Painting with such a broad (and dismissive) brush is eye-roll-inducing and more than a little immature.

  • and another thing….

    Chicago Dyke wrote:

    once upon a time our culture…..

    our culture”. Well, F*** that. There isn’t any monolithic ‘our’ here Chicago Dyke. Like the atheist community, speaking about the GLBT community using words like ‘our’ or ‘us’ to mean some kind of uniform collective is not only inaccurate, it’s also insulting.

    This is precisely why I try to distance myself from being too invested in any ‘group’ I belong to.

  • Anonandon

    I just ate a chocolate Easter egg, can I still be an atheist?

    Am I “saved”, now?!!!!

  • Tswayd

    wow that just sounds extreme. Feeling insulted because you stand with a group? Where does that even come from?

  • Tswayd

    the words to amazing Grace are great! they’re not crap at all how disrespectful.

  • paulalovescats

    I have a compilation of three CDs of Christian music. I can’t give up The Kry or PFR or The Waiting or Mercy Me (“Word of God Speak”!!). I have a couple of John Elefante albums too. (he was in Kansas)
    If I could be in a church choir without people wondering about me, I’d do it. I miss singing in a group! I wonder about the ethics of going back and pretending. I don’t want to fake it again.

  • paulalovescats

    My atheism is more important than my job? Excuse me? Good for you that you’re independently wealthy. I imagine there are lots of atheists who have to keep quiet. Or lie. The only two jobs I managed to keep were convenience store jobs. Both managers were atheists. And left-handed. I wonder if there’s a connection.

  • paulalovescats

    I loved Stryper! I can’t believe my mother let me get them. (I’m old)