When reporters from a company started by Glenn Beck say they want to interview you about your atheist activism, the logical response would be to laugh in their faces and run away, avoiding all the cameras inevitably pointed in your direction.
But philanthropist Todd Stiefel — whose contributions allowed both the Reason Rally and Rock Beyond Belief to take place — spoke with Billy Hallowell of The Blaze. To my surprise, it’s a pretty positive profile of the guy…:
Stiefel, who has given millions toward atheist causes and who considers himself to be Republican-leaning, is a “George Soros” of sorts for the secular community. In addition to allocating funds for numerous freethinking organizations, the Reason Rally and the Rock Beyond Belief, Stiefel is serving on advisory boards and providing non-fiscal advice to movement leaders. Through The Stiefel Freethought Foundation (SFF), the 37-year-old businessman is serving as an atheist philanthropist extraordinaire (he’s devoted $3.5 million to related causes).
Despite his respectful tone, Stiefel has plenty of criticisms for religion. In particular he railed against teaching children intolerance and encouraging them, in the name of Christianity, “to despise homosexuals.” Additionally, he said that telling kids that they will burn in hell for all eternity is “scary” and that it is an unpleasant portion of the religious experience.
“You want to give a kid nightmares, tell them they’re going to burn over an infinite level of years,” he said.
But despite these statements, throughout our interview, Stiefel emphasized the difference he sees between targeting religion and hammering its adherents.
“There’s an enormous difference between criticizing religion and religious people.”
“There were some things said at the rally that I disagreed with — sure,” he said. “My kids were at the event and there were points where their ears were covered. Because of the language — not because of the things that were said…some of the language probably should have been better for nighttime.”
But when it comes to censoring the content, Stiefel explained that he would never advocate such a thing.
“I think people need to understand this very specific point. Ideas are not sacred. They don’t need to be respected. People need to be respected. So we do criticize ideas…[and] institutions, including religious institutions,” the freethinking leader said. “Those are not critiques on religious people. And we believe extremely strongly that all ideas need to be open to question and we need to learn from history and mistakes and grow and improve.”
The Blaze must have been thrown off. C’mon, they implored. Say something nasty about us!
“Christians and atheists have vastly more in common with their values than they realize… The audience of The Blaze probably has the vast majority of their values in line with what most atheists believe,” he said. “We believe in love. We believe in freedom. We believe in truth. We believe in integrity and living moral, ethical lives…in creating happiness and decreasing suffering.”
Then Hallowell left. And wrote a piece about an atheist activist that’s fairly generous toward someone who disagrees with just about everything Glenn Beck stands for.
Nicely done, Todd!
Side note: Todd also did an interview recently at Pam’s House Blend regarding how he wants to defeat Amendment One (an anti-gay-marriage amendment) in North Carolina.