And who’s protecting my right not to be offended?

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 13:43 EDT
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The title is a direct quote from this WND article arguing that atheists should be denied their freedom of speech to protect the delicate sensibilities of fundamentalist Christians who apparently will lose their faith the second someone looks at it sideways. Her justification for this is that it’s only fair because meanie atheists oppress her by existing. The story that prompted the article is a situation where some atheist groups ran billboards with the original Pledge of Allegiance on them, the one that didn’t have the phrase “under God”, which was added later as a bit of red scare pandering. Some vandals spray-painted “under God” on there, a sad but telling act of petulant fear. I doubt the strength of convictions of those who can’t even stand the existence of atheists, and suspect their own understandable lurking doubts are eating at them. But that it’s easier for them to lash out at the tempting atheists than to challenge their true oppressors who scare them away from asking questions of themselves and of their faith.

As a general rule, I’m not really one to get upset at graffiti, which I do think is a form of dialogue with the messages of billboards, and that the public has to be trusted to think for themselves when they see an act of vandalism quarreling with a billboard. But I also understand the reaction of the atheist and agnostic group that paid for the billboard sending out messages that shame the morons who did this for being afraid of dialogue. That’s just good P.R., and is to my mind the most legitimate reaction to this particular message, which is basically, “I’m super fucking scared that you’re right that there’s no gods and will flail around like an infant to keep that message from penetrating my brain.” And so the writer at WND supports the vandals, saying:

They probably figured that because the Bible teaches Christians to turn the other cheek, we’ll just take their abuse forever. We will only take so much before we stand up against our oppressors.

Who “oppress” you not by forcing you to mouth beliefs you don’t have; that’s what Christians do to atheists with mandated Pledge recitals in school. Or by forcing dogma on you while calling it science; that’s what fundies do to everyone else by trying to sneak creationism into the biology classroom. They don’t do it by trying to write religious dogma into laws that have to be obeyed by people who don’t believe the same; that’s what fundies and Catholics do when they push abortion restrictions and abstinence-only education. They’re not even subjecting her to arguments against the existence of any gods, arguments that might cause her pain as she has to work double time to suppress the logic functions of her brain. They’re simply pointing out that a Pledge that references the Christian god excludes huge percentages of Americans who aren’t Christians, and implies incorrectly that one has to be a Christian to be a patriot. This isn’t oppression. And yet:

Atheists are always saying how offended they are by, well … everything. How is this billboard not offensive to me? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Where’s my PC? And who’s protecting my right not to be offended?

This is a pretty common wingnut tactic, claiming that they “get” to call for censorship or get to be big whiny crybabies because liberals did it first wah wah wah. Or in this case, atheists. It’s sheer, unadulterated projection used to rationalize what they want to do, which is pitch fits and demand that everyone else recognize their little tribe as the only Real Americans. Atheist groups aren’t asking for a ban on religion, or demanding that religions people’s right to worship be censored or restricted. This is a strawman being used to justify actual calls to censor and control and intimidate atheists. Take, for instance, Mike Adams recent meltdown, chronicled by PZ. Adams is furious that the Supreme Court agreed that universities can defund student groups that break their anti-discrimination rules and, in classic “wah wah they hit me first I’m so oppressed!” wingnut fashion, is screeching about how he’s going to use this ruling to ruin every atheist group in sight by joining and then refusing to let anyone conduct any business.

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. In fact, I’m downplaying the rhetoric that Adams uses.

I do not seek robust debate. I seek power over the godless heathen dissident.

Again, he’s basically using the “they did it first!” excuse to say what he wanted to say anyway. But of course, “they” didn’t do anything first. There has been no attempts by liberals, atheists, gays, or any other group to destroy right wing groups through subterfuge. Not that every one of those people is an angel pure as the driven snow, but it’s more like it just doesn’t work that way. The case in front of the Supreme Court was about a Christian student wishing to join a Christian group, and being denied because he was gay. That’s a lot different than what Adams is proposing here.

I do think that Adams feels like he can go completely over the top because there’s exactly zero chance his “plan” will work. As Scott a World-O-Crap noted, Adams’ whole schtick is to make grand plans he has no intention of following up on. In this case especially, he’d probably run into organizing problems even if he did try. While the people he intends to gather for this are fueled by resentment and hate, and might initially seem down (for the same reason conservatives troll liberal blogs exponentially more often than vice versa), I think they’d quickly realize that going to a real live group is different than going to a blog’s comments in an effort to shut down conversation. It’s a lot more boring and time-consuming, and harder to work up the courage when looking people in the eye instead of hiding behind a keyboard. Plus, you’d be outnumbered, and wingnuts need to maintain the comforting illusion that they’re speaking for the majority in order to muster whatever emotion they use to substitute for courage.

My main concern with all this is that this wingnut confidence that they can bash atheists in ways that go beyond even their anti-feminist rhetoric at times is that it could very well lead to violent confrontation, as it often does when they’re all hyped up on feminist-bashing.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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