More Atheist “Victims”

The horror. Another campus atheist group has been victimized by having its posters defaced:

Penn Secular Society’s poster on Locust Walk was defaced again on Wednesday for the fourth time in two weeks in acts that have been condemned by campus religious leaders.
The poster now has the phrases “hell is real” and “no way” written at the top and bottom of a quote by Thomas à Kempis reading: “If God were our one and only desire we would not be so easily upset when our opinions do not find outside acceptance.” The defacements have led to three guest columns in The Daily Pennsylvanian over the past week.

A quote about becoming accustomed to one’s beliefs was torn down from the same poster earlier this week, Penn Secular Society President Seth Koren said. A poster with quotes about women’s roles from various religious texts and another which had a “partial list of Gods you don’t believe in” had liquid thrown on them. On Tuesday, Koren filed a police report with Penn Police for two of the defacement incidents.

Campus religious leaders have spoken out against the vandalism.

“It’s not OK,” University Chaplain Chaz Howard said. “Efforts to deface or hinder open expression at Penn is not what Penn’s about at all.”

Okay, we have four incidents of defacement. Yet, if we think critically about the whole incident, we are left with two facts.



Fact 1
: Is there any evidence that those who defaced the posters were religious people with an anti-atheist agenda? Nope. Zero, zilch, nada. As TFBW so nicely summarized situations like this:

We should consider at least three possibilities in a case like this: it was a genuine act of hate, it was a hoax perpetrated by the target in order to garner sympathy and/or publicity, or it was just some random sociopath troll, with no stake in the fight, who wanted to stir up a fuss for the sheer entertainment value.

Atheists posture as if their beliefs are rooted in evidence, yet there is no evidence to think the first explanation is true. In fact, there is no evidence that indicates the first explanation is any more likely than the other two.

Fact 2
: These incidents of defacement have stirred up some controversy at Penn. In other words, the incidents of defacement have brought more publicity to the atheist group and its cause and the worst thing that can happen to an activist group’s poster is that it gets ignored, not defaced.

If we are to root our beliefs in facts and reason, all we can say for sure is this – someone defaced the poster of an student activist group and the group has benefited from it.

Let me also add one more thing. Both stories of poster defacement act as if something unusual has happened. Are we to really believe that only atheist posters ever get defaced? Reacting to yet another “atheists victimized by poster defacers” story, the MandM blog wisely notes:

Last night I watched a section on TV3′s Campbell Live about the treatment of a campus atheist club at the University of Lincoln entitled “Atheist uni students’ posters torn down” (follow the link to view the video). This story went into detail about how the clubs posters have been regularly ripped down and defaced…….The reason I say this is because in my 11 years at University I was never involved in an advertising campaign of any sort for any group (and I was involved with several) where my posters were NOT ripped down or defaced. This is the norm on New Zealand University noticeboards. The posters about the Library’s opening hours get ripped down and defaced!

Matt also adds:

Campus Christian groups I was involved with routinely faced poster destruction – every time we put up posters up around campus they were defaced or ripped down. Posterers from our group were more than once harassed as they went around campus postering – the more timid of our group would not put posters up for this reason and posterers always went postering in pairs for safety. This was hardly news or shocking to anyone, we expected it, it was the norm. We typically had a large numbers of back-up posters and ran postering shifts to check the notice boards precisely because this always happened.

I’ll bet if any of my readers had experience working with a campus religious organization, you too can think of examples where your group’s posters were either ripped down or defaced.

So what this all means is that there is NO EVIDENCE than a religious hater was defacing the Penn poster, just as there is NO EVIDENCE the poster was the only one on campus to have been defaced. Once again, atheists simply do not root their beliefs in reason and evidence. Their poster was defaced, so it MUST have been Christians.

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3 Responses to More Atheist “Victims”

  1. TFBW says:

    The issue of obtaining evidence about who performed the defacements seems to be completely absent from the minds of all concerned. Nobody even speculates about the motives of the culprit: the tacit assumption from all parties, regardless of their position on religion in general, is that someone who took personal offence at the posters defaced them. It’s as if this is the only possibility: the Machiavellian alternatives are not even acknowledged. To be fair, this may be an effect of the reporting on the subject, but the two letters to the editor and one guest column that it cites are similarly devoid of critical inquiry regarding the identity or motives behind the defacement.

    I saw only one comment in the entire set that even considered the identity and motives of the defacers. Kudos to David for being the one to do it — a voice in the wilderness, sadly. A smaller bouquet goes to PSS’ Identity Problem for snarky wit and calling a spade a spade: “PSS has recently engaged in a clever pivot from condescending atheistic potshots to ‘fostering critical thinking.'” A worthwhile read.

    As for brickbats — I’m spoiled for choice, but Richard Thomas richly deserves one for his response to one of the letters. In full, he says, “TL;DR, christian mad because banner shows parts of the Bible he doesn’t like.” It’s the combination of the smug and wilfully ignorant “TL;DR,” along with the fact that the author of the letter is obviously Jewish (or trying to give that impression by writing “G-d” instead of “God” — or am I being too hard on people for not recognising this practice?) which takes the cake. What a prat: if it’s too long and you didn’t read it, do everyone (including yourself) a favour and don’t comment on it either, lest your words serve only as an advertisement for your ignorance.

    A smaller brickbat to godlessveteran, for the crimes of making exaggerated claims, reaching definite conclusions in the complete absence of evidence, and compounding it by abusing the word “literally”: “Noah, you’ll notice it wasn’t the atheists tearing down the display and stepping all over it. Literally.” Certainty promotes disregard for facts, even among those who profess to hold them in high regard.

  2. Crude says:

    I think the problem here may be both on the Christian and the Atheist side.

    * The atheists want to present themselves as victims who are being targeted and bullied by mean, mean Christians.

    * The Christians want to present themselves as caring, thoughtful, open-minded sorts, and Not At All Like These Terrible People.

  3. TFBW says:

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, Crude, but it’s a curious fact of this particular incident that the two letters to the editor and the guest column are written by two Jewish believers and a Jewish believer-turned-non-believer, respectively. There’s a Theist side and an Atheist side, rather than a Christian side and an Atheist side. The Christians are taking a relatively low profile.

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