I don’t understand why you’re offended, therefore you shouldn’t be

The FFRF has a new ad saying “Sleep in on Sundays” and it has been followed by what seems to be an unfortunately predictable atheist chorus of  “I can’t believe people are upset about this”.

While I don’t disagree that sleeping in on Sundays should be a fairly innocuous suggestion, I have to wonder what is expected to be gained by essentially saying to the religious community: you’re feelings are stupid. Have we become so jaded by religious controversy that our only response, as atheists, is to blandly complain about it?

Of course religious people are going to be offended by the ad – they’re being challenged (albeit subtly, but challenged nonetheless). It’s not unusual for a challenge about something people really don’t want to think about to be met with hostility or frustration. We’re putting these messages out there, it’s up to us to deal with the response constructively whether we want to or not – that’s how we raise awareness of atheism.

Isn’t outreach the point of these ads: To 1) let atheists know that there are other atheists and 2) to make society in general aware that the world isn’t only made of religious people? The FFRF expects a response, it’s part of the publicity. And if I’m part of a religious group that hears all the time about how evil and immoral those baby-eating atheists are and how they are trying to destroy religion in America, I might interpret any sign that challenges me as an affront to my rights or beliefs. It’s not true, but consider the perspective and the background necessary for someone to think it’s true.

Simply saying “I can’t believe you are upset” isn’t actually addressing anything and we’re not contributing to positive outreach when we react this way – challenging religious beliefs in a religious population is a big deal. Even many atheists find FFRF ads offensive sometimes. [And before someone misunderstands me – I’m not advocating for the FFRF to stop their messages – I think the religious should be challenged in these ways given their self-assigned moral and societal superiority, even though I wish sometimes it was focused more positively towards atheists and less negatively towards religion.]

Patience is indicated when dealing with strong, culturally-rooted beliefs. I can’t figure out if people are saying these things (“I can’t believe people are upset”, etc) because they genuinely don’t understand or because they are being disingenuous and intentionally adding further challenge. If the former, some education is in order – we can’t expect to make gains in groups that we refuse to understand. If the latter, after the challenge has been issued, I’m not convinced that it’s constructive to then continue to flog the horse. We’ve got their attention, now it’s time for patient explanation – as exasperating as mindless offendedness is… Someone sensible is hopefully listening to the explanation.

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