And so it gets worse instead of better…

Spray-paint vandalism of other people’s symbols is wrong when one side does it, and it’s wrong when the other side does it:

(hat tip Friendly Atheist)

Billboards and bus ads with innocuous messages like “Millions are good without God” have appeared all over the world, and the one that gets vandalized is in Idaho. Now, I’m not going to say that this was provoked by Oaks’s talk at BYU-Idaho, but I will say — as I said before — that he missed an opportunity to call for fair play on all sides. So I’ll say what Oaks didn’t:

Even if you don’t like the LDS church’s political actions, you don’t go defacing their churches with spray paint. It does nothing but feed a cycle of hostility and retaliation, not to mention giving your opponents the opportunity to portray you as a villain. Oaks calls this sort of behavior “aggressive intimidation” directed at “persons and symbols”. I wouldn’t go that far (and the Humanists who put up the billboard would just as soon laugh it off and call for more dialog), but it falls well outside of the bounds of free speech and fair play.

Let’s reach across the table and call for fair play and open dialog on all sides.


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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13 Responses

  1. aerin says:

    Here, here! I agree.

  2. LdChino says:

    Dude only needed to spray over the “out” and could’ve left the “with” alone, no?

  3. chanson says:

    Chino — That’s what everyone on the Friendly Atheist thread was saying. The only problem is that the vandals would then be sending a rather ironic mixed message…

  4. wayne says:

    This could have been spray painted by someone with a message for God. If you read it right, it says: Millions are good, God.

  5. chanson says:

    Wayne — yep, that’s another possibility.

    lol, we don’t seem to be able to work up much outrage over this, huh? Maybe rogue-speech-through-spraypaint isn’t that big a deal after all.

    That said, if anyone really did use the Pro-prop-8 contributor’s map to find donors homes and harass them there — for the record — that is beyond inexcusable. I hope that anyone who may have done this has been chastized harshly by the leaders of the gay rights movement. We aren’t a terrorist movement like the so-called “pro-life” movement that targets physicians in their homes, and we should not get anywhere near their criminal tactics.

    That said, I think Oaks’s rhetoric is extremely counter-productive if he actually wants to combat harm/harassment of individuals. The public political protests of the LDS church’s political actions were every bit as peaceful and non-threatening as his political decision to contribute money to anti-gay political campaign. To conflate legitimate, non-threatening criticism with harassment — as though they were the same thing — is a good way to prevent actual harassment and intimidation (if there was any) from being dealt with. So I conclude that he’s not nearly as concerned with preventing actual harassment/harm as he is with finding an ad-hominem that he can use to justify dismissing critics.

    Also, I’m sorry to keep questioning whether any harassment occurred, but considering that he outright lied about whether his opponents’ right to free speech on prop 8 had been questioned, I can’t regard him as a reliable source.

  6. visitor says:

    Actually, if you think about it, this could be interpreted to be an illustration of the inevitability of random acts of frustration practiced by individuals on either “side”.

    In that respect, it sorta undercuts Oaks’ message that such random acts should be considered the equivalent of the kind of organized suppression the LDS, the Catholic church and the fundamentalist evangelical churches engage in.

  7. Madam Curie says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this sign was also vandalized in places outside of the MoCor, and we just don’t know it.

  8. Wayne says:

    I have to admit that my gut reaction is: sure lets be godless but keep it under wraps. On the other hand if I am talking to my TBM bil about religion and society, he will listen to my godless perspective respectfully because he knows that I respect his beliefs.

    Respectful dialogue between individuals is much different than a billboard. It is much easier to react rudely when you are dealing with a faceless organization, or a group one knows nothing about.

  9. chanson says:

    Madame Curie — It’s very possible. The organization that put this one up said it was the only instance of vandalism they’ve encountered, but they’re not the only group putting up atheist/humanist billboards and bus ads.

    Wayne — That’s very true, and that’s why I think these sorts of public not-directed-at-anyone-in-particular statements shouldn’t be equated with personal interactions.

    In the atheist community, there’s a great deal of debate over “accommodation” towards religion. I feel like showing respect and courtesy towards religious friends and family is reasonable and isn’t the compromising or watering down your own beliefs.

    At the same time, I feel like these sorts of public statements (that atheists exist and are human) are helpful. They move the poles of people’s expectations and create a mutual space where your religious intimates understand that they should be respectful of your differences as well. Whereas without exposure to non-believer visibility, your religious friends and family might easily mistakenly assume that your different beliefs amount to an admission that you’re some sort of criminal deviant who needs to be “cured.” Billboards like this have a very real impact in terms of making it easier for non-believers to be honest — and respectful — towards their own families.

  10. visitor says:

    The fact is, most people are exposed to decent, responsible non-believers all the time. They just don’t happen to realize it because people assume everyone else is believing and that probably includes a decent number of atheists, agnostics and people on the bubble on their way out of conventional religions.

    In that respect a billboard doesn’t accomplish much because it’s still not identifying those whom people wouldn’t necessarily expect to be non-believers. And I don’t see non-believers starting to wear T-shirts saying “Look at me. I’m your non-threatening neighbor and I don’t believe in god.” Not the style of I’ve-got-my-beliefs-you’re-welcome-to-yours independent thinkers.

    However (and I think it’s a big “however”), it does provide affirmation that it’s not that unthinkable to go your own way. And it accomplishes that very nicely, thank you very much, even defaced.

  11. chanson says:

    it does provide affirmation that its not that unthinkable to go your own way.

    I agree, and I think this affirmation can help give people the confidence to be open about their non-belief (as well as possibly making it a little less shocking for religious people when friends and family members admit to non-belief).

  12. chanson says:

    I wouldnt be surprised if this sign was also vandalized in places outside of the MoCor, and we just dont know it.

    Wouldn’t you know? It just happened, worse than the last one.

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