Differential Activism – The Art Of Choosing Wisely

“It is important to understand that there’s a difference between a person of faith and a religionist” – Al Stefanelli

There is a very fine line between being outspoken and being a complete asshole. Yeah, I’ve crossed that line a time or two, as many of us have for a variety of very acceptable reasons. I suspect I will cross that line again, many times, as will many of you. Yes, I have personal issues with the church that involve attacks directed at my family, instead of myself (You can read about it on this blog, or pick up a copy of my book if you want the details), but almost all of us who consider ourselves activists have a plethora of common issues that we all routinely address in our various venues.

But whichever form of activism we choose, and especially when we find ourselves needing to be particularly strident and not mince our words or pull our punches, there needs to be a specific declaration as to the differential between extremist fundamentalists and the mainstream. I am probably one of the most acerbic and outspoken atheist writers in the current crop of activists, but I am always very careful when writing in a negative way to make that differential very predominately placed in my writing.

Some Do, Most Don’t…

There are those who are offended at our mere existence. They make it a habit of condemning us to hell, publicly disparaging us and misrepresenting our world view and personal philosophies in a variety of ways, including the irritating and most incorrect assumption that atheism is a religion. As those of you who have been reading my words for any length of time, those are the ones I target with my words and actions.

Although it is my reasoning that all believers are being misled into believing in what I consider to be fairy-tales, myths and legends, I do not reason that all – or even most – believers wish ill for us. I can tell you with great certainty that not all Christians interpret the bible literally, cherry pick from it’s contents, support the inclusion of church and state, are completely pro-life, deny evolution or believe in a literal hell.

The point I always try to make is that there are a comparative few who are making the mainstream look horribly bad. Given the propensity of our press and media to concentrate on the bad, one of my most common rants is for those in the mainstream faith who are also horrified at the behavior of the fundamentalists and extremists of the world to speak up, speak loud and voice their disapproval of the few who are making the whole look like shit.

Same Goals…

My goal as an activist is, and has always been, to coexist with our neighbors. I have never advocated for the elimination of an individual’s right to believe. Contrary to many of my detractors, my goal is not now – nor has ever been – to deconvert anyone. My goal has always been to educate anyone willing to listen about the atrocities that are committed by the religionists, the advances that science has made which debunks the various myths that are related to the physical world, and primarily the fight for government neutrality and the eradication of discrimination of all human beings.

This is why I also write and comment in support of the LGBT community, the African American comminuty, the Latino community, etc.  Make no mistake, I am not softening up with respect to those who wish harm (in any form) against us and other minority groups, including but not limited to our LGBT friends. These people will always be on my radar screen and will always be targeted by my words.

Free Thinking…

The wonderful thing about being a freethinker and following the scientific method of reasoning is that we embrace change – much unlike the fundamentalist extremists who are so abhorrent to change that they still remain biblical literalists.

Being a freethinker gives us the freedom to grow, to learn and to adjust our actions in accordance with those changes. There are many freethinkers within Christianity who have also adopted these characteristics with respect to science and philosophy and have already altered their conceptions of divisive doctrines such as eternal hell and homosexuality. We should embrace these folks and publicly credit them for being forward thinkers, even though they might still believe in their God.

Being a freethinker is the best thing that has ever happened to me, cognitively, and I’ll be damned if I am going to disparage another freethinker who happens to still hold a belief in a higher power, whether they be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Wiccan or whatever. The only believers I have issue with are those who are trying to infiltrate our government and classroom with their special brand of hatred, bigotry and discrimination.

Nobody Owns Earth…

We all share the same planet, and when a believer extends the olive branch of reason, we would do well to accept it, open a dialog and find common ground. Does it work? Well, it has for my wife and I, as I had written about last week, and many times before. In spite of a bump here and there, we’ve managed to find a way to peacefully coexist and even enjoy each others company.

If we cannot find a way to accomplish this on a larger scale, and to find more effective ways of exposing the utter ridiculousness and stupidity of biblical literalism and religious fundamentalism, then we are all doomed.

Just my thoughts….

  22 comments for “Differential Activism – The Art Of Choosing Wisely

  1. March 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Great post Al. On my blog I go into the realm of being an asshole at times as well. I try to reserve this for ideas/people that are offensive to me for many of the reasons you point out, most specifically, when the religious try to push their agenda in the public sphere and when religions/religious practices do specific harm.

    I do have a question I would hope you would answer. You wrote that not all Christians cherry pick from the bible. (I know I took that out of context). How can that be true? If they do not take the bible literally and do not cherry pick, what is left for them to base their faith on? The only answer I can come up with is that they would then choose to interpret the bible in its entirety for themselves. I am not sure if I find that prospect more or less daunting than the other two. What are your thoughts on that?

    • March 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      The position of biblical literalism is not universally practiced by the whole of Christianity. There are many believers who hold to an allegorical representation of the book. I know a lot of people like this, including those who do not hold to a literal rendition of hell, for example.

      If one does not hold the bible up to literal standards (which was never the intention), then the whole concept of cherry picking becomes obsolete. One Christian I know told me that they would just as soon as pick a sentence out of Huckleberry Finn and treat it likewise. It’s only been roughly 500 years since the bible was separated into chapter and verse, as well.

      Of course, I am fully expecting the assault on email inbox chastising me for posting this, erstwhile calling me a traitor, an accommodationist (as if) and all sorts of ridiculous bullshit.

      • March 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm

        I agree that most Christians do not hold to the bible literally. It does seem to me that many of them do cherry pick the parts they like though. I understand what you say when writing that if biblical literacy is out, then so to is cherry picking. However, I am not sure if that works so often in practice.

        The Christians that you know who support your idea, the Huck Finn ones, do they then choose to interpret the bible on their own? That can lead to some pretty nasty consequences as well. Another question that comes to mind…If they could just as easy pick from any novel, what use do they have for the bible? If the answer is none, what makes them Christian then? The bible is a major part of Christianity.

        Last thing..I am not going to call you a traitor or accomodationist. Anything that leads to discussion or challenges me to look at something differently is okay in my book. Your post has done just that. Not to mention, even if I elect to disagree with you on this point, the sum total of your work is excellent. Thanks for writing and doing what you do.

        • March 9, 2012 at 11:38 pm

          They choose to avoid interpretations, and remain fully aware that many aspects of the bible are simply out-dated. That’s the thing about freethinkers, RB, they think freely and independently of tradition. They’ve done it before, as you would be hard-pressed to find anyone but the most ignorant who still believe the earth is the center of the universe.

          If you take all the works of your favorite author, poet or writer, chances are pretty good that you will agree with some of what you read, disagree with others, and still others are left to ponder.

          One can get lost in philosophical discourse from a variety of points of view, RB. I am an atheist, therefore I do not reason that deity exists. As with most atheists, when we read the bible (and we do), we look upon it as a literary work, with stories that we may find fascinating, others that we find deplorable and yet others that we find contain some wisdom (knowing that said wisdom does not come from deity – but from within the human condition, prior civilizations, etc.)

          The Christian who does not interpret the bible, is not confined to the traditions of the fundamentalist cults, therefore is free to dismiss what is barbaric, outdated or no longer accepted as factual in favor of what would have a positive effect on society. Their problems and quarrels do not come from us, though, but from their fundamentalist brethren who perceive them to be false Christians at best, and apostates at worse.

          While I do not believe for one minute that god exists, and especially not that the Christ is anything other than a fabricated amalgamation of contemporary (to them) and previous messiah myths, I cannot find fault with anyone who is seeking to move forward to adjust their world view in ways that serve to eradicate hatred, bigotry and discrimination, as these are my goals, as well.

          You ask what makes them Christian. Perhaps you should seek out some of the more progressive believers and ask them yourself. I know plenty of people who identify as Christians who do not believe in things like the trinity, a literal resurrection, the concept of hell or that there is any condemnation for being homosexual, etc. They treat their fellow human beings without judgment, without denigration and without discrimination. They hold to the concepts of loving their neighbors, caring for the sick and the poor and only speaking about their faith when asked – which cannot be defined as evangelism.

          If you look for the worst in any group, you will find them. If you look for the best, you will find them, as well. The choice remains as to what you wish to look for and why. I look for the worst to keep in the forefront of my readers what the logical conclusions can be when fundamentalism is embraced. Ignorance does not become a freethinker and we should always know what the likes of the LRA, the WBC and others are up to. I look for the best to keep in the forefront what the logical conclusions can be when the best interest of our species is put forward.

          This is why we should all choose wisely our battles. If we spend all of our time screaming, we cannot spend any time listening. When we listen, sometimes, we begin to understand that not everyone we consider our enemy is as such.

          It’s about growth, RB. The fastest path to intellectual extinction is stagnation. This is why I reason that fundamentalism will die off. I just hope it does before the extremists end up killing all of us.

          • March 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

            Thanks for the detailed response Al. You wrote, “I cannot find fault with anyone who is seeking to move forward to adjust their world view in ways that serve to eradicate hatred, bigotry and discrimination.” I could not agree more.

            I will seek out some of the more progressive and moderate Christians that I know. Though, knowing I am an atheist, they really do not like to discuss religion with me. Something about the word “atheist” just puts people out–sadly. The question I would have for them is that if they reject ideas like the holy trinity, and accept things like love their neighbor, what defines them as Christian. I would think something like the holy trinity would be central to that.

            Thanks for writing and keep up the good work Al.

  2. Norman Lycan
    March 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Mr Steffani,

    I am not clear on what your goal was for writing such a thing. But, I can certainly hear your humility. I have been an asshole, too. I guess that’s what happens when you are an intelligent person who presents an intelligent argument, and then someone calls you a troll, because they have a different vision of the universe. But, then we are humans and we do not understand reality, we simply have a perception of it. I hope you can understand, when I came to post on your
    site, I did not come to disrupt atheism, I came to open their minds to how many freethinkers there are out there in the world, who, like me are freethinkers, but just cannot take that last step into an accidental universe until science shows us the math. I hope you can understand that.


    • March 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm


      My goal for writing this is the same as my goal for writing anything. The transmission of my thoughts, opinions and commentary of things that hold my interest.

      As well, I do not reason that there are many atheists who think the universe was an accident. However, the absence of knowledge does not preclude the presence of intelligence. Chemical reactions happen all the time, and while they may seem random, the laws of physics demand that they follow a pattern – even though we might not be able to perceive or understand them.

      You have noticed that I have not censored you, or anyone else for that matter. I may not agree with your point of view, but you are entitled to it.

      Thank you for your time.


      • Norman Lycan
        March 10, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        Mr. Steffani,

        I certainly do realize this is YOUR SHOW and I’m here by your permission and I do appreciate your tolerence.

        You said: “As well, I do not reason that there are many atheists who think the universe was an accident. However, the absence of knowledge does not preclude the presence of intelligence.”

        Exactly!!! In the absense of evidence, any conclusion or belief in it, is religion, not science. That is what I have been saying. I have seen enough to conclude without any doubt that all religions are bullshit. But, to use your words, paraphrased, the falsehood of religion does not disprove the presence of intelligence.


        • John Morales
          March 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm

          Everyone wins, when you lap up faint praise. 🙂

  3. March 10, 2012 at 10:28 am

    What do we get when people take the bible literally? We get something like the Westboro Baptist Church. They are a prime example of how far from the actual teachings and lessons of the bible christians have come. I have heard this week over and over about taking scriptures “out of context” I have yet to hear anyone explain at what point they are allowed to be considered out of context. Who has the responsibility of declaring things like being killed for working on Sundays was no longer acceptable? As it turns out it was taken out of context.
    When and who informed us that slavery was not condoned by the word of god? There certainly was a time when it was considered acceptable in the eyes of the creator. How many behaviors and practices have been taken out of context over the years? Has anyone else noticed we get the joke as soon as enough of us speak out against god’s word? I wonder how many other discriminatory practices are going to turn out to be yet another instance of misunderstanding. I can’t help but think of how much this context issue has cost us in human suffering and progress. How long it will be before we see what is an obvious pattern.

    • March 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Exactly, Reap. That’s the danger of interpreting the bible. The practice lends itself to the commission of all sorts of atrocities, and allows the bible to be used as a divine defender of actions by narcissistic, psychotic sociopaths whose only defense needed lies in playing the “conext” card. Spot on, Reap, as usual.

      • Norman Lycan
        March 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        If one were to take the bible literally, Satan told Eve, “In the day of your eating it, you positively will not die, but will become like god, knowing good and bad. She did not die, and a few verses later the angels comment “Look at them, they have become like us, knowing good and bad.” Yet, Satan is called the father of the lie. Seems to me he was the one telling the truth.

        But we are not only all descendants of Adam and Eve, but of Noah as well, because he and his immediate family were selected as the new seeds of humanity. Everyone else, men, women (including pregnant ones) and children (including infants) were summarily murdered by drowning in the flood. Their crime: They forgot to tell god how great he was.

        Moses died in the wilderness, while the Isrealites made babies and weapons, and practiced for war. And when Joshua (the exact same name as Jesus, Yahwehshua) took his troops into the land flowing with milk and honey, he KILLED EVERYONE!!!!! Those spared were enslaved. All with the blessing of god.

        I find myself wondering why anyone who believes the bible would ever take a knee in front of such a monster. It’s like praying to Hitler squared. If called for judgement before him, I would be forced to say, “Fuck you, you can only kill me once”.


  4. jj7212
    March 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    I agree Norman. There are only so many ways to look at and/or interperet the bible. Fundamentalists are crazy and the average christian is lazy. Lazy christians who want to get on my case are the ones who bother me the most often. Not the fundies. For many of us atheists, we have taken a more serious and reasonable look at these stories than them and concluded for various reasons that the bible is obviously full of fairy tales. Lazy christians don’t actually read their bible. When we talk about our opinions of the bible, it still sends the average christian into rage mode. Although the average christian in the average town isn’t really so hard core, as Al had mentioned, most still get defensive and revert to the pre-programmed non-freethinking responses instilled by the preacher.

    Al shows good leadership by example when he says he mostly speaks against the religionists, not the freethinking christians. There has to be some common ground somewhere. I agree that trying to deconvert a freethinker is not the best answer. Perhaps the very simple goal of just having the freethinking christian understand our point of view is enough. As long as we politely listen to them too. A good freethinker will condsider an atheists point if he hasn’t been slandered for his christian views, even if they’re lazy views. We understand christians just fine, but they don’t always understand us. That takes positive communication skills. It’s all about being cool to each other, I guess.

    • John Morales
      March 11, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Al shows good leadership by example when he says he mostly speaks against the religionists, not the freethinking christians.

      That should be Christians, since they are adherents of an ideology to which you refer by a proper noun.

      As for your claim, Al neither leads me nor do freethinking Christians impress me any — freethinking is not exclusive of obtuseness.

      • jj7212
        March 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm

        You’re right about ‘Christian’ being a proper noun. And I’m an English teacher! (Whoops!)

        It’s my military experience that leadership isn’t a rank or position. Anyone can exhibit leadership characteristics. Very different from ‘authority’ or ‘responsibility’. Al doesn’t lead me either, I just think he has good leadership qualities. That’s all.

        Freethinking christian sounds funny to me also, but we’ll see where that phrase goes from here. lol

        • John Morales
          March 11, 2012 at 10:27 pm

          Thanks for your clarification.

          Freethinking christian sounds funny to me also, but we’ll see where that phrase goes from here. lol

          Well, I don’t so much laugh as snigger, but I’m glad you grok me.

          • Norman Lycan
            March 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

            It sounds funny to me too. A christian freethinker is like a tiny giant. An oxymoron. Goatherder mythology has no merit in freethought, all that remains to be discovered by science is all that leaves room for doubt. The only freethinkers being snubbed and disrespected in this picture are the agnostics and the humanists. And again I will say, we have a clearer idea of balance, and a greater appeal to the general population. So do you really want to win this battle? or do you want to remain relevent? I wonder if you are humble enough to make the right choice?


  5. jj7212
    March 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Al, Just an idea for an article… Even though you are effective in fighting against religionists, what would you like to say to those freethinking christians? Obviously something non-confrontational, something friendly, but definately reasonable, straight, and thought provoking. That’s the one thing a lot of us atheists aren’t good at communicating sometimes. You’re a great writer so it might be interesting to read from you at least once. I know I don’t want to push a deconversion on anyone, just have them understand me too. It’s reasonable understanding itself that does deconversion, not intimidation, dogma, or fear.

    • rapiddominance
      March 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      jj7212 asks . . .

      what would you like to say to those freethinking christians?

      . . . what Stefanelli has already answered:

      one of my most common rants is for those in the mainstream faith who are also horrified at the behavior of the fundamentalists and extremists of the world to speak up, speak loud and voice their disapproval of the few who are making the whole look like shit.

      Not only does he answer the question in this thread, the author has apparently been ranting to the freethinking christian community on a regular basis.

      Haven’t you noticed?

  6. Azuma Hazuki
    March 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

    As to liberal Christians…quite honestly, they’re deluded, solipsistic people. There is only one honest kind of Christian, and that’s also the worst: the Calvinist/presuppositionalist, as exemplified by Calvin and Luther both.

    Let’s face it: evidentialist apologetics (Thomism, etc) is dead. Actual evidence killed it. The only way they can win is by declaring their entire religion axiomatic, like writing an entire C program as a preprocessor macro to get around the compiler’s type-checking.

    I had a very bad period where I actually teetered on the brink of Calvinism, because on its own grounds I couldn’t find the weak spot…then I realized that if you can’t see the trick, the entire show is the trick. Basically, the thought “presupposition is a fifty-cent word for axiom” is what did it for me. It’s also why, using the hateful arms of the loonie Jeebuzoids, I fire back with “presuppositional apologetics isn’t an argument, it’s a lifestyle choice.”

    I of course prefer liberal Christians to whacko ones. And they are actually somewhat correct historically without knowing it; based on Origen etc., early Christian thinkers if not the mass of early Christians seem to have been Universalists. But even so, a pleasant illusion is still an illusion, and the moderates and liberals look the other way when their extremist comrades cause pain.

    • rapiddominance
      March 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      . . . a pleasant illusion is still an illusion, and the moderates and liberals look the other way when their extremist comrades cause pain.

      True and false. By and large, it seems that folks on both sides of ideological lines avoid “housecleaning”; perhaps because its a sure way to find one’s self lonely. As so many godders and godlesses view themselves as entangled in a culture war, the warmongerers on both ends are always quick to point out that, “This is not a time for infighting.”

      The cold, hard fact of the matter is that some culture warriors are in it for the war. Its as if they find their identity, their personhood, their meaning more in the struggle of ideas rather than in any particular idea, itself.

      However, IF you look for it, you will see a small, but noticeable, portion of people on each end who are trying to listen to the other, who are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of everyone involved in this social conflict, and who will not hesitate to let their own know it when they don’t approve of their belligerent and potentially damaging behavior.

  7. rapiddominance
    March 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    In a manner similar to what I do at the FTB’s, I’m a regular converser with AND critic of the conservative/christian community, as well. (Not that I’m relevant in either venue)

    I can’t stress enough how difficult I know it is to like many of these people and care about them. Yet, you and many of your readers often find a way to, regardless. I know there are many hard words when trolls pop up and when there are news stories of rightwing/religious discriminatory behavior; but if many of your foes were to listen during less hostile occassions (and maybe keep their mouths shut) they would realize that you are far more than what their pundits tell them you are.

    Unfortunately, they often show up here because of what they’ve been told. They look for what they were told to look for, they see it, and they consequentially believe what was intended for them to believe in the first place.

    Thank you for listening.

Leave a Reply