Every morning at 7am or so I sit at my computer with my third cup of coffee and watch the previous evening’s The Daily Show with John Stewart because I’m never awake at 11pm to watch it when it’s broadcast, primarily because I’m already on my third cup of coffee when I watch it at 7am.
Also, there used to be fewer commercials online, but not anymore, although at least they tell you exactly how many commercials there will be before your “content” returns, so I know if I have time to do something about the first two cups of coffee I’ve had.
It is one of those commercials I want to talk about today.
Imagine my surprise when I was suddenly confronted by Ron Reagan coming out…as an atheist. That’s Ron, not Ronald (that really would have been a surprise–for any number of reasons). Ron went even further, declaring that he wasn’t just an atheist, but an “unabashed atheist,” which I guess means he’s orthodox.
Anyway, in this commercial, the Son of Ronald tells us that he is “alarmed at the intrusion of religion on secular government” and asks us to support the Freedom from Religion Foundation, “the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics.”
By “effective” he doesn’t mean in converting people to his non-religion, which, in the case of Jewish men, would entail replacement surgery. He means in “keeping state and church separate, just as our founding fathers intended.”
The reaction I had upon seeing this spot was probably not what the FFRF intended. That’s because Reagan gives the whole pitch with a kind of bemused expression on his face, one eyebrow raised, his mouth in an “inside joke” sort of half-smile. And then his last line, which I am not making up: “Ron Reagan. Lifelong atheist. Not afraid of burning in hell.”
This would be a good time to remind you that I came across this commercial while watching The Daily Show. So, really, what choice did I have but to think this was a “bit”–or perhaps a promo for one of the network’s other shows?
After all, what serious organization would give itself an acronym pronounced “ff-fffirf?”
But guess what? It’s a real thing! There’s even a website: http://www.ff-fffirf.org! (Kidding: it’s ffrf.org.) And although I made a joke earlier about Ron Reagan “coming out,” FFRF actually has a “Coming Out of the Closet Campaign,” in which people post videos about being atheists. Whatever impact this may have had is somewhat dampened by the fact that all the people in the videos seem to be FFRF staffers (or, as I like to call them, “fffirfers”), so you’d have to think that anyone who knows who they work for already has a pretty good idea about their religious identity, unless they lie to their friends and relatives and tell them they work for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
all of whom seem extraordinarily happy about their Godlessness, but none of whom can claim the degree of celebrity that Scientology can run out there on a daily basis. Besides Reagan, the only ones I’ve even heard of are Steven Pinker (top row, second from right, with the labradoodle on his head), a professor who has written some interesting books about language and the brain; Oliver Sacks, who has written some interesting books about brain damage; and Julia Sweeney, who was on Saturday Night Live for awhile.
In short, no one that could convince me that I hadn’t come upon some elaborate joke perpetrated by a TV network with the word “comedy” in its name.
Then I decided to investigate the part of any organization’s website that tells you how serious and committed it is to its stated cause. I clicked the “shop” link.
Hmm. Here we have t-shirts that say things like “Godless Goddess” and “Village Atheist,” thus implying that the people wearing these shirts are loose women and idiots. You can also buy a “Beware of Dogma” bumper sticker, which will compel exactly 2% of Americans to slash your tires. (The other 98% will see the bumper sticker and say, “Huh?”) Or perhaps you’d like a refrigerator magnet with a warm and fuzzy quote by famed atheist Richard Dawkins (not to be confused with former Family Feud host Richard Dawson): “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” Notice he said “arguably.” He’s leaving the door open for someone to make the case for Darth Vader.
And yes, Richard Dawkins actually is known for being an atheist. In fact, the FFRF site describes him as “probably the world’s most famous contemporary atheist,” which (and I’m just guessing here) doesn’t bring him a lot of autograph requests when he’s dining out.
Here’s the thing: Yes, I do believe that God and religion have overly permeated our government and our national discourse. I also believe there is a need for a national movement to keep religion out of our government and public institutions. One need only look at countries like Iran to know what happens when religion rules.
But any organization which claims religion-free government as its intention should not bear the banner of atheism because, almost by definition, that will limit its effectiveness. It’s like an organization for battered women protesting against the NFL. “Oh, sure, of course you’d be against domestic violence.”
Whether or not you believe in God is besides the point. You only need to believe in a free country.
But whatever your beliefs, for crying out loud, be serious about it, will you?
Or you might just burn in hell.
See you soon.