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Smut for Smut

February 27, 2010

I found this article (what I have underlined is an AP story that I’ve found on several websites) about an atheist group at UTSA, Atheist Agenda, asking people to trade their Bibles in for free porn. Ryan Walker, a member of Atheist Agenda, says, “We consider the bible to be a very negative force in the history of the world.” Because pornographic materials have been a very positive force in the history of the world.

Anyway, I found several peculiar things about this topic. Consider me naive, but I perceived the atheist movement to be somewhat non-aggressive, especially towards Christians. It’s as if atheists would say, “Okay, you believe what you believe about Jesus, but don’t tell me I should believe in Him.” Michael Martin, one of the leading atheist philosophers, discusses that a dominant atheist paradigm would produce fewer wars and less violence, since many historical and contemporary wars have significant religious undertones. (If you have any more good literature about atheism–and by “good”, I mean objective and differentiated, not someone who has had a bad experience with the church and is trying to find their voice of retaliation–please let me know.)

I’ve never heard of an evangelical atheist society, like the Atheist Agenda appears to be. I’m curious if this is a militant group amongst atheists, similar to ultra-conservative Evangelicals or militant Islamic groups, or if this is a new trend in atheism.

I discovered this conversation through a facebook group I was invited to join, called “Urgent Need for Prayer for UTSA”. This group is meeting over the next week to pray and fast over the campus and especially the group Atheist Agenda. Praying and fasting is great–it involves God in the conversation, it’s nonviolent, but is it enough?

In fact, this seems to be a theme amongst Christian groups whenever there’s a source of conflict–we’ve gotta pray and fast about it and leave it at that. It seems that prayer is an anxiety reducer in these situations; perhaps we expect God to make an appearance similar to 2 Kings, when he descended through fire and consumed all of Elijah’s enemies. Not that God’s not capable of doing that again, but I’m curious if he’s nudging us to go deeper.

I’m thinking about ACU’s invitation of Soul Force, an organization concerning homosexual equality, to its campus. Homosexuality and conservative Christian ideology go together like oil and water, right, but the administration of ACU took a step to have an open, non-aggressive conversation with this group for a greater understanding of this “outsider” group. Three years ago, these meetings were a complete success, and I believe that the two organizations are having a follow-up meeting soon.

What would happen if this facebook group went a step further past praying and fasting and had a peaceful conversation with the Atheist Agenda? What questions would you ask? How evangelical (and perhaps manipulative) would your language be? What would you like atheists to understand about Christians? What would you like to understand about atheism?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimberly permalink
    February 28, 2010 1:39 am

    Hi, I am one of the students who started that group you were asked to join. The reason we decided to pray and fast is because it is what the bible tells us to do and also it is a peaceful way for us to come together as believers and stand up for our faith. If one of the AA members comes up to me and wants to have a discussion I will be more than happy to talk to him or her and make sure that is stays civil and does not turn into some arguement.

  2. Steph permalink
    February 28, 2010 1:50 am

    It’s interesting you say that. I graduated from UTSA a few years ago and was a part of a campus ministry group. We had free lunch on Wednesdays and invited AA to come, and they did. There were some great discussions that I was a part of, and they appeared to be civil and engaging in conversation. The Smut for Smut campaign has been going on since I was a student. It seems to me that it is a direct jab, aimed at a particular population of people, to make them mad. There will be an angry response by some groups, but hopefully they don’t do things out of hate and disdain. Having good discussions is a great thing, and showing the love of Christ, is even greater.

  3. singingjeremiah permalink*
    February 28, 2010 5:39 pm

    Thank you both so much for your comments. This situation is unique for me because I went to a Christian university for seven years and there are like 200 churches in our town, so even if everyone isn’t Christian in Abilene, everyone speaks Christianese. Obviously, that’s not the case in public school settings, so I’m always intrigued to read responses of Christian organizations to non-Christian activities.

    Steph, thanks for clarifying some of the political foundations to the Smut for Smut stuff–it sounds like they’re a “fundamentalist group” (if you will) within the larger Atheist Agenda group. I would have loved to have been part of some of those conversations, and admire the efforts of you and others to engage with this paradigmatically-different group of individuals.

    It seems that both of you articulate the difference between having a conversation and showing the love of Christ–isn’t it so often hard to do both when you’re engaging with someone who staunchly opposes you? Regardless of whether or not there are open forums between these groups this week, I pray that Christ’s love is shown on your campus. Thanks again for reading my blog and commenting!

  4. Ryan Walker permalink
    March 1, 2010 9:57 pm

    Interesting that you should quote me. I haven’t been interviewed regarding this in four or five years.

    In any case, I’d encourage you to visit the event’s page on Facebook. There’s a brief FAQ that explains the rationale for doing this.

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/event.php?eid=325585653279

    Short version is that religious groups will occasionally ask people to turn in porn and receive Bibles in return; this is that in reverse, expanded to include texts from all religions. Pornography is a collection of photographs of men and women who have consented to be depicted while naked and/or having sex, whereas many religious texts contain stories of genocide, oppression, violence, and other atrocities. If you believe that God created humanity, then the naked human body is a divine work of art – everyone sees one every day. Sex, besides being crucial to the survival of our species, is natural and beautiful. On the other hand, everyone should be able to go their entire lives without seeing someone brutally murdered before their eyes, let alone read about it in a book touted as the inculpable apex of morality.

    Is Atheist Agenda a group of “militant” atheists, on par with evangelical Christians or Muslim fundamentalists? Not exactly. Atheism is inherently different from a religion in that it has no core tenets and lacks a supernatural component. The members of Atheist Agenda also have no interest in murdering anyone. You will find that they are more vocal than many other atheists, simply because they are tired of being silent about who they are for fear of reprisal.

    The point of Smut for Smut isn’t to make porn out to be something worthy of worship (it’s not). It isn’t even to collect religious texts to “protect” society from them. It’s to get believers to examine what is essentially an object that they idolize, to help them realize why others take issue with its claims. It’s to get people to talk to the atheists, and if you live in the area and are curious, I’d recommend stopping by over the next couple of days (March 2-3) and doing exactly that.

    You can also ask me some questions here, but I won’t be active in the proceedings on campus.

  5. singingjeremiah permalink*
    March 1, 2010 10:40 pm

    Thanks for commenting on my post Ryan–I had no idea that the interview was four or five years ago. That’s pretty funny. Anyway, I feel like I have a more holistic understanding of this event.

    I agree that sexuality (both our physiology and the actual act of fornication) are created by God and are therefore “good”. I feel like the Christian sense of sexuality is colored by the words of Augustine and his combination of sin and bodily, sexual functions; in many ways, these thoughts and the thoughts of Augustine’s disciples have distorted the Christian ethic of sexuality. Should Christians lighten up on sexuality? Sure. But there’s a moral component that prevents us from making this leap (which I think has positive implications in terms of establishing personal integrity and setting boundaries), as well as language of purity (which I think have been manipulated to define people who abuse stringent restrictions on sexuality as “dirty). David Schnarch is a sex therapist that I love who talks about defining oneself socially and morally (he would say) through sexuality, and my friend Richard, who I have linked on my blog, has a lot of really good comments about the combination of morality, purity, sexuality, and Christianity–I feel like his interpretations of sexuality from a Christian perspective are top notch. He both supports and rejects traditional Christian thoughts on sexuality.

    I’m intrigued that you chose to use the word “pornography” to describe these distributed photographs. We agree that sexuality is good, but pornography has connotations of obscenity, exploitation (I believe that even though the people in these photos are consenting, they’re creating dissenting, perhaps derogatory definitions of sexuality and gender for others to have to follow and work through, although we may have to agree to disagree on that one), and sensationalism. The word “pornography” gains it roots (according to the dictionary) from dealing with prostitution, an occupation that many societies, Christian or otherwise, have deemed as outsider and inappropriate. It seems to me that the sentences “Sexuality is good” and “Pornography is good” seem to conflict with each other, working out of the paradigm I’m comfortable with anyway. But I’ve also been trained that most activities have moral consequences (morals other than the taking away of life).

    Thanks for clarifying some of this for me and being willing to have a conversation with a Christian about this issue 🙂 But seriously, I think it’s important for me to think through paradigms that I’m uncomfortable or unfamiliar with.

  6. Ryan Walker permalink
    March 1, 2010 11:35 pm

    I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in my distaste for some Christian views regarding sexuality, like the teachings of early theologians like St. Augustine and Saul of Tarsus. The connotation is that pornography is filthy or impure, but the same is true for sexuality in general to a lesser extent. Neither is necessarily true. There are many healthy outlets for the natural sexual urges we all experience, and if looking at porn helps someone cope with those urges, then it has served as something good – no one has been harmed. Demanding that someone repress these urges can be detrimental to his or her psychological well-being.

    Thank you for being so understanding. It’s refreshing to find someone who is open to considering dissenting or controversial ideas, regardless of whether you’re convinced by them.

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