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Atheists Among Us
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Wendy Wippel

Five days 'til Easter and in Memphis (the veritable buckle of the Bible belt, with 30 megachurches and probably 30 thousand standard ones) Easter’s a Big Deal.  So, naturally, the American Atheists Convention (AAC) chose to hold their 2015 conference in Memphis. On Easter Weekend. To annoy the Memphis faithful, basically, according to their atheist spokesperson.

Their arrival, though still two days off, has been nonetheless entertaining the denizens of Memphis for the last several months. Specifically because the American Atheists were required to get any billboards to be displayed in Memphis approved ahead of time by the Memphis Grand Poobahs of Billboards and Other Advertisements. Approval being based on their satisfactory alignment with community standards and values.

The AA's first submission featured a child wearing bunny ears, with the intentionally irksome caption “An Atheist convention on Easter Weekend? Looks like we’ll be skipping church again!”

It was rejected. An atheist convention intentionally planned for Memphis (again, the buckle of the Bible belt) was bad enough. An atheist convention intentionally planned for Memphis on Easter weekend was too much, and deemed likely to offend Memphis sensitivities.

So the AAC, digging in, tried again. Basically the same billboard this time, but with the words “Easter” and “Church” obliterated petulantly with a “Censored” stamp.

Again, rejected. City leaders labeled the second billboard a little too “aggressive”.

(I suspect at this point the American Atheists may have been thinking that an Atheist convention in Memphis on Easter was a misguided impulse). 

Ultimately, they had to settle for less aggression than they had hoped.  The billboard approved reads, simply, “Hop on over to Memphis for the biggest gathering of atheists in the country!"  They acquiesced. But they didn’t take it lying down.

They took their Holy war to their most sympathetic audience. The mainstream media.

American Atheists President, David Silverman whined that, “Their double standard is as ridiculous as it is discriminatory” … "Our billboards feature a happy little girl wearing bunny ears” and “Our convention is, in fact, on Easter weekend”. He asked “Is this what Americans, champions of free speech, find 'aggressive'?”

Moreover, he saw it as a confirmation of their mission in Memphis: “This is exactly why we are coming to the Bible Belt. -we go where we are needed. It could not be more clear that we are needed here."

He neglects to define, exactly what the urgent need for atheists in Memphis is, and the general description of the conference doesn’t shed a whole lot of light on the subject: 

“The American Atheists 2015 National Convention, April 2-5 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, will feature keynote human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, featured speakers HowStuffWorks.com founder and Discovery Channel host Marshall Brain and memeticist Dr. Susan Blackmore, comedians Trace Bealieu and Frank Conniff of the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and more.”

That sounds pretty innocuous, right?  But if you dig a little deeper into the program, the purpose of their Easter “Mission to Memphis” becomes crystal clear. The program consists mostly of gourmet and vegan meals, book-signings and “Activist Workshops”, like “Media Matters (how to use the media to your advantage)”, “Debating Religious Apologists the Right Way”, “Magic & Skepticism", (The overlap between magic and skeptical thinking is no secret. Use illusions and magic to teach critical thinking skills to your audience), “Godless Improv" (It’s a mystery to me why that has to be Godless) and “Let’s Talk About Sex: Sex positivity, BDSM, and kink from the atheist's point of view". (No comment necessary).  

The schedule also includes a benefit for Planned Parenthood. Again, no comment necessary.

CNN calls the current head of the American Atheists, David Silverman (a former pastor), “the firebrand head of American Atheists, a group formed in the early 1960s, that now has more than 5,000 members. He wears his atheist badge with pride, and his "in your face" tactics have made him a legend in the atheist world.

Eureka! Now we know.  It’s activism. With a double scoop of ego and mutual admiration. Basically like the traditional AA meetings except these individuals don’t want help, they want approval. for the glaring lack of any real purpose or meaning in their lives. It’s their mission to turn all the happy family celebrations of redemption and faith going on in Memphis that weekend into an ugly pointless confrontation. Or at least public perception that all the Memphians celebrating this weekend are somehow a danger to the rest of society.

I was thinking about attending the convention as a spy, but the high dollar admission (up to $1200 for three days), incredibly, for a complete experience admission.-- apparently one of their other objectives is fundraising--  was too much to swallow for ethical reasons. (Although the discovery of what “atheist comedy” would look like was hard to pass up.)

Although maybe they had the last laugh.  The message from which English speaking residents of Memphis were shielded: “(An Atheist convention on Easter Weekend? Looks like we’ll be skipping church again!”) was actually (eventually) erected, but in Arabic. This billboard, which Memphis approved, mentioned additionally that the keynote speaker at the convention is to be an ex-Muslim, and specified that attendees would be skipping mosque instead of church.  Atheist organizers successfully assumed that that the city fathers wouldn’t care what went up in Arabic.

(One media commenter, apparently an atheist sympathizer also observed that, “you have to figure Christians won’t raise a fuss over something they don’t know how to read.")

Just Kidding about the last laugh. Because anyone familiar with God’s word knows where atheism begins and ends:

Step One: Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. I Timothy 4:1:2

Step Two: The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

Step Three: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Ephesians 4: 18

It’s a progression depending on whose voice you listen to. God’s sheep hear His voice.

Those who hearts are hardened and hear that hardened heart say, “there is no God?" They are listening to the voice of the Deceiver, and maybe that’s who really has the last laugh.

I don’t know what jokes atheists would tell, so in the spirit of atheist comedy I’ll tell the two jokes I know about atheists. 

First, (one you may remember from an earlier column):

Q: What’s on the atheist’s tombstone?

A: All dressed up and no place to go.

Second, (I kind of collect  lightbulb jokes):

Q. How many atheists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Two.  One to change the lightbulb, and one to get it on video so nobody can attribute it to God.

David Silverman says that the greatest misconception about atheists is the perception that they are a threat. 

Funny, I’m pretty sure that this weekend, the citizenry of Memphis will celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection with candy and egg hunts and big Easter dinners with their families with nary a thought of the lurking “threat” of those atheists among us. As Christians, we have a peace that passes understanding and an abiding experiential knowledge that the God that we worship is in the heavens and in control.  We have no reason to be afraid, because Jehovah is our God.

(Plus we’ve read the book and we know how it ends.) 

But here’s the thing:  if you’re an atheist who’s going to pony up $1,200 in order to spend Easter weekend in Memphis and you are doing this to learn how to be a better activist against something you don’t even believe in?

Maybe you ought to rethink that bucket list.

Note:  My small group was planning to try to have some constructive conversations with the conference attendees downtown, but my mother-in-law (a believer) passed away Saturday night so we are going to have to be out of town. Please pray that God will turn the tables on the convention organizers, and that Memphis believers will cover the atheist conference with the word of God and that the Spirit and power of God in Memphis and saints will influence the conference attendees.  I am sure other churches are planning to have a presence. Thanks.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 NKJV

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: ChristZero

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