Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is my Godless Evangelism too Close to Fred Phelps-ism?

It like your comments on whether my Godless Evangelism has gone too far. My weekend activities ended up with a couple of very angry Catholic Priests calling the police.
I’m interested in social psychology, especially when it involves religion. I’m hoping to start an MA in the subject at an online university that may eventually lead to a Ph.D. I’m specifically interested in why religious belief has a free pass in society. My theory is that just as genes are analogous to memes as biological and cultural replicators, the biological phenomena known as ‘allelopathy’, where plants emit toxins that inhibit the growth of other plants, religion emits ‘toxins’ into the cultural system that ‘inhibit the growth’ of reason by making it ‘uncomfortable’ to dismiss or even question the irrational beliefs.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a social experiment where I ‘plant a seed’ of atheism in ‘soil’ where, one would have thought, it had no chance to ‘grow’. That’s outside a Church after Sunday morning worship.

I made up a sign that said “Hello, I’m and Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?” I had it fit over the roof of my car for three reasons. One is that I thought it looked less intimidating than me holding a sign. The second is that I knew I would be around people that were getting into their cars and I wanted to look as much like them as possible. (I also dressed in my ‘Sunday best’.) The third reason was because I wanted to show off my license plate with my phone number.

My criteria for selecting a church were primarily the size and lavishness of the structure and its subsequent popularity. Secondly, finding a location to park my car and display the sign that was both visually accessible to the congregation, and also legal. I knew parking on the church property was defiantly not appropriate. This turned out to be a more difficult task than one would imagine. However, I found a few, The New Covenant Presbyterian Church, and The Pentecostals of Mandeville.
However, I decided to start with the largest Catholic Church in my community Mary Queen of Peace Church. (Also, due to the recent actions of the Pope, I have a special ‘fondness’ for the Catholic religion.)
I sent the following email to the Pastor, Rev. Ronald L. Calkins and copied Msgr. William Bilinsky, : -

Pastor Calkins

I’m an atheist. I’d like to give the people that visit your church the opportunity to hear the alternate point of view

I’m planning on standing outside your church after Sunday mass with a sign that says, “Hello, I’m and Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?” I also have some business cards with contact information and tracts to hand out to anyone that would take them.

I’d like to ask your advice on where I can stand and park my car so I’m not seeming too assertive or violating any laws.

If you would like to meet me prior to the event, please don’t hesitate to ask.



Doug Stewart

Home: (985) 792-7229

Cell: (504) 676-0536

To his credit, he did get back to me: -

Mr. Stewart,

I have received your e-mail. You are not welcome to be on the church property for the purposes of handing out literature or espousing your views.

Father Ronald Calkins

(Maybe I could have worded my email better but I had no intension of standing or parking on church property.)

I parked my car on the side of the road near the exit of the church’s parking lot. I was acknowledged by, I would guess, the majority of people leaving. Some honked their horns; some slowed down to stare at me and did the sign of the cross on their bodies; and some just waved. I didn’t witness any angry behavior… And then the Priests came out.
Two Priests confronted me, Ronald Calkins and William Bilinsky, (I think), together with two church officials in plain clothes. Ronald Calkins said abruptly, “We want you to leave”. My immediate thought was that there were many things that I ‘want’ as well. (Being massaged with exotic oils by the Los Angeles Laker Cheer Leaders sprang to mind, but I didn’t think that reply would have been appropriate – Besides, they never return my calls.) I, as politely as possible, replied with something like, “well, I’m here because I’m concerned about the power of religion in this country”. (Next time, I’ll remember to record any conversations.) With that, Calkins demeanor changed to what I can only explain as extreme anxiety, frustration and even anger. He’d obviously never experienced such outright disobedience. So much so that he seemed to back off in despair. Bilinsky then took over and said that I can’t be where I was because I was “causing an obstruction”. I agreed with him and asked if there was anywhere he could recommend I park my car. His repeated reply, together with that of Calkins was to just “go away”, “why can’t you go away”, “just go away”. They said it so often that I didn’t even have an opportunity to reply.

Note: This is evidence for the memetic allelopathy of religious belief in culture. Not even the religious leaders themselves know why it exists or how it works; just that society should never confront religion. Why shouldn’t society confront religion? I don’t know, it’s just that society should never confront religion. (Repeat ad infinitum) In the very rare event that religion is confronted, the only defense mechanism is to repeatedly ask that religion not be confronted. (?!?!?!?!)

I was then given the ‘ultimatum’ that if I didn’t “just go away” they would call the police. I agreed. The police car came almost immediately. The officer asked me to stay with my car and spoke to the church officials first. He was with them for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then all the church officials returned to the church and the police officer, who was very congenial and understanding explained to me that even though I wasn’t causing an obstruction, the hard shoulder was reserved for broken down vehicles and I should move, which of course I had no problem with. He even pointed out that if I just pulled forward about 50 feet I could park in the lot of the neighboring business. He also said that he explained to the Priests that I had every right to display a sigh that said just about anything. (Wow! A cop that understands the First Amendment – What a concept!) He took my driving license and returned to his car to run my ID which took what seemed to be nearly half an hour! However, that was a good thing because having a police presence together with a couple of priests and a small crown meant that I had my sign seen by even more people.

My question to you is, am I no better than the Westboro Baptist Church ‘God Hates Fags’ members? I did try to make my sign as civil and unassertive as possible. And I couldn’t have been any more polite. Do you think this is a positive, negative, or neutral reflection on atheism in general? Should I do it again? If so, should I rotate churches and religious denominations? Should I be in a more person-to-person location, like parked in a neighboring lot in order to encourage discussion?
Not meaning to have the arrogance of over exaggerating my actions, but I do believe that there are parallels with the Greensboro Sit-In during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. (There are differences in that unlike the Sit-Ins wanted to share the restaurant with white people, I don’t want to ‘share worship’, I want to shine the light of reason on their belief systems to undermine, if not completely irradiate, their supernatural belief.) Note that the four protesters were not heroes to all African Americans. One black woman, a dishwasher behind the counter was heard shouting that they were “stupid, ignorant . . . rabble-rousers, and troublemakers.” (Probably because they risked her loosing her job.) Am I similarly at fault?

P.S. If anyone’s under the impression that evangelizing isn’t imbedded in religious doctrine, I took this picture (see Photo 8) on the exit of a Pentecostal church’s parking lot. I’m thinking of standing next to it with my sign in an attempt to get people to missionize me. Waddya think?


  1. So, is it considered wrong for you to offer a showcase for your beliefs in an area unaquainted with them, regardless of how polite or rude or imposing you are?

    You certainly have as much a right to express any other view, but from an ethical standpoint, it would depend on your motives. I think that since your motives were to provide an oppurtunity for churchgoers to encounter an alternate point of view. The key word here is oppurtunity. That makes your initiative ethical, even if it was as offensive as you could possibly make it.

    Assume that since you are advocating what you believe in, you are providing an honest display to those who wish to see it.

  2. Is your atheist evangelism too much? Not at all. While I can't imagine driving around town with that (or any other) sign on my car, I love the license plate and making yourself visible near various churches. It takes a great deal of courage to do what you are doing, and I find it admirable.

    What I would like to caution you about if you are really serious about pursuing graduate studies in psychology is to stay the hell away from online universities. They are widely viewed as crap by reputable universities and you may find that getting a degree from one will do you more harm than good if you want to get into a Ph.D. program down the road.

  3. go for it if you have the time. when I went to see Bowling for Columbine evangelical Christians where there handing out tracts. Same for the mel gibson movie whatever it was called. they stand by the office depot too.

  4. I'm glad to see that you are finally coming out of your shell. Keep up the good work.

  5. What mania said. Christians take their show on the road, and specifically target those of no religion or even other religions. They would claim to not understand why you were upset if you objected to them handing out tracts at the football stadium Sunday afternoon, so why should they be upset with your presence in their home (so to speak)?

    As for a comparison to the Phelps villains, I don't see it. Phelps and his ilk stop at nothing to be as offensive as they possibly can. I'm sure the majority of the people in the churches you are visiting disagree with the tactics and positions of the Westboro Baptist Church. You are doing your best to be polite and non-offensive. Surely even those who disagree with you can agree on that.

  6. The only thing that I would characterize as negatively Phelpsian is that you are there alone. The Phelps clan usually shows up with only two or three people and look weak and ineffectual as a result.

    Is there a local skeptical or atheist group whose members might join you?

  7. Where I live I often see my friendly, local Watchtower Deluded, standing peacefully on a corner - often cold and wet - but always friendly and courteous. I'm always polite to them. I've admired there persistence. However, at their best they are deluded, at their worse they are enablers to those that would use their faith for violence, both physical and mental, against men, women and children.

    "They," and more importantly their children - before they become brainwashed - NEED TO KNOW that there is information that can help them find reason.

    We don't need to "join" with Doug - we need to emulate him. In our own cities, towns and villages. It's time we put ourselves where Doug has gone - this needs to be the start of a movement.

    Surely the time has come to show those that worship, and desire to spend eternity in the loving embrace of, a self-confessed, mass-murdering maniac that their delusions are unhealthy, irrational and obviously contrary even to their own reason - if just for a second they would exercise it.

  8. You and Phelps are both (I assume) carbon-based life forms but the resemblance seems to end there. Any expression of atheism, no matter how genial, is taken by many religious people as if it were flame and sulfur and lightning.

    But not by all religious people.