The Out Campaign

So what about Richard Dawkins' "Coming Out" Campaign? Here's a passage from the website:

Atheists are far more numerous than most people realize. COME OUT of the closet! You'll feel liberated, and your example will encourage others to COME OUT too. (Don't "out" anybody else, wait for them to OUT themselves when they are ready to do so).
Basically, I like the idea. Why should atheists spend their lives hiding in the shadows? I've blogged about this before.

But here's my question for Mr. Dawkins: what's with that font? I like the jaunty little kick on the right flank. But the elongated left flank is, well, it's obnoxious. It says "I'm an atheist, wanna make something of it?" There's much debate on blogs about whether Dawkins is too militant, and I'm inclined to be on his side, but that font says "militant."

For my line of atheist T-shirts, I'm choosing something simple. How about:

It's still scarlet (yes, I get it, this is the scarlet letter). But there's no strutting. The simple Arial font doesn't suggest I'm reving up for a fight.

Being an afficionado of fonts, I actually think this is important. But moving right along...I do think it's important not to attach any absolute value to coming out. It's not always a good thing to do it.

Here are some situations in which I wouldn't wear even my own subdued Arial font line of atheist T-shirts--

1. I am campaigning door-to-door for a presidential candidate in 2008. Why risk alienating my comrades or the people I am trying to convince? (We really do need someone new in 2008, and it's not Mitt Romney.)

2. I am working on an interfaith project aimed at stopping the genocide in Darfur. The "A" will invite questions, create the opposite of solidarity, distract from the common ground I share with the other participants. (Get real! Lives are at stake!)

3. I am joining my husband's family to celebrate Christmas. They are a remarkably heathenish lot, except for one person.

4. I am giving a talk on a philosophical topic that has nothing to do with religion. To get the audience on board with my train of thought, I want them to focus on thoughts and experiences we all have in common.

In each of the situations there would be some value in broadcasting atheism, but there's something of greater value that's at stake. I'd keep my eye on that other something.

Come to think of it, I'd be dubious of a Jew who went around with a "J" t-shirt, or a Hindu who went around with an "H" t-shirt. Do we really all want to go around wearing divisive labels on our clothing?

Then again, you can belong to just about any religion and state that in public, as Dawkins points out. You're a Jain, or a Sikh, or a Mormon, or a Muslim? How extremely interesting! In a country like the U.S., most people will respond with utmost respect, and even curiosity. Say you're an atheist and most likely folks will look at you in horror. (It's true...it really is.) The "A" has a unique justification in an environment of disrespect.

I really do "get" the coming out campaign. I do periodically speak about atheism on this site, even at the risk of offending people who might visit because they're interested in some of the other issues I often write about (like animals).

I just think if I had the T-shirt (my line, not Dawkins') it might stay in my drawer most of the time.


pj said...

I find that long left swoosh looks more like a tentative foot in the water - just goes to show how subjective it all is.

pj said...

"ome to think of it, I'd be dubious of a Jew who went around with a "J" t-shirt"

A friend of mine (a non-religious Jew) wears a skull cap in order to broadcast his (ethnic) jewishness.

Jean Kazez said...

PJ, My husband said the same thing about the long left swoosh--tentative "foot in the water."

I never really read a yarmulke as a statement to others...but come to think of it, it makes sense that some people wear it that way. At my reform synagogue, very few people even wear them at services.

Ophelia Benson said...

"I never really read a yarmulke as a statement to others"

Whereas that's exactly how I read it. It's funny...I had a bout of angst many years ago when living near Golders Green (in London), because I started noticing a visceral dislike of yarmulkes, which caused me to wonder 'Argh, is this some deeply buried anti-Semitism?' I thought it was probably a dislike of religious clothing in general, but I wasn't sure. Now I know damn well that's what it was, and still is.

Yet (oddly?) I don't react that way to ethnic labels - if they're thoroughly secular. That's despite thinking that too much hugging of 'ethnicity' can be ingroupy and mindless and not good.