Religion in public life: Reading Dawkins in a cabin

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YOU’LL find one in almost any hotel room in America, usually in a nightstand drawer: a Bible, donated by the Gideons, an evangelical group that puts free Bibles in hotels, hospitals, prisons and other places where they might “reach the lost”. Ed Buckner found one in his cottage at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, a Georgia state park. Then he found another. And another, and another. The final tally was nine, enough for all but the largest families.


Many Georgians would have appreciated the reading material, but Mr Buckner did not. He is a former president of American Atheists (AA). His complaint about the “constitutionally improper” literature in his cabin reached the officials who oversee Georgia’s state parks, who ordered them removed. Shortly thereafter Nathan Deal, the governor, overruled them. The Bibles were donated, not bought by the state, he noted, adding that “a Bible in a bedside table drawer” does not constitute “a state establishment of religion”.

Besides, said Mr Deal, “any group is free to donate literature.” AA took him at his word. It has offered books by polemical atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, as well as Madalyn Murray O’Hair, AA’s founder, and Ibn Warraq, a critic of Islam, to be placed in Georgia state-park cottages.

Americans have long fought over what the first amendment’s promise, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, means in practice. At least two establishment-clause cases are pending before the Supreme Court. Elmbrook School District v Doe asks whether the first amendment bars a state school from holding public functions in a church building for purely secular reasons. (For example if it is cheap, nearby, roomy and equipped with a wheelchair ramp.) The court has yet to accept or reject that case.


continue to source article at economist.com

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  1. Yes, ’tis too true that often one finds a bible, book of Mormon or even a Bhagavad Gita, tucked into the night stand drawers of hotel rooms. The best course of action is to take them out and dump into the closest garbage can. The religious manuals are not the property of hotels so do not worry when pitching them out. If I’m carrying art supplies then of course drawing a picture or making a collage is rather fun. I used to have a supply of the ‘Imagine no Religion’ prints from this site and would happily glue one into a book. Just get creative when dealing with the nuisance. I rather loved the delicious irony on the day of the anti-Pope March in London, September 2010, of just arriving at my Leicester Square hotel, dropping bags, grabbing the bible and pitching it along the route to Whitehall.

    BTW, new, interesting, trendy hotels of course do not distribute the smut. Sometimes one is stuck at having to stay at Marriott, owned by Mormons, and hence the double whammy.

    • In reply to #2 by lindawardselbie:

      Yes, ’tis too true that often one finds a bible, book of Mormon or even a Bhagavad Gita, tucked into the night stand drawers of hotel rooms. The best course of action is to take them out and dump into the closest garbage can. The religious manuals are not the property of hotels so do not worry when…

      Why stop there? The local libraries are filled with all sorts of books that I consider stupid. Should I go and throw them in the trash as well? You do realize that Prof. Dawkins encourages reason and critical thinking right? And that he thinks that The King James Bible is a great work of western literature? Do you really think that people who believe in reason should encourage each other to destroy books they don’t like?

      • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

        Do you really think that people who believe in reason should encourage each other to destroy books they don’t like?

        It seems the Governor of Georgia disagrees with you

        In Georgia, meanwhile, atheists await guidance from the governor on how to get their tracts into cabins. Holidaymakers hoping to curl up with a free copy of “The God Delusion” may be disappointed, however. Mr Deal said he would accept such books but quipped to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he “cannot guarantee [their] safety”.

        Not that this is a great surprise !

        Michael

        • In reply to #5 by mmurray:

          In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

          Do you really think that people who believe in reason should encourage each other to destroy books they don’t like?

          It seems the Governor of Georgia disagrees with you

          In Georgia, meanwhile, atheists await guidance from the governor on how to get their tracts into cabi…

          As Nietzsche said: “When you fight monsters be careful you don’t turn into one” I always try to not get worked up on these threads. But I have to admit when I see people talking about destroying books it does piss me off. (I mean that in the US sense not that I go and get drunk, too early even for me right now) That is a time I wish I could somehow find Prof. Dawkins wherever he is, interrupt him, and have him look at his own site and ask him “is this really what you had in mind? that you become the leader of one more group of intolerant yahoos that want to destroy books?” I think what really pisses me off is it proves me wrong and I hate that more than just about anything. I actually like arguing with theists and when I do, and they say “atheists are just as close minded as religious fundamentalists” I would always say “no that’s nonsense, Atheists are better than that” And then I come to this site and see people advocating that we destroy or vandalize books we don’t like. I think the governor of Georgia is a Moronic Monster and we need to fight him but I don’t want us to become like him in the process.

          • In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

            But I have to admit when I see people talking about destroying books it does piss me off.

            The wanton destruction of books because you fear their contents and want to suppress them annoys the hell out of me, too – but I think we need to be clear though that no-one is suggesting at ALL bibles in the world are burnt or that they should stop being produced. No-one is suggesting that we censor the contents or deny people the ability to find and read the bible of their own accord.

            Littering them around in hotels all over the place is, in my mind, akin to junk mail pouring through the door or leaflets left under my windscreen wipers in car parks. I don’t have a problem with sweeping all that up, unread, and tossing it in the bin any more than I do junking the bible if it’s in my way.

            Perhaps knowing that these bibles end up as toilet paper (or, better yet, properly recycled) will stop these tedious people cutting down vast tracts of living forests to produce all this physical spam – though probably not.

          • In reply to #15 by BenS:

            In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

            But I have to admit when I see people talking about destroying books it does piss me off.

            The wanton destruction of books because you fear their contents and want to suppress them annoys the hell out of me, too – but I think we need to be clear though that no-one is sug…

            I understand that. And I’m not saying that telling someone to vandalize or throw out a bible found in a hotel room is even close to the kind of censorship that the other side engages in. My point is that being better than intolerant theists is a pretty low bar. I find nothing wrong with having bibles in hotel rooms. I know they are there and I ignore them most of the time. Especially now when I have my Kindle with me whenever I travel and essentially walk around with a complete library. (Kindle is greatest invention since sliced bread) But I used to travel a lot for work and while I always tried to have a non-work book with me there were a couple of times I remember being so bored with other stuff I had to read that I took another look at the bible, e.g. to see how many contradictions I could find in the New Testament. Even destroying one book that doesn’t belong to you and that someone else might have a use for is the act of someone who is not committed to reason and critical thinking IMO.

      • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #2 by lindawardselbie:

        Yes, ’tis too true that often one finds a bible, book of Mormon or even a Bhagavad Gita, tucked into the night stand drawers of hotel rooms. The best course of action is to take them out and dump into the closest garbage can. The religious manuals are not the prop…

        Personally, I’d rather see them recycled into science books, but the main issue here is the positive discrimination behind such book distribution. Any attempt to foist literature on someone in a public setting must be unfair in practice, because it necessarily involves putting it above another piece of literature and must be done in total ignorance of the literary preferences of the recipient. Even if the bible is a historically important text, not everyone wants to read it, and it’s an infringement of personal autonomy to suggest that people should have to read it. The Domesday book is a hugely important document in British history and thus in British society today, and I no more want to read it – or have it dumped on me in a public place by a subset of said society – than I want to be preached to by an ethics-based vegan every time I go out to buy eggs.

        After all, the AA took the advice to heart and started distributing atheist books. Why not distribute Shakespeare, or American literature anthologies, or books of Caribbean poetry? Why stop there? You could distribute copies of commercial fiction for promotions, or books on American law, or history books, or instruction manuals on how to respond to emergency situations. Pretty soon, hotels have to be filled with libraries to accommodate the plethora of books one could distribute with good intentions. The only feasible course of action is to leave it to libraries and bookshops, and let people go find what they want.

  2. I think it would be wrong to throw out these bibles. The bible is of great historical and literary interest, but I do like to attach one of these warning labels. link to Godless Bastard . I have several sheets of these printed and I take them with me when I travel.

    WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Do NOT take it literally.
    CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains verses descriptive of or advocating suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, use of drugs or alcohol, homosexuality, voyeurism, revenge, undermining of authority figures, lawlessness, and human rights violations and atrocities.
    EXPOSURE WARNING: Exposure to contents for extended periods of time or during formative years in children may cause delusions, hallucinations, decreased cognitive and object reasoning abilities, and, in extreme cases, pathological disorders, hatred, bigotry, and violence including, but not limited to fanaticism, murder and genocide.

    • In reply to #4 by mjr:

      WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Do NOT take it literally. CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains verses descriptive of or advocating suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, use of drugs or alcohol, homosexuality, voyeurism, revenge, undermining of authority figures, lawlessness, and human rights violations and atrocities. EXPOSURE WARNING: Exposure to contents for extended periods of time or during formative years in children may cause delusions, hallucinations, decreased cognitive and object reasoning abilities, and, in extreme cases, pathological disorders, hatred, bigotry, and violence including, but not limited to fanaticism, murder and genocide.

      You could always add a few chapter and verse references, and highlight the relevant quotes which most Xtians don’t bother to read.

    • In reply to #4 by mjr:

      I think it would be wrong to throw out these bibles. The bible is of great historical and literary interest, but I do like to attach one of these warning labels. link to Godless Bastard . I have several sheets of these printed and I take them with me when I travel.

      WARNING: This is a work of fi…

      Yes please

      • What do you mean by, ‘yes please’? If you want some download from the link and print them yourself on Avery #5262 self-adhesive labels. [ Godless Bastard ] ( http://www.godlessbastard.com/gideon ).

        In reply to #11 by aquilacane:

        In reply to #4 by mjr:

        I think it would be wrong to throw out these bibles. The bible is of great historical and literary interest, but I do like to attach one of these warning labels. link to Godless Bastard . I have several sheets of these printed and I take them with me when I travel.

        WARNIN…

  3. Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
    ~ Isaac Asimov (born: 1920-01-02 died: 1992-03-06 at age: 72) Russian-born American scientist and prolific writer

    What’s the problem? If we had some way of starting a fad for young people to pledge to read the bible cover to cover that would be the end of Christianity. I don’t think many people realise just how bat-shit crazy it is.

    Think of selected bible readings as a form of inoculation to swallowing the thing whole without reading it.

    I wrote an essay called A Bible Study Guide. There are a number of such annotated bibles. Perhaps such a book could be published as a miniature book and left all over to let people know just how crazy the religion they claim to subscribe to is.

  4. How do they decide what is clutter and what should remain?

    If I left my boxer shorts behind in a bedside table would I expect to find them there a year later.

    I am only guessing the Bibles remain because nobody really wants to read them. A good book would be gone in days.

    • In reply to #19 by jjbircham:

      How do they decide what is clutter and what should remain?

      If I left my boxer shorts behind in a bedside table would I expect to find them there a year later.

      I am only guessing the Bibles remain because nobody really wants to read them. A good book would be gone in days.

      I have to wholeheartedly agree with you here, the fact that so many remain is more an indication of how few people actually read it. As you rightly say any decent book would be proffed inside a couple of days.

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