Doing the obvious right thing


Personal comment from executive director Dale McGowan

Some ethical questions are difficult, and some are not.

fsmvandalTwo churches in Bend, Oregon were tagged with graffiti over the weekend, including symbols and slogans associated with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. FSM is one of the most clever and creative religious parodies I’ve ever seen. That makes it especially galling that someone has now linked it with mindless, pointless, counter-productive stupidity.

When something so clearly indefensible happens, the obvious ethical response is to condemn it, period — to say it was wrong, and not add a “but.” Fortunately many atheist, humanist, and Pastafarian blogs are doing exactly that, without equivocation.

Now Friendly Atheist and FBB board president Hemant Mehta has gone one step further, putting ethics into action by organizing a ChipIn drive to raise money to repair the damage.

The power of this gesture is incredible. Whether your interest is in showing that atheists are ethical, or bridging the gap between worldviews, or rising above tribalism, or opposing antisocial action, or in simply doing the right thing, it’s hard to imagine a better opportunity.

Some commenters have opposed the idea, saying they would never give money to a church for any reason, that the churches already have enough tax-free money to fix the damage, that the money would indirectly support proselytizing, that “they would never do the same for us,” and more.

Though it’s fine to make a personal choice one way or another, I find these particular arguments really disappointing and shortsighted. Whether they need the money utterly misses the point of the symbolic gesture against the act itself. Arguing that “they would not do the same for us” implies that we should measure our moral incentives on the lowest common denominator of those around us. I could go on for pages of Internet here.

But I do understand where these arguments come from. A lot of us have been wounded by religion. There’s no diminishing that reality, and it takes time and effort to get past the all-consuming influence of that justified anger. We should never stop opposing the ill effects of religion, but we do need to make sure that anger doesn’t blunt our ability to reason, to discern, and to act ethically — including the willingness to act more ethically than others.

Fortunately, many are rising to the challenge to do the right thing in this situation, expressing our opposition to the unethical incident without asking the victim’s worldview. Some are even going further by donating to right the wrong. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate humanism at its best. I hope that those of you who see the game-changing power of that gesture will add your support as well.

By way of full disclosure: Hemant has named FBB as the recipient of any overflow from this drive. I for one hope we don’t receive a dime — that instead, every bit goes toward this unique ethical gesture. Kudos to Hemant for leading the way.