Brian Flemming interviewed by Sun Herald (Blasphemy Challenge details)
Today Brian Flemming answered some questions for Jean Prescott of The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. She has not written her story yet, but since her story is likely to be shortened and have commentary added, I thought you all might want to see a transcript of the dialogue. So here is RRS member and director of The God Who Wasn’t There movie Brian Flemming…
Q: Why is it important to The Blasphemy Challenge to dissuade young people from celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, whatever their little hearts desire?
A: That is not a specific goal of the Blasphemy Challenge. The Challenge is part of a tongue-in-cheek "War on Christmas," but nowhere on the site do we actually encourage anyone to not celebrate any holiday.
Q: Isn't it really more about freaking out mom, dad, the preacher, the Rev. Billy Graham, et al?
A: The goal of the campaign is to provoke conversation about religion -- specifically a conversation about the supernatural claims of Christianity. Obviously, we feel that Christianity's claims about its ghost and Hell are false. We invite Christians to demonstrate that these claims are true.
And, yes, freaking Christians out is part of it. We invite Christians to ponder why they get so freaked out about a stunt involving the "Holy Ghost," when they probably wouldn't have that reaction if the stunt were about Zeus, Poseidon or any other deity that people believed in before Christianity.
Q: Who donated the $25K, though in 2006/2007 currency, that's really not a lot of money, is it?
A: The 1001 DVDs we are giving away represent a retail value of slightly more than $25,000. Beyond Belief Media donated these DVDs. The Rational Response Squad is handling the mailing of the individual DVDs to the recipients.
Q: Are the Rational Responders perhaps just overreacting to Bill O'Reilly and his ilk?
A: Overreacting? I'm not sure that a website and a YouTube video can be considered an "overreaction" to an orchestrated campaign by a cable network with millions of viewers. But I'd agree that Bill O'Reilly and others are certainly overreacting to the secularization of Christmas, and our "War on Christmas" is indeed mocking that paranoid overreaction.
Q: I know a few atheists, and they really are not at all militant or in any way eager to "convert" anyone to their way of thinking, though they do get a chuckle out of jerking somebody's chain now and again. They simply don't believe. Would it be fair to say, then, that the Rational Responders are the evangelical arm of atheism?
A: The problem with this formulation is that Christians are atheists, too -- with regard to nearly every god that people have ever believed in. Christians merely carve out an exception for one of those gods. And I stand with those Christians on their 99% atheism. I just don't understand why they make that one last exception. So atheism, which is apparent even in the religious, is not itself an ideology -- the word just describes the absence of a belief that certain mythological characters are real. Virtually everyone is atheist to some degree.
It would be more accurate to characterize us as critics of Christianity. The Blasphemy Challenge is just critical inquiry in the guise of a stunt. It poses a question: What good reason is there to believe in the supernatural claims of Christianity? We welcome a sensible answer to this question.
Q: Help me to understand, tell me what The Blasphemy Challenge hopes to gain.
A: In our culture, religion gets an exclusively privileged place in conversation. Every other subject -- science, politics, etc. -- must follow the general rules we have for discourse: You make a claim, and anyone has a right to ask you questions about that claim to see if it stands up to scrutiny. Religion proponents, however, are routinely allowed to make sweeping claims and are immune from critical challenge. It is taboo to question religious claims, even if they are clearly lunacy.
The Blasphemy Challenge breaks this taboo. What we hope to gain is a level playing field where those who promote supernatural ideas must justify these ideas in the same way they would be required to if they were making any other kind of claim.