On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, I was standing in front of a bulletin board on a college campus. I was patiently waiting to enter the class I was about to teach. One of my colleagues passed.
My colleague strikes me as a nice man. He is certainly handsome and intelligent. He and I have chatted only once before, in passing. We know each other's names and that we both are college professors in the same department.
There was a flier on the bulletin board behind me. The flier advertised a talk about the Shroud of Turin. I was to give the talk that evening on campus.
I stopped my colleague. "Hi," I said. I gestured to the flier hanging on the bulletin board behind me. "Want to come to my talk tonight on the Shroud of Turin?"
My invitation was sincere. I love giving talks. I wanted as many people as possible to come. I put "Doubters and discussion welcome" on the flier because I love lively debate on provocative topics.
I really do believe that we come to our best knowledge by interacting intellectually with others, including those with whom we disagree. We learn through practicing Hegel's model of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That's why a working class, first-generation American like me chucked everything and got the PhD to begin with. To have an active intellectual life.
I was hopeful and excited.
My colleague squinted at the flier on the bulletin board behind me.
"The Shroud of Turin! That's a HOAX. It's FAKE."
My colleague made very dramatic facial expressions of disgust, like curling his lips and extending his nostrils and raising his eyebrows.
As I witnessed my colleague's evident disgust, I was reminded that psychologist Paul Ekman described the facial expressions of disgust as universal. No matter where you go on planet Earth, Ekman said, human beings will express with the very same facial expressions, the facial expressions I was witnessing on my colleague's face at that very moment. Even deaf and blind people use the same curled lip and wrinkled nose to communicate disgust.
"And yet!" he went on "There are people who believe in it! They are so desperate! You can set them straight! Thank God there are people like US who study people like THEM!"
My colleague hurried off.
What would my colleague have said had the poster been for a talk about Islam's whirling dervishes?
"Ah, yes, the whirling dervishes, an honorable tradition of seeking the transcendent through trance states!"
…or for a talk about Haitian Voodoo?
"…a deep spiritual tradition of oppressed former slaves!"
Look – I like my colleague. That's one of the tricky features of reporting on Christophobia on campus.
I like all the professors who have told me that Catholicism is "disgusting" and yes they do use that word.
I like my colleague who sent me an angry email protesting against the YouTube video of a group of casually clad singers performing, as if spontaneously, the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah in a shopping mall's food court. My colleague insisted that this video, seen now by over forty-three million people, was just another example of evil Christian homophobia imperialism torture rape murder cannibalism genocide and bad dental hygiene. (You can watch this shocking video here.)
I like my former professor, and current coworker, who made fun of Christian students during a faculty meeting. I like everyone at that faculty meeting, though I was the only one to protest.
I like all these people, and I am fearful that anything I say might offend them, and I don't want to offend them. I am afraid that anything I say might get me fired or blacklisted, or has already gotten me fired or blacklisted without my knowledge.
Since I've published a book, "Save Send Delete," about a "New Atheist" and a believer, I decided to talk about the Shroud of Turin from that angle – what are New Atheists saying about it?
I found a disturbing article in the January 17, 2003 Las Vegas Review. As part of the four-day World Magic Seminar at the Riviera, famous atheist Penn Jillette appeared onstage in a Roman gladiator costume. He pulled back a replica of the Shroud of Turin. Under the Shroud, Jillette's partner, Raymond Teller, was semi-nude and attached to a cross. A midget costumed as an angel simulated a sex act with Teller.
Jillette and Teller's performance was hateful. It was comparable to the kind of material that Joseph Goebbels used to produce. Goebbels also took distinctively religious icons – in his case Jewish ones – and associated them with derision in order to facilitate violence and hate.
I've often heard New Atheists complain that they have a bad reputation. They wonder why.
Think about it, folks. You keep telling us how smart you are; put two and two together and get four. It's really not all that hard.
Here is an example of the Goebbels-style. Using the Magen David, a sacred symbol, in hate propaganda:
People have asked how the talk went. Thank you for asking. I am so grateful for internet friends like Nachman, Liron, Gordon, Patty, Karla, Marnie, Tasha, Lisa, Anna, Rusty, and anyone else who asked how it went whose name I may have forgotten.
Well, I had a great time. I love public speaking. As I've often said, I don't have a fear of public speaking; I have a fear of NOT speaking publicly.
I received positive feedback and I'm grateful for that.
Some folks asked me to video record the talk and I tried to do that … but the camera I got from campus malfunctioned, so there's no video … but I'm trying to find a venue to redo the talk, and video it. If that comes about, you'll be the first to know.