I had not intended to say anything more about it, but judging by comments to many of the blogs that complained about the ad, and a couple blog posts supporting it, it appears to me that the nature of the offense and the complaints were not universally understood. Goodwolve, for example, in two posts- I am not changing my mind , and One more time - is there room in the UUA (or how fear is ruining everything) seems to believe that the entire issue is that theists hate atheists, want them to either shut up or convert, and want to insert the church into the government.
Steve Caldwell, in his post Anti-Atheism Ad in UU World That Criticizes Bishop Spong , seems to believe that theists can't take any criticism: "As one of my favorite bloggers (Greta Christina) has said in the past, people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout." (as a quick aside, I can understand how one might want to say that to a Christian, but we Pagans are kind of used to being shouted at. By Christians and atheists both.) Steve and Goodwolve are both misunderstanding the issue.
Let's look at the quotes so many of us found objectionable. Clarence Darrow: "I don't believe in God because..." So far, so good. I have no problem whatsoever with that; half- possibly more than half- of my friends are atheist or agnostic*, I have no problem with anyone stating their beliefs in a positive way. The problem comes in the second half of the quote: "... I don't believe in Mother Goose." To understand my problem with this requires a discussion of a distinction that has been largely discarded in modern discourse, especially politics: the difference between a mistake and a lie.
To make a mistake is to say something that is untrue, but you believed it was true when you said it. There was no intent to deceive yourself or others; you were simply wrong. A lie is saying something that you knew was wrong when you said it. The same distinction can be made between a mythical character and a fictional one. An example of a mythical character is the Urban Legend about the guy who bolted a JATO rocket to his '67 Chevy, flew off the high side of a turn, and crashed. It never happened... but it's very believable; JATO rockets do exist, and daredevils have in fact bolted them on cars and attained very high speeds. Foolish people really do try to duplicate stunts they're not experienced enough to pull off. There is no obvious reason to doubt the story, unlike a fictional character- say Mr. Spock- who there is no reason to believe to be an actual person, and the author never intended for you to believe to be an actual person. Thus when Darrow finished his statement with "... I don't believe in Mother Goose.", he was saying that God is as obviously fictional as Mother Goose, that those writing about God never intended their tales to be believable- but then asked us to believe them anyway. That is worse than saying that those who believe in God are gullible- I don't mind that, of course that's what an atheist believes- but he is saying that those who wrote about God are liars, and we who believe are dupes of the silliest kind.
The same thing is true of the Twain quote. Had he said "Faith is believing what ain't so.", I would have no complaint at all. His "truth" is that there is no God- of course he's going to say it ain't so. But that's not what he said- the quote is "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." He is calling people of faith liars, or worse.
Dawkins does Twain one better. He, too calls God fictional, but then adds another insult on top of that: "... is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." And he goes even farther than that, he takes a step neither Darrow nor Twain took in his insult. Steve said, "However, I don't see either ad as a personal attack on any person but rather a criticism of different opinions about theology. From my perspective as a reader of both ads, I can see that criticism of a religious idea isn't the same as criticizing the person who may hold that idea." But Dawkins wasn't speaking in the generic; he was very specific- "The God of the Old Testament". That's saying, "Hey, you, Jews- YOUR God, the one you have a covenant with? HE is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."
Goodwolve asked, "Why can't you let an ad that is defending your right to promote your religion in the confines of the law be part of our Unitarian dialog?" What about the ad is defending my right to promote my religion? It says not one word about defending my right to promote my religion- and it does insult me and my ancestors. One cannot even use the small-print boilerplate to establish that intent- it reads, "a 501(c)(3) non-prophet organization of atheists and agnostics working since 1978 to keep church and state separate." They clearly don't want me as a member; they specify atheists and agnostics, even to the point of making the pun "non-prophet". Given that, and they insults they quote- and the complete lack of any mention of the Constitution, or any church-state issues- how on Earth was I supposed to understand that they're defending me?
She also asks, "If personal experience is what really changes us I doubt it will happen that a theist will convince me that there is a god. I also doubt that I will convince them there isn't. And yet we feel the need to defend our position." This is a very important point that comes up in all the theist/atheist debates, and deserves attention.
Goodwolve, I'm not trying to convince you. I'm not trying to convert you. My faith is not evangelical; in fact, my beliefs say I couldn't convince you if I tried- the experience of the Divine (or the lack of it) is intensely personal, and can rarely translate from one person to the other; I have often said that in truth there are six billion religions. Nor am I defending my position, not to you or anyone. I do not need or desire your belief in my vision of the Divine. Nor do I need your belief to fellowship with you- Hell's bells, many of my fellow Pagans have deep differences with me. I treasure differences and new perspectives; one cannot learn anything by talking to a mirror. I love reading your blog, and Steve's. Driving you out of the church is not what i want.
ALL I WANT IS TO NOT BE CALLED A LIAR OR A DUPE AT CHURCH. That's all. It really, really is. Tell me God does not exist, and we're still friends; those are your beliefs, and I will defend your right to hold them. State your reasons for believing so if you wish, and I'll happily examine them- I don't know everything. I love hearing positive statements of a position to study. I want to hear it. But statements that do nothing to advance your position but merely denigrate mine I'll complain about.
Is that really so hard to understand?
*I'm using the terms in the commonly understood forms: atheist- there is no God, agnostic- I don't know. Yes, I know atheists say it isn't that simple, and the dictionary definitions are wrong, but the fine distinctions are not germane to this discussion.