Faith

Atheists Refuse to Give Stamp of Approval

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A battle began brewing shortly after the U.S. Postal Service announced the new stamps it was planning for 2010. One of the stamps features Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which seems to have no desire to offer the rest of us freedom from their view of religion, is organizing a boycott and letter-writing campaign against the stamp. And as this op-ed explains, they do have a valid point: the Postal Service’s own criteria for stamp selection contains this:

“Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

A USPS spokesman tried to say that her inclusion has nothing to do with religion or faith but rather “her work with the poor and her acts of humanitarian relief.”

Nice try, but no cigar.

Her work was undeniably influenced by her deep religious beliefs, and clearly would be regarded by anyone as “religious undertakings.” You can’t pretend that this Catholic nun who has been nominated for sainthood was just an all-around nice gal that didn’t have a calling from Jesus Christ at the forefront of her every move. I certainly can’t imagine that she would want to be disassociated with her faith.

But I can’t help snickering at this giant double standard also mentioned in the op-ed: the same foundation that objects so strongly to the issuance of a Mother Teresa stamp because of the focus on the honoree’s religious beliefs is simultaneously encouraging its members to buy the stamp honoring Katherine Hepburn because of her religious beliefs. Hepburn publicly described herself as an atheist.

If a focus on religion is a problem, then it should be universally problematic: if we don’t want a nun’s Christian acts to be reason to buy a stamp, we ought not flock to an actress’s lack of faith as a reason, either. That’s not exactly freeing yourself from religious motivation.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

13 Comments

  • I never realized what a threat Mother Teresa was to the Constitution of the United States.

    By the way, I understand that you’re an atheist, but you’d still do well to appreciate that many Christians do not consider Catholicism to equal Christianity. It may be, from a technical perspective, a form of Christianity, but it flies under a different banner. There are many denominations which would consider Catholicism something akin to an affront to one’s senses.

    Patrick admitted in the original blog post that the FFRF do “have a point” due to the USPS’ own regulations. In fact, the way I read his post, Patrick wasn’t saying the USPS should, or should not, put Mother Teresa on a stamp. His post was only about the FFRF’s double standard; while the USPS did not publish the Hepburn stamp because she was an atheist, the FFRF does promote it for that reason.

    I see absolutely no difference in promoting atheism with a stamp, and promoting Christianity with one. The dictionary definition of religion is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.” In its strictest sense, atheism is a religion.

    So what the FFRF is saying is essentially this: the USPS should not publish and sell a stamp which promotes any type of spiritual dogma, unless that dogma happens to correspond with an idea that the FFRF believes in.

    That is a double standard, and that is what this blog entry was about.

    But, since we’ve derailed the topic, I ask you this: what is the difference between a man who comes to me and tells me, “Believe in God, He exists!” and a man who tells me “Don’t believe in God, he does not exist”? They are both asking me to subscribe to a dogma pertaining to a religious point of view.

    If we are not to promote one, let us not promote the other. While the USPS did not put Hepburn on the stamp because she was an atheist, that remains why the FFRF wants me to buy it. To promote one, but not the other.

    I find that mentality to be a greater threat to the freedom of speech than a geriatric nun’s face on a stamp.

  • Atheism is not a “religious persuasion” as you referred is as. It is the LACK of a religious persuasion. There are no athiest ministers, churchs or dogmas.
    To call atheism a religious persuasion is akin to calling vegatarianism a supporter of meat consumption. Vegatarians don’t EAT meat, and athiests don’t hold religious beliefs!

    I believe the reason athiests object to stamps that portray high profile religious people is because it elevates the percieved legitimacy of religion as being approved by govenment.

    That being said, I am not religious (I’m an agnostic) but I don’t object to the stamp because I feel it honors Mother Teresa for her dedication to help the poor, not because she was a nun. Just as a stamp of JFK would be okay. A person can be highly religious and do great things for mankind. By the same token, a person can be very religious and be a despicable person. I have no problem with putting the former on stamps.

    • To call atheism a religious persuasion is akin to calling vegatarianism a supporter of meat consumption. Vegatarians don’t EAT meat, and athiests don’t hold religious beliefs!

      I disagree with the comparison. Referring to atheism as a religious persuasion is more like referring to vegetarians as “diners.” They don’t dine on meat, but they dine on something.

      Atheists still have beliefs about God: they believe He doesn’t exist. And as Mika pointed out, there are plenty of atheists who seem more than determined to spread their own beliefs to others through attempting to persuade believers that their God does not exist.

  • You insist on sticking to that false analogy, Patrick, and it completely invalidates your argument. MLK Jr. was honored on a stamp for his human rights work, not his religious views. He is an important figure in US history, independant of his religious views. And if church groups want to encourage their members to buy MLK Jr. stamps solely because of his religious views, then that’s OK. No one – not the FFRF, not me, not the constitution of the United States – is attempting to prevent you or anyone else from expressing your religious views. However, the government expressing support for a religious icon is clearly contrary to the establishment clause of the constitution as the Supreme Courts have interpreted it for the last two hundred years. But you seem to think that people simply insisting that the government follow their own laws are somehow impinging on your freedoms, and that just isn’t so.

    No, the laws of your country are not intended to exclude any mention of religion. Your statement to that effect is what we call a straw man argument, because no one – again, not the constitution, not I, nor the FFRF – are saying that. However, the laws of your country do exclude the government, or any of its agencies, promoting one religion to the exclusion of all others, in any way, at any time, for any reason. That much is clear.

    And the thing that absolutely astounds me is that the first amendment to the constitution of the United States is the very thing that makes your country different from every other country in the entire world. It is the foundation of the very freedom upon which you base your entire national identity. And you would see it eroded, dissolved, and washed down the drain because you find it to be occasionally inconvenient. You should be standing up and shouting from the rooftops to prevent any such potential lapses in church/state separation. Because it is only by preserving the freedoms of your enemies that your preserve your own. Were I an American citizen, I would be embarrassed that the FFRF’s intervention was even necessary in this case.

    • And making a stamp honoring Mother Theresa promotes one religion “to the exclusion of all others,” how, exactly?

      Particularly after your scathing review of how unreligious she was?

      And as for your potential for embarrassment were you an American citizen, I suspect that would likely come from the fact that you are, frankly, one of the most intolerant people I’ve ever encountered when it comes to other people’s beliefs. By and large, religious people don’t have a problem with religions other than their own being displayed, and we don’t look upon every instance as some attempt to promote one above the other or establish anything in the way of an official religion.

      I’m not a Catholic. Never will be. The fact that a Catholic nun would be considered for a stamp doesn’t embarrass me at all. Nor does the notion of a stamp honoring Hanukkah or Muslim celebrations, which the postal service has offered for years.

      • Mother Teresa’s “work” cannot be separated from her religion. She was a Catholic, which, despite your protests to the contrary, is a Christian religion, and therefore representative of the majority of the US population. If this stamp were one of a series depicting notable contemporary religious figures from various different religions and/or philosophies it might be a different situation. Is that the case here? I don’t think so.

        Your labelling me as intolerant is exactly what I’m talking about here. I’m not telling you I think you should be prevented from practising your religion. I’m not here (this time) telling you I think there’s something wrong with your religion. I’m not here (this time) telling you I think your god doesn’t exist. I’m only here saying I think the FFRF is correct in pointing out that the USPS should, you know, obey the law. That’s all I’m saying. But you seem to claiming I’m sonehow persecuting you by pointing out to you what your constitution says. Don’t worry though. You share that opinion with a significant number of other Americans who also think that laws that only protect small minorities are silly and unnecessary. Your cultural blinders prevent you from seeing and understanding how the first amendment is protecting your freedoms, not stepping on them.

        • Paul, here’s an idea: if you’re going to complain about someone arguing against points you aren’t making, why not make sure you aren’t doing it?

          Twice in this thread, you’ve attempted to correct me on errors I never made and never came close to making.

          Nowhere did I offer “protest” the notion that Catholicism is a form of Christianity. I never said that. Of course Catholics are Christians! You seem to be, inexplicably, the only person ready to argue over that point.

          What I did say was that I am not Catholic. I am also not Presbyterian, but just so you know, I am aware that Presbyterians are Christians as well.

          What I also said was that honoring people with religions other than my own in the form of a postage stamp doesn’t threaten my beliefs. Catholicism, though Christian, is a religion other than my own, since I’m not a Catholic.

          If the government tried to honor all Catholics as being somehow essentially superior to any other set of believers or non-believers of any other set of religious rules and traditions, then of course I’d have a problem with that. I’m sure you would, too.

          Likewise, if the government tried to honor all Baptists, or any other specific denomination of Christianity as superior to others, I can see that this would cross a line.

          But putting the image of a noted, respected nun on a stamp in no way “establishes” Catholicism as the government’s religion, or even gives it preferential treatment. It’s not an honor to the religion itself, or even the set of beliefs: it’s an honor to a specific woman who felt that her own interpretation of those beliefs led her to do things that got her wordlwide attention and great admiration from Catholics and non-Catholics.

          You may consider the difference subtle, but it really isn’t: otherwise, we’d expect that everyone who is Catholic would do the exact same things Mother Theresa has been honored for having done to the point that no one would find her to be remotely spectacular.

          And in terms of your previous displays of intolerance, your parenthetical “this times” speak volumes.

  • Patrick:

    You have not understood my argument. I’m not claiming that the FFRF is encouraging their supporters to buy the stamp for some reason other than Ms. Hepburn’s atheism. I’m just saying that her atheism is not the reason the stamp exists. We’re not talking about private individuals making choices about their purchases based upon thier beliefs. We’re not talking about private organisations making recommendations based upon their beliefs. We’re talking about government institutions making official policy decisions that comply with the laws of your country.

    Mike:

    You may have known of Mother Teresa, but you have not known very much about Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa suffered, mentally and emotionally, for most of her life. Not conjecture – she has stated it on numerous occasions. She suffered because, despite her faith, she never felt close to God. She never felt that “personal relationship with God” that many Christians delude themselves into believing they feel. She felt tremendous guilt over that. And, instead of wallowing in her own suffering, she chose to surround herself with as many other suffering souls as possible, so she could wallow in their suffering, too. Mother Teresa’s homes for the poor were not places to succor the suffering of the unfortunate. They were places to gather the suffering together in one place, so they could all suffer together, where Mother Teresa could feel that there were some people worse off than herself. Mother Teresa was not a very nice person, and she hardly deserves a stamp, much less sainthood, for her life.

    • Paul,

      Believe me: I have understood your argument from the start. No one — not me, not anyone else — believes that Katherine Hepburn was selected by the United States Postal Service for a stamp because she was an atheist. No one — not me, not anyone else — thinks that you have suggested otherwise.

      Her atheism has nothing to do with why the stamp exists.

      My point is that it has everything to do with why the FFRF is encouraging its members to buy that stamp, rather than simply urging them to buy any stamp other than the proposed stamp for Mother Theresa. And in doing so, as I pointed out, they’re basing their recommendation of a stamp on someone’s religious persuasion, which is the same criteria that they don’t want the postal service to use in determining who gets honored with a stamp.

      The laws of my country were never intended to exclude any mention of any religion, as many people — particularly those who have no tolerance for other people’s beliefs — seem to want to delude themselves into thinking. They were merely intended to prohibit the government from trying to establish a religion that everyone was forced to fund and be part of whether they wanted to or not.

      If the postal service were to issue a Mother Theresa stamp, as many designs as there are, no one would be forced to buy that stamp. And that money spent on postage — as far as we know — wouldn’t financially support any church or any organized religion. No one is being beaten over the head with some grand, “official” religious message sponsored by the government. It’s just a postage stamp, a tiny sticker that most people never even notice when they’re tearing open an envelope. To try to make this into some conspiracy to force religion down anyone’s throats is outrageous.

      As mentioned in the article I linked to, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored on a stamp. He was a Baptist minister. But I don’t think his work in civil rights be ignored because he was religious.

  • I guess they have a point. Regrettable, because I’d personally rather see Mother Theresa on a stamp than Katherine Hepburn.

    I’ve known of Mother Theresa all my life, and have associated her name with the image of “an old nun who has helped countless numbers of people.” Moreover, she is an award-winning humanitarian with a Nobel Peace Prize to her name (although they hand those over to just anyone these days, it seems).

    Until this post of yours, I had no inkling that she was Catholic. It made no difference to me whatsoever. She helped a lot of people. Was she inspired by her spirituality? Undoubtedly so; most of us are guided by one kind or another. Do her beliefs mean more than her accomplishments, reducing her to a poster woman for the Catholic church?

    “Aw shucks. She helped thousands of poor and ailing people, accomplished great humanitarian efforts. We could put her face on the corner of an envelope… If only she weren’t a nun.”

    Luckily, as far as a face on a stamp goes, there are hundreds of entertainers whom we can choose from. Or maybe Steve Jobs. We’ll call it the iStamp.

  • I don’t buy your argument, Patrick. You are using a false analogy. The Kate Hepburn stamp already exists, and Ms. Hepburn was not honoured with a stamp because of her atheism, rather for her great acting career. Encouraging people to buy the stamp, for whatever reason, is entirely fine. If Deion Sanders was honoured with a stamp because of his football career, but church leaders encouraged their congregations to buy the stamp because of Sanders’ professed faith, that would be an equal analogy – and it would be just fine with with FFRF, and atheists everywhere.

    What the FFRF, and other secular organisations are concerned about is that the government of the United States, and all of its arms and legs, uphold the principles of the constitution of your country. If the Post Office puts a Christian Saint on a stamp, they are officially elevating one religion above all others, which is the exact thing the “establishment clause” of the first amendment to the constitution was intended to prevent.

    • Sorry, Paul, but I don’t buy your argument. You can’t honestly believe that the person whose stamp the FFRF is encouraging people to buy just happens to be an atheist and that this is entirely coincidence. Why wouldn’t the FFRF encourage people to buy any stamp other than the Mother Teresa stamp, if it sees the light of day?

      While the FFRF may honestly feel that they’re helping the government keep up with constitutional principles, I suspect they’re motivated even more out of a desire to be anti-religious than pro-freedom.

      • Just for the record I am an atheist. You both have some good points but I’ve got one more: it’s a stamp! Get over it! Get on with your lives! I do send out Christmas cards, not for religious reasons, but because it’s a time of celebrating family and friendship. I used ‘Christmas’ stamps on them and I didn’t spontaneously burst into flames.

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