The fundamentalists are everywhere

There's a certain irony in the relationship between atheism and Christianity and this ABC News story highlights that. It's about some subset of atheists adopting a debaptism rite modeled on the Christian baptism rite. But boy is it horribly written, particularly considering that there were three reporters assigned to the piece. It begins with a vignette of the debaptism rite and introduces someone who is supposedly a leading atheist -- Edwin Kagin. He's not a nobody in atheist circles but I think it would be better to attempt to show us he's a leading atheist rather than tell us he is. He's also identified as one of atheism's "premier provocateurs" which seems like some tough competition. I'm not sure how accurate that description is either. In any case:

Kagin, who is American Atheists' national legal director, firmly believes that regardless of one's religious beliefs, each person has the right to say or do what he or she wants, provided it is within the law. In the past, he has reportedly called out parents who subject their children to strict fundamentalist religious education, referring to it as child abuse.

"It is teaching children that the world works in other ways than it does," he said. "This can be extremely dangerous."

It is at this point in the story, about four paragraphs in, that I'm beginning to feel sympathy for atheists. Kagin goes on to be quoted saying that religious adherents are unpatriotic terrorists and so on and so forth. He comes off like a complete yahoo. Now, I suppose that it's possible that this is an accurate description of Kagin and the event at which he was speaking, but, if so, is it really fair to base an entire story on this man?

And who are these parents who are "subjecting" their children to "strict fundamentalist" religious education? And in what universe is strict a required modifier for fundamentalist? Is that modifier needed because of the media overuse of "fundamentalist" to describe Republicans, traditional families and anyone who never donated to Greenpeace?

The article describes the debaptism rite in great detail, all with supporting quotes from Kagin. Quote after quote after quote from Kagin and nobody else. For instance:

Kagin said that many people have undergone de-baptism."Many have taken it as somewhat of a joke, but some have found it truly, if you will, a spiritually cleansing experience," he said.

Kagin has said he doesn't particularly care who he's offending with his actions, and that he is acting completely within his rights. "You can mock anything you want because you have the right to," he said. "Humor is humor and what types of humor are you going to outlaw?" he said.

He conceded that although it may not be good manners to continually take a mocking stance toward religion, "in many cases, it is the only real response."

Come on, three reporters whose bylines are on this story, a list of quotes does not make for compelling reading!

Immediately after the above excerpt, Kagin is quoted as saying that believers must not be secure in their faith if they are offended by his actions. At no point in the story is a believer quoted for perspective, much less anyone else to provide context. This gets downright silly when we get to this:

And then there's this interesting twist. His own son, Steve Kagin, is a fundamentalist minister in Kansas.

Kagin said that his son claims to have a personal revelation in Jesus Christ. "I am totally unable to say that's not true," he said. "There are examples all through history of quite sane people who have had such experiences. I don't think it is but I'm not going to say it isn't."

Kagin is asked about how he feels about his son's religious faith but the son is never interviewed.

The most ridiculous part of this ridiculous story? The "fundamentalist" pastor is actually a pastor of a mainline Disciples of Christ Church. They're a congregational church body so I suppose anything is possible but here's how the Disciples of Christ self-identify on their website:

The church is identified with the Protestant "mainstream" and is widely involved in social and other concerns. Disciples have supported vigorously world and national programs of education, agricultural assistance, racial reconciliation, care of the developmentally disabled and aid to victims of war and calamity.

Sounds pretty fundamentalist to me. Seriously, reporters, this is getting embarrassing. Not only is the word "fundamentalist" generally a bad idea. Using it to describe a church body in fellowship with the United Church of Christ is laughably bad.

And the larger piece is just unfair to atheists by failing to place this Kagin character in context of the larger movement. By using him as the only real source for the story, it makes all atheists look like clowns and blowhards.

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