A little short of two weeks ago, the AHA Wisconsin put up a display of (paper) tombstones with names, images, year of birth, year of death, and a short description of many popular Pagan and Non-Pagan Gods. Needless to say, this did not go over well in the Pagan community. Many Pagan blogs, including many in the Hellenistic community, have picked up the story, and the blog post has been commented up 170 times at the time of writing, which is about 170 times more than most of the other blog posts. Most of these comments are from Pagans and range from respective disagreement to all-out attack. The few voices in favor of this display were easily drowned out. I wrote my thoughts on the display here.

I have been keeping my eye on the blog, hoping for a reaction from the AHA members themselves. I am still really interested in hearing about the how's and why's of this display, because while I think I understand the fundaments of it, it was still a badly thought out plan. Yesterday, Sam Erickson, who holds the Outreach Chair in AHA, posted a comment on the reaction the display garnered as part of a larger update:

"This display was placed on Bascom Hill last Wednesday, October 30th. The halloween-themed graveyard featured hundreds of "gravestones" of gods that are no longer worshiped in large numbers as they once were. We then posed the simple question: how long will the gods of today last?

The response to this display was stunning. For more than a day, we were the top link on the subreddit r/atheism. We were also picked up on the popular blog The Friendly Atheist, and many other news sources. These sites combined led to nearly 150,000 views on our blog post and a 26,000% increase in activity on our Facebook page.

Our display even grew angry responses from many pagans around the world! Because it's not a proper atheism display unless you piss a lot of people off..."

Well, if I didn't feel insulted before--which I didn't, by the way, because the display wasn't meant as a dig towards Pagans--I sure feel that way now. From what I gather, atheism refers to the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. I think that's a valid view; it's not mine, but I understand it. As far as I am aware, being an atheist does not give you license to belittle and make fun of those who have faith, and this reaction reeks of both.

In my opinion, 'pissing a lot of people off' should never be a goal of an action you partake in, and even less should it be a goal of your organization. To state proudly that you have seen your numbers go up and then downplay the reason why these numbers went up so much is not only immature, but also unethical. You see, it's fantastic that you have seen a 26,000% increase in activity, but most of it was due to annoyance, outrage, and even anger. So how, exactly, is this a good thing?

I don't make fun of atheists. I don't judge them, I don't look down on them, I don't try to convert them into believers. Why would I? All I would appreciate in return is the exact same courtecy. This is something that seems beyond the AHA at this time.

I must make a note of many of the wonderful atheists who commented on the God Graveyard post made by the AHA. While some of them agreed with the initial display, they mostly spoke up against the condemnation that appeared in said comments by fellow atheists.

The AHA makes note of their Facebook page, which has even more posts along the lines of the one on the blog. It also has a few more lines of explination about the display itself, hidden away in the comments. This one, for example, in response to critisism about the display itself:

"The object of this exhibition was certainly not to insult anyone, and we're sorry if you felt that it was insulting to you. If anything, we wanted to bring to light the many, many alternative gods and goddesses that have been worshiped over the years. Some people forget that Jesus, Allah, and Yahweh aren't the only options, and that what you believe is certainly not universal. I hope you see where we're coming from, and of course we support everyone's right to believe in whatever deity they chose. 

In our culture, we talk about Greek and Roman myths, but not as an attempt to disparage or insult the people of those cultures. What is myth to someone can of course be considered true by someone else, and we absolutely don't judge anyone by that. Our only goal here was to make people think, and come to their own conclusion. If you've done that, and are happy with your beliefs, then more power to you."

And this one, for example, in reply to the question of 'what constitutes a 'dead god', especially if people still actually worship them?' :

"While we admit that, due to time constraints, we didn't really talk about how to define a 'dead' god before making all of our gravestones, we still believe we were justified in including the gods that we did.

Our sign said "Once worshipped by entire civilizations, now only myths." Perhaps we should have said "now considered myths". The fact is that every god that we included was once worshipped by an entire civilization, but those civilizations have since died, and their gods are now no longer worshipped at all, or by nowhere near as many people as before.

As atheists, we believe ALL gods are myths, but we chose to only include the gods that are now considered myths by the majority of human beings. The Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Islamic, etc gods are undoubtedly at the height of their worship, and thus can be considered "the gods of today". We then posed a simple question: looking at all these gods that were once worshiped widely, but have since ceased being worshiped altogether or at least lost a significant amount of followers, how much longer will the current gods 'live' or remain in the mainstream?

Thank you for your concern. We did not mean to offend anyone, and will take a decidedly different approach when it comes to wording our signs next time we put on this event in an attempt to not offend anyone."

The AHA is entirely unapologetic, downplaying the impact of their display and placing blame on those of faith for taking offense to something the AHA should have realized in advance would cause offense. The last comment on there about the God Graveyard dates back to November 1, when many Pagans had not discovered the news of the display yet. Once the negative comments started pouring in, the AHA became silent. It might have just been unfortunate timing on their part, but perhaps even they realized it would be a sad move to brush off the outrage of various faith groups over a badly thought-out display. Until yesterday, of course.

So, by now, I am a little pissed off; I still feel they had the right to put up those grave markers, but at least own up to unwittingly insulting the believes of many. Don't take a stab at them after the fact. I don't say this often, but I mean it today: dick move, AHA, dick move. Lets hope this sudden claim to fame does not lead to more provoking displays just for the sake of hits. Ethical behavior is not religious, but social, and the AHA would do well to remember that.