The Scarlet Letter: Visibility and the Atheist Logo

Insanely observant readers of this blog may have noted that I recently added the Scarlet Letter, the big red “A is for Atheist” A of the Out Campaign, to my blog.

I wanted to talk briefly about why.

I’ve been resisting the Scarlet Letter for some time. Well, “resisting” is too strong a word. “Not doing it” would be more accurate. It wasn’t for any grand and lofty reason; I didn’t have a problem with it being too in-your-face or not in-your-face enough, I didn’t have a problem with it promoting a robotic conformity or being insufficiently explicit. I didn’t have a problem with it at all.

It was pretty much an aesthetic decision. I felt that the look of my blog was already very busy, since I like to illustrate my posts so heavily, and especially since I now have ads. I didn’t want another design element glonking things up even more. And it just seemed superfluous. I figured that anyone who reads my blog for thirty seconds will figure out that I’m an atheist. The banner/ slogan at the top even says it: “Sex, atheism, politics, dreams, and whatever.”

So why did I change my mind?

I was in a discussion thread — I can’t even remember now where or which one — and the subject of female atheist bloggers came up. I wanted to offer a short list of female atheist bloggers that I liked; but it occurred to me that there were some female bloggers who I’d been assuming were atheist without actually knowing for sure. So I did a little blog-hopping, visiting some of the women bloggers I like to see if they were atheist or not…

…and I quickly realized that what I was looking for was the big red A.

The big red A meant that I could see immediately, at a glance, that a blogger was an atheist.

This was useful. It was helpful to have a conspicuous visual cue on a blog that screamed “Atheist!” in big red letters. Well, a big red letter. And it occurred to me that someone else doing the same thing I was doing wouldn’t be getting that helpful visual cue from my blog.

And then it struck me:

Oh, right.


Like pink triangles and rainbow flags and “Dyke March” T-shirts with the word “Dyke” in four-inch tall red letters.


Yes, I have the word “atheist” all over my blog like a cheap suit. But I think visibility sometimes has to be about more than just words. I think sometimes visibility has to be about… well, the visible. The visual.

The writer in me hates to admit it, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. A picture of a crowd of a million people marching in Washington, D.C. conveys the sense of a vast social movement better than the words “a million people marching in Washington, D.C.” A picture of a colorful, well-attended Gay Pride Parade conveys the sense of joyful defiance better than the words “colorful, well-attended Gay Pride Parade.”

And the image of hundreds of bright-red “A is for Atheist” A’s popping up all over the blogosphere like hands being raised in a crowd… that’s a powerful image, one that gets across a sense of what’s happening in this movement, in a way that just saying, “Hey, there are exciting things happening in the atheist movement!” doesn’t.

I want to be part of that. I want to be one of the people with my hand raised.

And if it makes my already crowded-looking blog look a little more crowded, I’ll just have to find a way to live with that.

The Scarlet Letter: Visibility and the Atheist Logo

18 thoughts on “The Scarlet Letter: Visibility and the Atheist Logo

  1. 1

    I don’t know — I’m still leaning towards your original line of reasoning. Sidebar real-estate is valuable, and I’d hate to have that big red “A” distract people from clicking on my cool sidebar links. And I think it’s pretty clear I’m an atheist — otherwise how’d I get elected third runner up for sexiest atheist blogger? ;^)

  2. 2

    Like you, I held out for a long time before adding it. In fact, I even wrote a post or two about how I didn’t like it, etc. In the end, I suppose I started to see it in a different way – much like what you describe here.

  3. 4

    Greta, In regards to your blog looking crowded, I think it would help a LOT if you made the middle column at least 100px wider. I love that you illustrate your posts but I swear your blog requires more scrolling than any I’ve ever seen 😀
    You can definitely increase the total width of the blog to 800-900 px without complaint; most people have big enough screens these days.

  4. 5

    I’ve wrestled with the Red A question since the day I opened my blog for business (about three months ago). I’ve come close to adding it a couple of times, then pulled back. One issue for me is aesthetic; I don’t want to clutter up my sidebar.
    Another issue is that I don’t want to just jump on a bandwagon and get an A because everyone else is doing it – maybe that’s my atheocat attitude. I’m still dealing with having spent an entire lifetime conforming to the expectations of religious others. I don’t want to walk away from all that simply to conform to the norms of some atheist others now. So, for the time being, it’s no crosses, crucifixes, crescents or As for me. It’s just plain, ordinary, no-frills li’l old me.

  5. 6

    I can identify with not wanting a blog to look like a MySpace page; but the symbol is very important to me as it is where most of my activism comes from. I would get rid of everything else I have on the sidebar, but not the Scarlet “A.”
    It is a way to let viewers know exactly where I stand when it comes to religion.
    Thanks for adding it, Greta. There is strength in visible numbers.

  6. 8

    Marie—thanks for the pointer (in your blog) to the Dan Barker interview. I really don’t know much about christianity, but even I can enjoy bits like
    Dan: What do you mean, “sin”? What is sin?
    Jason: Well, sin [you see] can mean different things to different people, but sin is basically violating God’s laws. Or, for argument’s sake, we could call sin, you know, murder, rape, bestiality, and we can name a few sins just to say, ok these are things that are wrong.
    Dan: Is it a sin to do work on a Sabbath? God’s law clearly says that anybody who does work on the Sabbath should be put to death. Is that a sin?
    Jason: Well that scripture was a specific law for . . You see when you read the Bible you obviously need to take it into context. Who is it talking to? Why is it saying what it’s saying? I think you’re quoting Old Testament law that was given to the Jews, is that right?
    Dan: It’s in . . . it’s the Ten Commandments! “Honor [Remember] the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The Sabbath day [rule] is part of the Ten Commandments that almost every Christian church views as core to Christian theology.
    Jason: Ok, I believe it is important to take off a day during the week to rest, but interestingly that is the one commandment that was not repeated in the New Testament. Did you know that?
    Dan: Well ok, so then you’re throwing out part of the Old Testament. Christians feel free to pick and choose what they like and don’t, right?
    Jason: Don’t you think that it makes things kind of subjective if we don’t have a non-subjective authority, a supernatural authority from outside our time-space dimension?
    Dan: That’s the only way to be moral. In fact, making it non-subjective or absolute is very very dangerous. If there is, supposedly, this absolute morality–these principles that have to be absolutely followed that were decreed by this god–then why is it that there are no two Bible-believing . . Why is it that there are no two issues on which Bible-believing Christians agree? Take any crucial social issue of the day: abortion rights, the death penalty, or doctor-assisted suicide, or gay rights, you name it. You go down through a dozen very important things, you’ll find good Christians who pray, who go to church, who read the Bible, who seek God’s guidance [and] you will find them falling on different sides of those issues. There is no clear absolute moral statement within the body of Christ, which is one of the evidences that the Christian morality really is nonexistent. It still boils down to your subjective feeling of what you think about abortion, or what you think about gay rights. There’s no verse in the Bible that says “Thou shall not commit abortion.” It’s Christians themselves making a subjective decision [about] what they think the Bible ought to be saying.
    It’s especially fun that he has chapter and verse immediately to hand on everything.

  7. 9

    Ooh! I have GOT to check this book out:,,3100309,00.html
    Pharyngula’s already on it, so making a big deal here is a bit superfluous, but it still looks really cool. It’s a children’s picture book. “Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott? fragte das kleine Ferkel” “Which way to God, please? little piglet asked”. (Subtitled “A book for all who won’t let themselves be fooled.”)
    Ah! the publisher’s made an English translation available at
    It’s a hoot.

  8. 11

    The trouble with that big “A” is that it has been associated with Richard Dawkins, and I tend to think of him as the guy who, despite his lip service to rationality, tends to put his atheism ahead of his skepticism. For example, he credulously repeated a quote mine of John Adams, resorted to a straw man attack on Aquinas’ fourth way when attacking it on its real demerits wouldn’t have been difficult to explain, and decided his ‘Ultimate 747’ argument appeared ‘unanswerable’ when he didn’t even take notice that the vagueness of the word ‘complexity’ threatens to make his argument incoherent. The best thing I can say about him is that his rhetorical skills and audacity have been good for helping make atheism more mainstream. I don’t, however, want to be associated with a guy whose should have been able to put together a bullet-resistant case for atheism instead of the half-assed one that he gave, or someone whose brain has been chomped on by the Hitler Zombie:
    I realize that few activist leaders are perfect, but that big red “A” is too associated with someone whose flaws I have a hard time overlooking or forgiving.

  9. 13

    I agree with your aesthetic concerns about the scarlet A, perhaps The OUT Campaign could benefit from a wider range of representations?
    Dawkins’ idea of atheist solidarity isn’t new or proprietary, but I do think there is value in something so readily recognizable. Personally though, I find simply writing about my views to be more appropriate on my blog.
    I wrote a pretty lengthy post today about displaying one’s atheism on a personal blog as opposed to a site like Facebook, and how a lot of your writing has really influenced the way I make these decisions.

  10. 14

    This is a tough one for me. Given that my blog is titled “Daylight Atheism”, I trust I don’t need any additional iconography to make my views clear to readers. If someone reads my blog and comes away not knowing how I stand on that question, I’ve failed miserably. 🙂
    That said, I see the point of declaring yourself to be part of a movement. That red A says more than just that I’m an atheist; it says that I’m one of many atheists, and that is undoubtedly important. I never saw the need to put it on my blog before, but after reading this post, I may have to reconsider.

  11. 16

    Understood. I often look for the A, as well, which is one of the reasons I added it to our deconversion page. It makes spotting atheists much easier — kind of like a uniform. 😉

  12. 17

    As I said when I first put the A on my site:
    Atheists may never agree on one specific logo, symbol, name, or catchphrase; but at least we’ll be recognized.
    Like Mojoeys ‘Atheist Blogroll’ I think it demonstrates that you are part of the atheist blogging community.

  13. 18

    I typically don’t disclose my potential faith (or lack thereof). The minute you call yourself a “Christian” or an “Atheist” or whatever, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted. By omitting to disclose my potential faith (or lack thereof), I invite the reader to assess the argument on the argument’s own merit – not the perceived intellectual merit of the person delivering the argument – which would be misuse of logic.
    i think the atheist blogroll is kind of silly. it’s like saying, “look at all these other people that think like me!” like a little club’s badge of honor or something.

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