Should an Atheist Accommodate or Confront?

Should an Atheist Accommodate or Confront?

Should Atheists and Freethinkers Accommodate Christian Fundamentals, Or Confront? 

Accommodationism, a term that mesmerizes some nonbelievers, could become the great Atheist sellout of the twenty-first century if allowed to go unchallenged. 

An example of accommodationism carried to the extreme is the placement of an engraved sign at the entrance of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—a public museum. The sign read, “The Nature Lab is a gift to Los Angeles to celebrate all of God’s creatures and enable NHM to broaden our understanding of the natural world through the process of scientific discovery,” Anonymous Donor — 2013. 

Apparently, the director of the museum felt that it was appropriate to accommodate some wealthy theist by declaring that God was behind the museum’s artifacts, exhibits, and displays. 

This incident is reminiscent of the hooey proposed by the late Stephen Jay Gould, a biologist who could not divest himself of his god-belief. He went to absurd lengths to accommodate it with his idea of Non-Overlapping Magesteria. 

He proposed that the domain of science and the domain of religion are both real and can coexist because science explains what the world is made of and religion explains why the world exists. Gould’s decision to play nice with theists has long irritated many Atheists. 

Why on Earth would a “world-class” scientist propose a strategy that, if followed by most Atheists, would probably result in the return of Atheism to the whispered confessions and euphemistic descriptions that were characteristic of a century ago? 

Enter Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago biology professor and apparently not an accommodationist, who wrote to the museum’s director to say that the inscription was misleading the public because it implied that the museum was giving its scientific imprimatur to the idea that animals are God’s creatures. 

As a result of Coyne’s confrontational approach, the museum removed the inscription. Afterward, they tried to account for why they installed it and then removed the inappropriate message by saying, “The decision to remove the quotation was made because of its potential to cause confusion.” 

“Confusion” is an understatement, because despite its own website’s proclamation that the museum “protects over 35 million specimens, dating back 4.5 billion years,” the inscription implied an agreement with the creationist belief that the world is a mere six thousand years old. 

That a natural history museum would install such a concession to religion in the first place is baffling to me, but it provides a stunning example of how accommodating rather than confronting the religious belief works against science, thwarts our efforts to de-stigmatize Atheism, and creates the impression that god and his activities are part of the natural world—or at least compatible with it.


Is it right to walk out, as some of us did? Or should we “politely” accommodate and suffer in silence in the face of unexamined arrogance?


I began confronting as a ten-year-old when I said to a proselytizing Christian teacher in a public school in front of the entire class, “I don’t believe that stuff.” Seventy-five years later, I am still convinced that there are myriad situations where it is entirely appropriate—desirable, in fact— to confront rather than accommodate others. 

I was proud that my wife Jeanne and I, along with two or three others, recently did something to confront, and yes, even antagonize. I would do it again as well as every time I find myself faced with the same kind of situation in the future. 

The retirement community where Jeanne and I live offers many programs and activities. A recent newsletter described an upcoming concert this way, “The [ music trio] have become a [residence] favorite. Their love for music along with their vast repertoire makes them truly special.” 

It sounded like an event we would like to attend. Jeanne occasionally needs to go places in a wheelchair, and on the day of the concert, she got seated as comfortably as one can be on a canvas seat.


Accommodating, rather than confronting religious belief, works against science and thwarts our efforts to de-stigmatize Atheism.


I then pushed her through the building’s long corridors, rode the elevator down to more corridors, and then finally reached the performance hall. 

I then muscled a few of the fifty or so folding chairs that were set up for the audience and rolled her wheelchair into position to enjoy the entertainment. Friends and acquaintances nodded and smiled, pleased to see us on one of our infrequent outings. 

A few came over to chat. The trio’s leader took the microphone, waited for the audience to quiet down, and smilingly, without any preamble, announced that “Today we celebrate the most important day in the history of the world—the glorious day when Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified, sacrificing Himself for our sins and after three days arose from the dead to be with God in Heaven.” “What in the world are we about to hear?” 

I thought. The answer came very quickly, as the vocal strains of “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed” were followed by the melodic “Blessed Redeemer.” But before the lead singer got to the second line, I whispered softly into Jeanne’s ear, “Shall we go?” 

A nod from my non-confrontational and gentle wife of 63 years was quickly followed by me standing up, unlocking the wheels of her wheelchair, and pushing off through the assembled crowd. There were many turned heads and stares as well as some accusatory glares. 

After all, the singer was in the midst of her tribute to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and I am sure many of the Christians there were moaning in heavenly bliss. 

The following morning, still seething over the arrogance of fundamentalist Christians who think it is perfectly acceptable to preach about Jesus without knowing anything about their audience, I dashed off an email to the manager of our facility which read in part: 

Dear [Manager], Why wasn’t it made more clear in the newsletter that the [trio] program was going to be a Christian sermon set to music? I am tired of being waylaid by Christian proselytizers, whether it be at the dinner table or in a concert that I never suspected was going to be a tribute to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Yet once again, we found ourselves faced with the decision to suffer in silence or get up and walk out on a performance that is decidedly not meant for a general audience. 

There is a sizable population of secular humanists, freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, and other non-believers at this facility, and this is demonstrated by the number of people who regularly attend our None's meetings. Their feelings are totally dismissed by the arrogance of Christians who think it is perfectly acceptable to preach Jesus to an audience as though it were a given that everyone present will be receptive to their fanatical sermonizing. 

If I were to announce in the [newsletter] that a speaker would be giving an informative lecture on philosophy and it turned out to be a glorification of Atheism, you can be sure that I would be criticized as having entrapped, insulted, and assaulted all the believers who were present. I felt entrapped, insulted, and assaulted by this trio of melodious evangelists. 

The manager called me immediately to apologize for the misleading announcement and the trio’s program. She also informed me that she had received numerous complaints from other residents, some of whom were theists. 

She assured me this would not happen again. Should Atheists and other freethinkers accommodate when fundamentalist Christians campaign for their “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” under the guise of entertainment in situations outside of churches and known religious gatherings? 

Did the trio cross a boundary by assuming that everyone at our facility is a fundamentalist, Christian? Is their behavior not confrontational to us? Is it right to walk out, as some of us did? Or should we “politely” accommodate and suffer in silence in the face of unexamined arrogance? 

I’m sure many members of the audience who did appreciate the public glorification of their god to a mixed audience found our behavior confrontational and even insulting. They were right, and I am fine with that.


Gil Gaudia, Ph.D.

By Gil Gaudia, Ph.D., a former professor emeritus at State University of New York and an ex-editorial assistant at American Atheists magazine. He used to reside in Eugene, Oregon, with Jeanne Gaudia, his wife until she passed away in 2015, and he on April 2021. He was an amateur astronomer and still used to play handball at the time of writing this article in 2015.


  • “Religious Accommodation in a Public Museum,” Dec. 4, 2013. 
  • “Natural History Museum Removes Quote Referring to ‘God’s Creatures’ Amid Controversy,” Dec. 16, 2013.
  • “Natural History Museum in L.A. Removes Reference to God,” Dec. 17, 2013.

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