American Atheists is an organization that, you can probably figure, stands publicly for atheism in the United States. I’m not a member – I have a pretty stringent Groucho Marx complex about that, I have trouble being in a club that would have me as a member – but as an atheist myself, I generally support the promotion of such ideas.
But I would like to address this most recent “controversy”: atheist billboards being erected around the end of the year. Because apparently, it’s still a “controversy”.
For at least the past few years, American Atheists (I hate having to spell that every time, don’t wanna confuse them with the OTHER AA) have raised money and put up billboards in various parts of the country, with a focus on areas with larger concentrations of religious people. These billboards challenge the faithful areas, but according to the group, the focus is on empowering people in those regions to be open about their own lack of belief in the face of some seriously faithful spaces, using slogans like “You know it’s a myth! This season, celebrate reason!” and “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice.”
This year, their most recent billboard went up:
It’s a provocative message, definitely. I don’t think it’s directly offensive, but according to the group’s Facebook page, “(t)he point is to put them in places where they might stir up a little controversy.” It’s not as if the group doesn’t know what they’re doing in a country where, according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 70% of the population is some denomination of Christianity (though the number of atheists and other religiously-unaffiliated groups has been growing).
When I first found that trending topic about the billboards, I was not only not surprised that it ruffled some feathers, but by the specific responses, including comments about how atheists can hate something they don’t believe exists, or the hypocrisy of atheists pushing their agenda and “attacking” Christians and Christmas, or even how somebody’s fine with agnostics and not atheists (when, in practice, they really are the same thing) because they buy ad time on a billboard. The overwhelming sensation from the religious posters – when they weren’t condemning atheists to hell – was that the billboards are hypocritical, and that they shouldn’t be pushing their agenda out into the world.
To those people, I would like to say this: I have a proposal of truce for you. Let’s say, for example, that I had control over all of the atheist advertising and marketing in the world, and that any Christian has the power to do away with their respective advertising and marketing. I would be more than happy to do away with the handful of billboards from the few groups with enough money to post them, with any ads in papers and magazines, and hell, even any podcasts on iTunes. But I will only do so if my Christian counterpart would be willing to do away with (and I’ve included an example of each where applicable):
- TV shows
- Stray idiots on TV like Ray Comfort
- TV channels and those “part-time” channels and shows like CBN and the 700 Club
- Christian-programming radio stations (especially the one that breaks into my local NPR station when I drive over the hill near my house)
- Religious book store chains
- Church billboards (both the big ones by the highway and small ones in front of every church in America of which there are so, SO many)
- Nativity scenes in front of public churches
- Any stray 10 Commandment statues in front of government buildings (those are still illegal, BTW)
- The Gideons that surround a high school when classes are let out, where they cover every conceivable exit and try to push the New Testament into every student’s hands as they head home as they did all four years of my high school experience (BTW, some good news about this one, link here)
- Those people with massive signs and tables outside most parades declaring that non-believers are bound for eternal punishment
- Oh, and please-please-PLEASE… the Westboro Baptists.
I would also say to do away with government tax exemptions for churches, but let’s start with those listed above. If you think they’re perfectly acceptable, then your having a personal issue about somebody else spreading their own thoughts around this country that challenge your beliefs is entirely hypocritical, not mine.
This isn’t a “Christian nation”, as we were not founded on Christian principles, otherwise such acts as an atheist, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Satanist, or any other faith or lack-thereof’s billboard would be illegal by design (read the first commandment if you don’t believe me, and then read the first amendment to the US Constitution to confirm that fact). Other people live here too, and we as non-Christians have just as much right to have our voice heard as Christians do. If you think putting putting up a billboard telling people not to go to a church they don’t believe in is hypocritical for this reason, then I hope you get a dictionary in your stocking.
I’m all for being tolerant of other people. Hell, that’s how I came up with my site’s name (that and a cheesy number pun). But I expect this to be taken both ways, and to be perfectly blunt, if such a billboard can challenge somebody’s faith to the point of thinking critically – whether or not you still believe it at the end of the day – then you deserve to have your faith questioned.
Stand Tall, my friends.