The Renaissance of Atheist Evangelism

In one of my first posts on Daylight Atheism, I asked whether atheists should evangelize. My conclusion was that, while it would be foolish to go door-to-door on Sunday or pass out fliers on street corners, we can and should appear in forums like TV, radio and print media to press our case before the public.

In the two years since I wrote that post, I’m glad to see that many prominent atheist groups have come to feel the same way. In the U.S., there’s the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s highly successful atheist billboard campaign, which has brought the message of freethought to public places across the country. Even the occasional setbacks, far from hurting the cause, draw coverage and controversy that brings more attention to the original message. Similarly, the wildly successful atheist bus campaign that started in the U.K. is going global, giving rise to spinoffs in countries including Spain, Italy, the U.S. and Canada. Next up, I’ve heard, are subway ads.

Now more than ever, atheists are making a splash and getting our message out. And that’s just what we should be doing: it’s in the first generation of activism, in the renaissance of the modern atheist movement, that we have the most potential to cause change. Our newness, and the shock of our message to a society that’s not used to hearing it, is just what we need to pierce the bubble that surrounds many religious believers.

But, as always, there are concern trolls who fret that we’re being too radical, too controversial. Tyler Wolfe is one:

While this ad campaign may be refreshing in its originality, at its base it is no different than the religious advertisements I have already criticized. The atheist campaign, too, attempts to tell you what to believe and how to live your life… [These ads] are mimicking a strategy long criticized by the atheist community.

They are? What strategy would that be? The strategy of explaining what you believe and arguing that others should do likewise? That “strategy” is simply called persuasion, and I know of no atheist who opposes it. (What’s the alternative – sitting at home and never talking to anyone, lest you inadvertently expose them to a point of view?) What atheists object to is not communicating one’s opinions, but the manipulative, coercive, and often deceptive tactics used by so many proselytizers to advance that end.

Next up, Mark Fefer of the Seattle Weekly tells us how “atheists are botching their war on religion”, in reference to the FFRF’s winter solstice sign:

The sign read in part “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” — exactly the kind of boneheaded provocation that undermines the cause.

First of all, what’s routinely overlooked about the FFRF’s sign is that it was deliberately provocative. It was placed in the Olympia, Washington state capitol as a protest against the state government’s plan to install a nativity scene there. The message is that atheists don’t appreciate religious endorsements on government property, and to show why that’s a problem, we took advantage of the open forum to post a statement that most religious groups would similarly find shocking and upsetting. A more mildly worded sign would not have driven that point home.

…religion is no different from sports, music, or any other part of our culture. It can be a life-enriching experience that promotes community feeling and social values. It can also lead to destructive extremes. Should we Imagine No Sports because of steroids, concussions, and Pioneer Square knife fights?

If the rules of sports – not the occasional violent excesses, but the written rules of the game itself – promoted violence and discrimination against non-sports fans; if sports fans sought to deny non-sports fans the right to marry or to hold political office; if suicide bombings and holy wars were routinely waged against fans of rival teams; if sports fans sought to water down or outlaw science and instead teach their belief that an Intelligent Referee created the world: then yes, we would have to question whether the benefits of sports were worth the costs.

People who cling to the homophobia in the Bible do it because…they’re homophobic. If they couldn’t justify it through Leviticus, they’d find some other way; atheism sure isn’t going to cure them.

This analysis is far too glib and naive. Is Fefer saying that religion has never changed anyone’s moral opinions, but only gives them a way to express the views they already have? How do we reconcile this with his previous statement that religion “promotes social values”?

In contrast to this simplistic view, an honest accounting would have to conclude that there are many cases where prejudices like homophobia are shaped, encouraged, and sustained by religion. When a believer is taught from birth that homosexuality is a terrible, revolting sin which God hates, then yes, it is fair to conclude that their homophobia stems from their religion, and yes, it is fair to conclude that these people would lose this prejudice if they became atheists.

Lastly, and on a somewhat different note, there’s this report from Jocelyn Bell, a liberal Christian journalist who attended the last Atheist Alliance International convention. Personally, I recommend giving the friendliest reception possible to reporters seeking to learn more about us, but the reactions she did receive from atheists were the next best thing. They ran the gamut from sharp confrontation to warm greeting, such that she concluded that atheists are “actually as diverse a group of people as you’d find anywhere”.

This is just the message we should want to communicate – that atheists are a diverse and freewheeling group, united by our lack of religious belief and our opposition to bullying fundamentalism, but otherwise not in ideological lockstep. Bell left the convention with a better understanding and greater sympathy for atheists, and possibly even with some seeds of doubt planted in her mind. As a practical goal for atheist evangelism, there’s no higher goal for us to aspire to.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • AnonaMiss

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the ad campaigns are bad things (except for the Olympia one: history teaches us, e.g. with the American Civil Rights movement, that maligned groups seeking mainstream acceptance do not have the luxury of sinking to their opponents’ levels), I don’t know of any basis for calling them “successful” either. If there are any statistics, or even anecdotes, of religious people being at all moved by atheist ad campaigns, I haven’t heard them. (Feel free to direct me to some.)

    I’m ambivalent to the campaigns in general, pending further information; and I think it’s premature to call them successful, or to call for their continued spread. Remember what happened with hormone replacement therapy. It invigorated and encouraged many menopausal women, and spread by reputation far ahead of what science had actually verified; when the studies did come out, they showed that in general, the therapy hurt more than it helped. It’s a common scenario in science – I just picked the case I remembered most – and one that we as rationalists should be careful not to fall into ourselves.

  • http://tr.im/loltheists loltheists

    Loved the last paragraph.

    And the “homophobia precedes religion” argument is a really weak one. So the Aztecs who sacrificed people for their sun god would do the same anyway, and just used religion as a justification. The same for those conducting the witch hunts and trials — those people just loved that their bible gave them a very convenient excuse for their favorite pastime: torture and kill women based on their whims. And I guess when the racists lynched black people back in the early 1900s, they would have done the same even if it was completely unacceptable, by their peers, to do so.

    No, this one is not about religion, but the point is that, as with any ideology, religion both incites and perpetuates the thoughts and behaviors put forth by its proponents and adherents. It’s completely stupid, insane or just plain dishonest to claim that this is not the case only when it comes to religious ideology.

    Unlike most ideologies, however, religion both claims some kind of divine authority and exerts a great deal of covert political influence and social exemption from criticism. And that’s where the real danger lies, and why we must oppose “bullying fundamentalism”, as you put it so well.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    The atheist campaign, too, attempts to tell you what to believe and how to live your life…

    Since when is this a BAD thing? So long as you’re not trying to pass legislation on what other people should think and live their lives, what the hell is wrong with trying to convince them that your way is better?

    This is something that’s really starting to irk me about certain factions of western liberalism. The idea that we shouldn’t even try to persuade others that we’re right is essentially moral relativism. If you don’t believe in your own system of belief, your own morals and values – if you don’t think that your system is the best one out there and that the world would be a better place if everyone subscribed to it – then why are you subscribing to it?

    And don’t get me started on “tolerance”…

  • Anne Cognito

    That article from the United Church reporter was remarkably sympathetic. People like Jocelyn Bell are exactly the kind of people we need to work with to oppose the legalization of Christian morals in the US.

  • velkyn

    there will always be people too afraid, who will tell others to stop rocking the boat. This happens in every attempt to gain civil rights. They just need to be ignored. I know that I need to stand up for all of those who are told to sit down and shut up.

    I always find it amusing when religion is compared to anything else. Sorry, sports doesn’t claim some divine right to do anything. It doesn’t claim a moral high ground that becomes “do as we say, not as we do” when observing those supposed leaders of religion. It isn’t a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites who accept the benefits of science when simultaneously decrying it when the same science that makes them comfortable and safe, shows that their myths are wrong.

  • velkyn

    BTW, the FFRF is goign to be rocking the boat but good in lovely Dover PA, where the creationist garbage got a sound thrashing.

    http://www.ffrf.org/news/2009/darwin.php

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Velkyn
    “Praise Darwin” maybe one of those polarising approaches that backfires. I’m all for making the point but so many religious types accuse atheists of “worshipping” science and this plays into their hands a bit. If we need to campaign there ought to be a way of doing it without stealing religion’s clothes.
    That being said I’m making my own personal pilgrimage to Down House next week where I can indoctrinate my youngest with some of that god-forsaken evolution.

  • velkyn

    I find that making a dramatic statement that we can build on saying “no dear, it isn’t a religion” and expounding on that is a good idea. What other than “we’re atheists, please don’t kill us” wouldn’t be considered a polarizing statement by these willfully ignorant people?

  • mikespeir

    People who cling to the homophobia in the Bible do it because…they’re homophobic. If they couldn’t justify it through Leviticus, they’d find some other way; atheism sure isn’t going to cure them.

    I don’t buy this, either. Having been raised the way I was, I’ll admit I still have a hard time getting past a gut-level aversion to homosexual activity. But I’m a whole lot less that way than I used to be. That process of retreating on the issue is due entirely to my having put away my belief in what the Bible teaches on it. Aversion or not, I realize there’s no good argument for prejudice against homosexuals.

    BTW, I agree with Steve Bowen’s assessment of the “Praise Darwin” thing. I won’t even have a Darwin fish on my bumper for that very reason.

  • Stephen P

    If there are any statistics, or even anecdotes, of religious people being at all moved by atheist ad campaigns, I haven’t heard them.

    Why do you think that is the aim of the campaigns? AIUI the aims are:
    1) to encourage atheists to be more open about their views;
    2) to comfort atheists in the more primitive backwaters by letting them know that they are not alone;
    3) to gain more attention from the media.

    I would be very surprised if advertisements alone made any significant contribution to pursuading religious people to leave their superstition behind. In some cases they may trigger a process of thought that eventually leads to that, but we are talking about a long-term process.

    (PS: there is something weird going on with the formatting of the text size in the preview. I hope the posted comment looks OK.)

  • Valhar2000

    AnonaMiss makes a good point, one that I was considering while I was reading Ebonmuse’s post: how do you know wether a particular campaing or action was successful or not? What does success mean in these situations?

  • karmajoe

    I was driving through Madison WI feeling kinda . . . well, alone. I had not admitted to most of my family that I was an atheist. I have given up standard god stuff long ago but clung to those prayer studies, and had only recently found out they had been debunked. I had no beliefs left after that one fell away and was lookiing to decide if I even still believed in individual souls at all and was wondering if I had the nerve to give up on the idea that I would see dead loved ones again. It was a lonely place to be and no one to talk to about any of it. And there ws that billboard! Wow! It was like permission to be me, permission to have all the thoughts that were churning around my head. I tried to memorize the information on the billboard, and went home and searched for the group on line. I found their radio shows and played them in the back ground over the next few days and felt so much better, not burdened with the whole thing! Gave me the courage to search online for more and found other sites and gradually let on to a few that I was an atheist, got into a few argements, but actually had another ‘fresh atheist’ ask me to help him come to grips with it and figure out who to tell and how much and how and when to talk about it. It was Christmastime when he contacted me and he was wanting to be all rebellious about it and we decided he could be a cultural christian about the holiday without believing as some Jews have done for centuries. The billboard helped me and I ended up helping at least on other down the road a few months.
    These things may not start a ‘faithful’ person down the road to atheism, but there are alot of us already on the path who need support and information! On the other hand, it may spark questions in a mind and be just the thing TO start a person truly asking.

  • Brock

    Is there any research that anybody knows of that shows a correlation between religion and homophobia? My own experience has been that the more liberal the religious viewpoint a person has the less homophobic, but I make haste to note that’s only what I personally have observed.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    My direct supervisor has a sign over his desk that reads “Let God guide and He will provide”. I’m not going to mention that I’m an atheist at work, nor will I ever discuss religion in ANY context with any of my co-workers, on or off the job. I’m lucky to have a job in this economy, and atheists are the last group against which it’s ok to discriminate. Being right has no bearing on winning in court in such a case. Even if you win, you lose.

    In a similar vein, I never mention to any of my violin students that I am armed. The only way they would ever find out is if some low-life were to attack my school using deadly force. Actually, that’s not 100% true; one of my students did a background check on me, and discovered that I am a firearms instructor, and he’s cool with that.

    Some things are just nobody else’s business.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    AnonaMiss,

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the ad campaigns are bad things (except for the Olympia one: history teaches us, e.g. with the American Civil Rights movement, that maligned groups seeking mainstream acceptance do not have the luxury of sinking to their opponents’ levels), I don’t know of any basis for calling them “successful” either.

    I agree. Also here:

    Remember what happened with hormone replacement therapy. It invigorated and encouraged many menopausal women, and spread by reputation far ahead of what science had actually verified…

    That’s exactly what happened with the Miller experiment, which although highly valuable to science, was not “Life in a Test Tube.” Nowhere near, yet my high school biology teacher suggested to us young and impressionable minds that this conclusion was reasonable. Fundamentalists, ID’rs and religious folk are not the only ones interjecting false ideas into biology classrooms.

    loltheist,

    I agree to the dangers of “bullying fundamentalism,” but many people of many stripe would reply that “bullying atheism” is just as fruitless and dangerous. After all, the religious people atheism are highly likely to be successful in recruiting are the otherwise reasonable people who have a religious veneer or moderate position, right? How do reasonable people generally react to bullying of any sort?

    Steve Bowen

    “Praise Darwin” maybe one of those polarising approaches that backfires. I’m all for making the point but so many religious types accuse atheists of “worshipping” science and this plays into their hands a bit. If we need to campaign there ought to be a way of doing it without stealing religion’s clothes.

    Yep, I agree. As nomorehornets put it, “stealing a strategem from the theists,” indeed.

    Stephen P,

    I would be very surprised if advertisements alone made any significant contribution to pursuading religious people to leave their superstition behind.

    Also be aware that the wrong types of skeptic advertisements will persuade many religious people to cling stronger to their ideas, just as the wrong type of religious advertisements will persuade many skeptical people to cling stronger to their ideas. However, as commenter karmajoe suggests, I think even the wrong type of atheist advertisement will tend to be successful among skeptics and religious doubters who are “already down that road,” so particular atheist groups might wish to consider whom they most want to reach and customize their approaches accordingly.

    Brock,

    My own experience has been that the more liberal the religious viewpoint a person has the less homophobic, but I make haste to note that’s only what I personally have observed.

    Such has not been my experience. Most of the homophobic people I know are essentially secular non-intellectuals, but I agree that a likely correlation exists between religious conservatism and homophobia.

    From the OP:

    But, as always, there are concern trolls who fret that we’re being too radical, too controversial. Tyler Wolfe is one:

    Ah, yes, the venerable concern troll police, and another strategem employed by theists! Let’s tar dissenters with nasty names!

    That “strategy” is simply called persuasion, and I know of no atheist who opposes it.

    Yet, when believers persuade, many critics will tar even reasonable persuasion with the negative connotations of evangelism and proselytization. Among many other things, don’t you oppose believers trying to persuade people that homosexuality is a sin? Your reasoning is looking really thin to me here.

    What’s the alternative – sitting at home and never talking to anyone, lest you inadvertently expose them to a point of view?

    Classic false dichotomy. Many intermediate options exist which are clearly reasonable and viable. A publicly visible campaign is not mutually exclusive with sitting at home doing nothing.

    What atheists object to is not communicating one’s opinions, but the manipulative, coercive, and often deceptive tactics used by so many proselytizers to advance that end.

    Completely reasonable, and I have to agree, but one problem is that many atheists either directly or indirectly apply the same deceptive tactics used by so many religious proselytizers. Like Hamilton suggests, “not by fire and sword” is a good way to gain converts to any idea.

    First of all, what’s routinely overlooked about the FFRF’s sign is that it was deliberately provocative.

    I’m confused, and need to ask you to clarify: Are state-sponsored / state-supported attacks on religion are acceptable if they were deliberately provocative?

    A more mildly worded sign would not have driven that point home.

    Appeal to omniscience. In my eyes, and others I’ve spoken to both atheist and believer, a milder message would certainly have driven atheism’s message home much more forcefully and eloquently. As it is, its insulting and demeaning attitude builds a wall that will be very hard to get around. As a counterexample, how inclined are you to listen with respect when somebody tells you you’re a fool and going to hell? Probably not very.

    I felt your response to,

    Should we Imagine No Sports because of steroids, concussions, and Pioneer Square knife fights?

    was far too glib and naive. Fighting and death and destruction and corruption and greed and scandal and political tankering are all present in the category of sports. Sure, we’re dealing with differences in degree, but still. My distillation of Fefer’s idea you criticize is that in any case, it’s people who must be held responsible for their crimes, not the books they read, the music they listen to, their favorite pastimes, or their particular creed, and I agree.

    When a believer is taught from birth that homosexuality is a terrible, revolting sin which God hates, then yes, it is fair to conclude that their homophobia stems from their religion…

    Perhaps. But when somebody is a homosexual, many say they have no choice in the matter. Perhaps any or all people who are homophobic have no choice in the matter either? Studies do seem to show a correlation between male homophobia and male homosexuality, you know. I can foresee a response that racist or homophobic people can become non-racist or non-homophobic, and that’s true. It’s also true that homosexual people can become non-homosexual, and let’s not make any “No True Homosexual” arguments, and no, I’m not arguing that “homophobia preces religion,” just providing food for further thought. And I agree 100% with mikespeir who said, “there’s no good argument for prejudice against homosexuals.” There’s no good argument for prejudice.

    “(Atheists are) actually as diverse a group of people as you’d find anywhere” (Jocelyn Bell)

    I agree. Atheists are a diverse and freewheeling group, alot like skateboarders.

  • staceyjw

    While it would be great to have campaigns that are 100% perfect in every way, this is not realistic. If we wait to discover the perfect message- one that doesnt harden religious people or piss off atheists- nothing will ever get done. Bold actions are necessary, and this ensures that some wont agree with how its done.

    How do we know if a campaign is successsful if its not out in the world? You cant test or compile stats for a sign that is on the drawing board.

    Personally, I am happy to see any sign that promotes freethought, atheism, or science. I just dont see an issue with this. So what if someone thinks that my Darwin fish or Flying Spaghetti Monster emblems are signs of worship- I didnt put them on my car for those people. They are there because I like them, and I love when I see someone else sporting one.

    Staceyjw

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Re cl:

    Among many other things, don’t you oppose believers trying to persuade people that homosexuality is a sin?

    No, of course not. They can try to persuade people all they want. I think it’s bad, I think they’re wrong, and I wish they’d stop – but I don’t OPPOSE it, and I’d wager no one here does. Because we’re all for free speech, right? What we OPPOSE is discrimination against homosexuality. People can be as homophobic as they want so long as they don’t make it law.

    I’m confused, and need to ask you to clarify: Are state-sponsored / state-supported attacks on religion are acceptable if they were deliberately provocative?

    I’m seriously confused. How are ANY of these billboards and bus ads ATTACKS?

  • abusedbypenguins

    The only way to know if there is any impact is to do marketing research. Religion does a lot to sell their belief even going door-to-door. I don’t care what anyone believes or not but to have to pay for it is another matter. All church property is off the tax rolls. They pay no income taxes on their “donations” The streets in front of their places of business are maintained by tax dollors not paid by them. They receive free fire and police protection, public water and sewer. It is time for religion to be treated like the business that is is. Look around your cities and count the number of properties off of the tax rolls and how many municipal budgets could use those taxes. I see religion no different than tarot card readers, tea leaf readers and crystal ball readers and they pay taxes. If they want to influence our lives then they have to pay for it. I will continue to ignore them even if they do pay. On another note, in my travels I see the church billboards advertising the preacher as having a Phd. My question is in what studies; literature? Fairy tales? Superstitious nonsence? What?

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    My direct supervisor has a sign over his desk that reads “Let God guide and He will provide”.

    TX, my favorite is the bumpersticker I see on cars sometimes that reads “Let Go. Let God.” But the people driving these cars always seem to have their hands on the steering wheels.

  • http://blog.calumnist.com/ Danny

    I like the billboard from the Low Country Humanists (http://lowcountryhumanists.org/billboard.jpg). While other signs are more confrontational against believers, this one tries to reach out to other non-believers.

  • Stephen P

    Because we’re all for free speech, right? What we OPPOSE is discrimination against homosexuality. People can be as homophobic as they want so long as they don’t make it law.

    The first two sentences are fine, but not the third. It is not just unacceptable to have anti-homosexual laws. It is also unacceptable to, for example, refuse housing or jobs to homosexuals. (Maybe that’s what you meant, but it’s not what you wrote.)

  • AnonaMiss

    I’d like to clarify on my previous post, particularly in response to Staceyjw, that I am not by any means against running ad campaigns. I’m just against them being labeled successful when no statistics exist to that effect, and as Stephen P and Valhar2000 pointed out, there doesn’t even seem to be a metric for determining success. I had assumed the object was to deconvert the religious based on Ebonmuse’s article title, but apparently I assumed too much, or at least too generally.

    I’m very happy to hear that you had a positive experience with a billboard campaign, Karmajoe; thank you very much for sharing your experience.

    Reading these comments, it occurs to me that part of the reason we’re so divided on this issue may be a matter of differing ideas of what the goal is of an atheist ad campaign. Some people want to challenge the religious, some people want to persuade the questioning, and some people want to offer comfort and community to the already-nonreligious. Religious ads divide themselves roughly in this way too: there’s the evangelists with signs proclaiming that such-and-such groups will go to hell, the billboards and banner ads directing the interested to evangelizing websites, and the ads for individual churches you see before movies sometimes, offering a place of worship for those who already want one.

    By talking about all these varied campaigns, using these different approaches, as though they’re a single phenomenon, I think we’re dividing ourselves more than we have to. I can’t think of any atheist who would object to the comfort-and-community style ad, while plenty object to the confrontational ads on personal or practical bases.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Campaigns are going to have different effects in different cultures. I think in the U.S where religion and community are so inter-twined anything that lets atheists know they are not alone is to be welcomed. In the U.K where the bus posters started the reaction from most atheists would be “so what”, and probably from the moderately religious too.
    The U.K bus campaign was “there’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”. Now to me that’s a nice positive message but to some it sounds like an invitation to abandon morality for complete hedonism. I would probably have put the emphasis on social responsibility instead:”There is probably no God – so it’s up to us!”

  • http://piepalace.ca/blog Erigami

    I have to agree with Stephen P’s comments, with a wonderfully illustrative follow-up from karmajoe. The atheist ads aren’t just evangelizing to theists, they’re letting fellow atheists know that they aren’t alone.

    That has a lot of value.

    Having said that, I’m not a fan for directly challenging religious belief. I don’t like it when theists come up to me and try to sell me their point of view, so I don’t really want to do the same thing to other people. But I will defend atheists rights’ to do so. I particularly like the quote from the article:

    Don’t waste time trying to convince other people of the error of their world view, as though rational reasons were all it takes. How many times have I heard that religious people are stupid, insulting the very people we need? We have to be part of the body politic. We have to be pragmatic to be effective. It’s religion’s intrusion into our civic institutions — that’s what really counts. We can’t have influence if we don’t change. (Dr. Mynga Futrell)

    e

  • Hank Bones

    I think that the goal of any of these campaigns can’t be to deconvert anyone from their religion (also we shouldn’t use that as a metric for success). Rather, we need to encourage atheists and agnostics to publicly speak out. As long as we can be set up as amoral commies, we won’t be publicly accepted. We need to show people that as an atheist community, we are as (or more) moral than the religious establishment. Otherwise, it will continue to be allowed for us to be bashed in public forums.

  • CS

    “…Atheist’s war on religion…”

    It’s not war. It’s resistance.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Stephen P – of course you’re right. I was going to mention something about discrimination as well but that apparently got lost on the way. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    A few words about my views on the effectiveness and aims of atheist advertising:

    I don’t think these billboards are going to promote mass deconversions among the faithful, nor should we judge the success of the ad campaign by whether it has that effect. (I doubt that giant concrete crosses by the roadside cause mass conversions to Christianity, either.) The psychology of human persuasion just doesn’t work that way.

    Rather, I think the purpose of the billboards should be viewed as something different: to increase our visibility, to let believers know that we exist, and to let nonbelievers know that they’re not alone. karmajoe’s wonderful comment is a perfect example of that.

    I firmly believe, and will cite census data to show, that there are many more nonbelievers out there than most people realize. But because we lack the social organization of the religious, we’re invisible all out of proportion to our numbers. What atheists badly need is to find each other, to unite and mobilize for action, and campaigns like this are an excellent way to accomplish that goal. We have a long way left to go before we achieve saturation. As we saw just in this thread, it’s still the case that virtually every atheist ad will find someone who, until that point, thought they were alone in the world. And it’s still the case that, because of our invisibility, many religious people continue to demonize us and use us as examples of the Other who can be hated and feared. If they realized that actual atheists were their friends, neighbors and coworkers, that prejudice would have much harder going.

    So, in my mind, those should be our two goals. If we can gather society’s nonbelievers together under one banner, and if we can show the religious that we exist, I think we’ll have achieved what we set out to do.

  • Dave K Welch

    Tommykey: …No hands… that’s hilarious.
    Anonomiss: “By talking about all these varied campaigns, using these different approaches, as though they’re a single phenomenon, I think we’re dividing ourselves more than we have to”…
    Except that atheism is merely a lack of belief in a theistic religion (one with a god or gods) and not a belief system per se, therefore, as opposed to perhaps a religion someone actively joins, atheists, if you are to attempt to paint them with a single brush, are a much more colorful group of people. We don’t all have the same goals by any means, if we even have goals at all in respect to atheism. Ebon has goals and has stated them clearly. Though I don’t have goals that I actively pursue, I would like to see, not only theistic religion, but supernatural or superstitious belief on a whole disappear.
    Therefore I agree completely with Staceyjw though I have an aversion to bumperstickers of any kind. But each to their own.

    Regards
    Dave

  • http://paulsoth.livejournal.com/ Paul Soth

    If the rules of sports – not the occasional violent excesses, but the written rules of the game itself – promoted violence and discrimination against non-sports fans; if sports fans sought to deny non-sports fans the right to marry or to hold political office; if suicide bombings and holy wars were routinely waged against fans of rival teams; if sports fans sought to water down or outlaw science and instead teach their belief that an Intelligent Referee created the world: then yes, we would have to question whether the benefits of sports were worth the costs.

    You should see OSU during football season.

  • andrew

    In contrast to this simplistic view, an honest accounting would have to conclude that there are many cases where prejudices like homophobia are shaped, encouraged, and sustained by religion. When a believer is taught from birth that homosexuality is a terrible, revolting sin which God hates, then yes, it is fair to conclude that their homophobia stems from their religion, and yes, it is fair to conclude that these people would lose this prejudice if they became atheists.

    Sorry to break this to you, but this analysis, although more wordy, is no less simlistic than Fefers. The truth is the causes of homhobia(much like the causes of homosexuality) are far too varied and complex to boil down to any single one.

    And I do think that Fefers is correct, if anybody is homophobic because of their religion(though I sincerely doubt anybody is homophobic JUST because of their religion), becomeing an athiest wont change that. Old prejustices are hard to overcome, the best we can hope for, is a gradual change in attitudes, brought about not by a change of religion, but more likely by contact with homosexuals.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    The FFRF needs to hire a poet. “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” is terribly unChristmasy, and “Praise Darwin” is bloody awful. Way to play into the hands of the Christian Right, FFRF. Now, I’m no big city poet, I’ve never gone to poet school, and I can’t make a rhyme no matter how hard I…trym, but surely they can do better.
    Christmas is for family (not just “our” family or “their” family, but “all” family), and we do not “praise” Darwin. Acknowledge, yes. Praise, not so much.
    Note that no matter what the billboards, buses and whatnot say, someone is going to be annoyed. I would prefer that it not be me.

  • Bill

    It is unscientific to say that the world will improve just because people become unbelievers.
    Granted, religion has been the cause of much harm and trouble in the world, but there is no proof that if religion had never existed that the world would necessarily be any better.
    Atheists, like anyone else, are human with human propensities.
    After all, there are atheists that are holocaust deniers. There are also atheists who abuse their families just as some believers do.
    Atheists can also can some things that others do not: for example Sam Harris thinks there may possibly be something to the paranormal, not that he thinks that much about it.
    An assertion that the world will improve because certain things will take place is in the same category as “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.”
    If there is anything to the concept of memes that are viral, then taking evolution into account, something would occupy the niche that religion would vacate and in itself become an infectious meme. And it might be very vicious.
    One other thing: Atheism is broadly defined as lack of belief. Okay, that’s acceptable. so is a person who states that he/she believes that there is no God or gods still and atheist? He/she is making a statement of belief.

  • Emrys

    Everyone concedes there are both beneficial and harmful aspects of religion. I would like to see the harmful aspects targeted specifically, instead of religion in general. My impression is that this is more effectively accepted by believers. In the case of religion in general, all I’d like to see is promotion of open minds and critical thinking, and see how the wind blows afterward.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    What are the beneficial aspects of religion?

  • Leum

    Religion provides a community, a source of meaning (not by any means the only possible one), assistance with behaving morally, and satisfies the need many people have for ritual and ceremony. If religion had no beneficial aspects it wouldn’t be so popular.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I’ll concede that it provides a community, although other communities can be had, but at the cost of making divisive communities.

    I don’t concede that it provides a source of meaning. The source of meaning doesn’t come from religion but from ourselves, whether we incorrectly ascribe it to religion or not.

    I also don’t concede that it helps with moral behavior, for a couple reasons. I don’t see anything moral in only doing good to satisfy some sky daddy. The end result is good, and the alternative might be worse, but the ends don’t justify the means.

    I do concede that it satisfies whatever need people think they have for ritual and ceremony, although I’m not so sure that it’s been established that such a thing actually exists. If it does, it may be a by-product of religion itself, meaning that religion created a need that it then fulfills, which kind of undercuts the beneficial aspect.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Just to clarify, I’m just saying that I don’t have faith in faith. I don’t think it’s necessary, and I find that whatever supposed benefits come from it are far out-weighed by the negatives. I don’t think that people need faith, and I actually find it condescending (not that you were doing that Leum or Emrys) for people to say that some people need faith.

  • http://blocraison.blogspot.com Paul Fidalgo

    Great post. Fefer drives me nuts, and you should check his column again; his message now seems to be, “I don’t hate atheists, just these mean ones who commented on my column!” and then calls us “no-Godniks.” But hey, remember, he likes atheists!

    I would only add that I think that while the FFRF’s Olympia sign was wisely provocative, one can be provocative without solely engendering rage. The UK bus ads are a good example of a message that was controversial, but has sparked thoughtful debates and questions. The FFRF sign, I think, sparked almost entirely vitriol. Perhaps that’s what they wanted, but I don’t think it was the best strategy overall. I want religion criticized as much as the next guy, but this is why we have tactics of persuasion and nuances of rhetoric, and not simply megaphones.

  • Ross Miles

    Here is an interesting approach from the Toronto Star:
    http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/583779

  • http://www.dewsofquietness.blogspot.com David W Jackson

    Stimulating stuff. Your assertion that atheists “are a diverse and freewheeling group, united by our lack of religious belief” is something of an oxymoron since by definition (here:http://originoflifefairness.org/courtdefinedreligion.html and end of second paragraph here:http://www.investigatingatheism.info/definition.html)atheism is a religion. Or as I wrote in my blog http://www.dewsofquietness.blogspot.com “No it’s not, you protest, it’s the absence of religion! But this is like saying that “black”, which physicists define as the total absence of color, is not a color. If I had a black cat and people were to ask me what color my cat was I would answer “my cat is black”. In other words, the color of my cat is black. In common practice throughout the world, “black” is understood to be a color, despite the technical definition of the physicists. Likewise, “Atheism” is a religion, despite any technical definitions to the contrary. If black is a color, then Atheism is a religion. Whenever I talk with an Atheist, he/she invariably tell me that they have no beliefs. They claim that they simply do not believe in a god or higher being. Well, so much for Atheist logic. It is logically impossible to have no beliefs. If you decide to not believe in something you are in fact believing the opposite. Atheists claim emphatically to me all the time that they simply don’t have any beliefs. They just don’t believe that a god exists. This means that, by default, they DO BELIEVE that there is no God. One can not just not believe. You must believe in something. This is simply a fact.”

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    But this is like saying that “black”, which physicists define as the total absence of color, is not a color.

    and as has been said hear several times “If atheism is a religion, bald is a hair colour”. Or similarly “atheism is a religion in the sense that not collecting stamps is a hobby”.

    They claim that they simply do not believe in a god or higher being. Well, so much for Atheist logic. It is logically impossible to have no beliefs.

    This is a non-sequitur, non-belief in a deity does not mean to have no beliefs. However I suspect you are conflating a faith position – “I believe in a god despite or possibly even because there is no rational reason to hold such a belief” – with an epistemological belief in observable falsifiable facts – “I believe the chair I’m sitting on is made of wood” or “I believe the theory of evolution is supported by the evidence”.
    The most you can say about atheism as a religion is that it has a philosophical apposition to supernatural phenomena up to and including the existence of a deity.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Your assertion that atheists “are a diverse and freewheeling group, united by our lack of religious belief” is something of an oxymoron since by definition (here:http://originoflifefairness.org/courtdefinedreligion.html and end of second paragraph here:http://www.investigatingatheism.info/definition.html)atheism is a religion.

    Let’s see, the first link is a Xian group that misinterprets a court document that talks about how atheism is an idea that touches upon religious concepts, and can therefore be considered a “religion” for purposes of non-discrimination in the first amendment. The second link doesn’t support your statement that atheism is a religion.

    They just don’t believe that a god exists. This means that, by default, they DO BELIEVE that there is no God.

    Incorrect. Theists have not met their burden of proof that god exists. Therefore, I do not share their positive belief. Denying that your god exists does not necessitate that I have presented a positive belief of my own. There may be mustard in my refrigerator, but I don’t know. You could present what you believe to be evidence that I do have mustard in my fridge, but I doubt that you could meet the burden of proof to convince me it is there. Does this mean that I believe there is no mustard in my fridge? No, of course not. There may be mustard there, I don’t know. But, sans evidence, I’m not justified in claiming that I believe there is mustard there.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Or as I wrote in my blog http://www.dewsofquietness.blogspot.com

    Which I just had a look at… sigh!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X