I was happy to read that this week that atheist groups are launching a new ad blitz, with ads extolling the virtues of atheism on billboards, buses, trains and print media. Significantly, atheist ads are also hitting the airwaves for the first time ever – thanks to a $150,000 donation from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which is underwriting a TV ad campaign by the American Humanist Association.
And the very best part of the AHA campaign is that the ads aren’t just saying that atheists can be good people too. They’re hitting the religious where it hurts – by quoting some of the more notoriously evil verses from the Bible and contrasting them with positive quotes from famous humanists and freethinkers. (See the quotes here – I’m pleased with their selections.)
The most important reason for advertisements like these is that we still have a lot of low-hanging fruit. Most atheist groups have membership only in the tens of thousands – not an insignificant number, to be sure, and many of them are growing rapidly. The FFRF, for example, has tripled its membership in just the past few years. But the number of Americans who explicitly identify as atheist or agnostic is in the millions, and the number who are nonreligious is in the tens of millions. Clearly, if we can reach even a fraction of these people and convince them to join up, we could be much larger and more influential – and we’d punch much harder against the incursions of the religious right.
Granted, when it comes to organizing, religious groups have a built-in advantage: they already have a hierarchy which they can use to communicate with their membership. This means we have to work harder to catch up with them, and both positive and negative ads have a place in this effort – positive, to emphasize the benefits of atheism and show our neighbors that we’re good and moral people. But ads highlighting the cruelties and violence of the Bible are just as important, for the simple reason that they puncture the claim made by religious people that there’s a single source of morality and that they have sole custody of it.
After all, just look at how absolutely terrified the religious right is of this campaign:
“They are trying to show that they can be good without God but that’s ridiculous,” said Dr. Craig Hazen, founder and director on Biola’s MA program on Christian Apologetics, in an interview with The Christian Post.
…Although Hazen said humanists have no business interpreting the Bible [my emphasis], he concluded that the ads may have some resonance due to the biblical illiteracy among Christians today.
I find it vastly amusing to see religious bigots petulantly complaining that we’re not allowed to be good and decent people if we don’t believe in their god. Of course, they define “being a good person” as “believing in our religion”, so in their eyes, atheists are immoral by definition. But that definition is what you’d call a “term of art” – a specialized meaning that’s very different from the way people ordinarily understand the word.
And this is a fight we should be glad to have. I welcome the religious right’s claims that they’re the only moral people. After all, it will only increase the cognitive dissonance when people see our ads contrasting the vicious and bloodthirsty verses of the Bible with famous nonbelievers advocating conscience, reason, compassion, and other good things. It will make our ads that much more effective. So, to the apologists for superstition and prejudice, I say bring it on! And for everyone else, I have this friendly reminder: This holiday season, consider atheism – and if you’re inclined towards our side, then please join one of these worthy groups, and help us spread the joyous and liberating message of reason.