This Holiday Season, Consider Atheism!

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.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation

The American Humanist Association

The Secular Coalition for America

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.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    I personally think its great that they are complaining about “interpreting” the bible, when all they are doing is directly quoting it. Apparently in our modern times, actually reading the bible is a big no-no for the religious folk of the world.

  • Rieux

    Your quote from the Christian Post is hilarious. Something about the rhythm of the line “They are trying to show that they can be good without God but that’s ridiculous” just cracks me up.

    More relevantly, I have to say that I’m surprised and impressed that it’s the AHA, of all Coalition of Reason organizations, that took this bold step. I’ve always had an image of the AHA as the most “love for the Empire,” religion-sympathetic nonbelievers’ organization on offer; that’s why Paul Kurtz quit in 1980 to found (what’s now called) the Council for Secular Humanism, right?

    And yet here’s the AHA, throwing body blows at Christianity and Islam—including ugly quotations from the New (!) Testament. Had I not known who was bankrolling this effort (and had I not seen the central role of Humanism as such in the ad campaign), I would have guessed it came from the FFRF or American Atheists.

    Clearly I need to reevaluate my attitude toward the AHA.

  • http://twitter.com/jtradke jtradke

    The font on those FFRF ads is horrible. “Sundays” looks like “Sunaa4s” on the one pictured above. I had to re-read a bunch of the others, and I’m not even driving past at 55 MPH.

  • Snoof

    I personally think its great that they are complaining about “interpreting” the bible, when all they are doing is directly quoting it.

    And then they’re thinking about what the quote means! That’s interpreting the Bible, and as we know, only certified Holy Men get to do that.

  • Stacey Melissa

    I was a Christian back when I read the Bible and found it morally repugnant. That’s what made me a non-Christian.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Not really Snoof. The Evil Atheist Conspiracy is only posting verses and then posting random quotes. It’s the sheep that apparently need constant shepherding that would be interpreting it and having any conclusions that one relates to the other. The humanists aren’t interpreting the bible, they’re letting the target audience do it for them.

    Yes, the FFRF ads are bad fonts, I agree. The “Consider Humanism” ones from the link are much better presented in my opinion, though those look more apt to be print ads, not billboards.

  • Wednesday

    I think I know what would _really_ make Hazen wet his pants: atheist groups, and especially atheists with children, making a point of doing volunteer work on Sunday mornings, when our attackers tend to be in church. Oh, gosh, they’re claiming to be moral without our God AND they’re doing good deeds. Horrors!

    (Note that we’d be doing it on Sundays not because anything is inherently holy about Sundays, but it is a day that in the US and many other Western countries, many people are off of work and children are out of school, and so relatively convenient for volunteer work.)

  • Legion

    Why is so important for atheists to organize? How can you keep atheists like Stalin out of your club?

  • http://Daylightatheism.com J. James

    Way ahead of you, Wednesday. People automatically assume I am Christian because I volunteer and do lots of other things, sports and clubs and the like. I guess people assume Athiests are all burly skinheads and shadowy conspiratorial men in black. And even though Haven’s shrill complaints should be offensive I just find them hilarious. Wah wah nanny nanny boo boo! It cracks me up.

  • CSN

    @Legion

    Why is so important? Because the religious kicked poor Stalin out for having different ideas than them and that made him want to kill people. Maybe if we let him bake cookies for the homeless with us and plant some trees we can be a good influence on him? You can come too, though we would prefer it if you’d ask questions you actually want an answer to. We like questions.

  • CSN

    Glad to see the female side and a range of ages represented, but a little color wouldn’t have hurt! (You can never please those damned skeptics.)

  • Seomah

    @Legion:

    How can you keep atheists like Stalin out of your club?

    Atheists don’t have a club. Anybody can be an atheist, you don’t need an invitation or permission to be atheist.

    Even if we could keep atheists like Stalin out of our club, why should we? Nobody is saying that all atheists are good. The point is that atheists can be good, not that they are. People can be evil and atheists, it’s just that they are two completely unrelated things, contrary to what religious fundamentalists want you to think.

  • TEP

    While it is a problem that Stalin gets to be a member of the atheist club, that’s nothing compared to that faced by the club for people who don’t believe in giant reptilian squid people from Jupiter. Every single tyrant, serial killer, rapist and paedophile who has ever lived has been a disbeliever in giant reptilian squid people. So you really have to put up with some unpleasant company indeed if you want to deny the existence of the squid-lizards.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Hail the Cephalopodian Skink-people!

  • Charles

    …humanists have no business interpreting the Bible.

    Could a believer out there please explain why the Bible has to be “interpreted”? If it was written by an all-knowing deity, wouldn’t it say what it means and mean what it says? For example, shouldn’t “It held two thousand baths” just mean “It held two thousand baths” (1 Kings 7:26)? What if someone wrote a book on how to fly an airplane and wrote “In normal level flight, push the stick forward to pitch the aircraft nose up”, and then told the family of the deceased pilot that had read the book: “He didn’t ‘interpret’ the writings correctly”? In other words, what use is a book in which the meaning of the words is different than what the words mean in “ordinary, clear communication”?
    (Ebon’s phrase)

  • Josh Cruse

    I looked at the campaign on the FFRF website. There were several different billboard designs, but all of the atheists in the campaign look like white Americans to me! Should they have thought to feature some non-white nonbelievers?

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    TO STACEY MELISSA

    Hi Stacey,

    As reading the bible is what caused Sunday School teacher Madlyn Murray O’Hair, H. Ruth Green and MANY, MANY others to LEAVE Christian Religion is why I am always urging believers to read it.

    I ask them to read ALL of it and not just selected passages. I suggest they read it from cover to cover and take notes.

    OR, I tell them an easier way is to go read ALL of the information in the website called, THE EVIL BIBLE.

    http://www.evilbible.com/

    H. Ruth Green, was a nice lady who was a “Believer” for most of her long life. I do not know if it was before,of after she was a member of FFRF when she wrote her book:

    “The Born-Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible.”

    http://reedsecular.org/freethought-books-project/

    And made what has become a famous quote. I think her “famous” quote is:

    “There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.”

    WOW! I JUST FOUND THIS TOTALLY AWESOME ATHEIST WEBSITE!

    While I have only seen some of MANY, MANY GREAT quotes, in it there is a LOT MORE GOODIES in it!

    Do Yourself a Favor, and Check IT Out!

    http://www.humanismbyjoe.com/religion_quotes.htm -

    ———————

    LEGION,

    You must still be a Programmed Religious Robot as your comment about Stalin proves you have NO clue about Atheists and Atheism.

    You see Legion

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

    Voltaire

    This why you can do an internet search for “Atheist Terrorists” and find very few, if any, listings. And the same for “Atheist Hate groups”.

    YET when you do the same for “Christian Terrorists” and “Christian Hate Groups”YOU WILL FIND MANY listings!!!

    And Legion,

    It IS the reason why RELIGIOUS people strap bombs to their bodies so they can blow themselves and others into little pieces or pilot or drive explosive laden boats into OUR ships and trucks into Marine Barracks and our Embassies.

    OR fly air liners full of innocent people into buildings.

    —————-

    As I’ve been an Agnostic Atheist Activist for OVER FIFTY years and seen most of us go from hiding (I did not) to the much more openness of today is really, really gratifying. I give the advent of the internet to being one of the major reasons this has happened.

    I also think the actions taken by Blacks,
    Women and Homosexuals to due what they can to stop the discrimination toward them has been a positive factor in the Atheism movement.

    I am proud to say I joined American Atheists in the middle 1970′s. I met Madlyn Murray O’Hair, her two sons and her grand daughter. (We once “Picked the Pope” in LA.)

    http://www.Atheists.org/

    I am a Founding Member of Atheists United of Los Angeles.

    http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/

    While in American Atheists and Atheists United, I met the movie star Butterfly McQueen the Atheist Author Dr. Gordon Stein as well as other great people.

    And I was one of the early members of FFRF. I have known Dan Barker, Anne Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor for years

    http://www.FFRF.org/

    I am also a member of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

    http://MAAF.info/

    I have supported these organizations with money and action as much as I have been able to. I got prayers taken out of a city council meetings. I have written many “Letters to the editor” to Newspapers and magazines about the negative effects of religion.

    Along with the LA ACLU, got a judge to bar the courts from forcing those convicted of drunk driving to attend AA meetings.

    Been successful in turning “Believers” in to Atheists as well as starting others of their journey of being able to DE-program themselves.

    As EACH of the Atheist groups mentioned does GOOD things and reaches different people, I URGE ALL Atheists who are sick and tired of being seeing Atheists not being treated at least as well as are religious people, to JOIN as many of the Atheist groups as you can.

    THANK YOU

    Neil

  • Broggly

    How do we keep Atheists like Stalin out of the club? Keep an eye on the guy who seems REALLY enthusiastic about doing the boring paperwork and accounting.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Re: Stalin, Mao, etc. As I constantly point out when theists bring them up, Russia and China were despotic states for centuries (or in China’s case, millennia), so when the Bolsheviks and CCP came to power in those respective states, there were already long ingrained traditions of power relations wherein the common people were just so much raw materials to be used by the State to do whatever the State wanted.

    I like to say that there probably would not have been a Joseph Stalin if there were not first an Ivan the Terrible. Stalin was Ivan with 20th century military technology at his disposal.

    And if one wants to play the body count game, estimates are that some 20 million Chinese died during the mid-19th century Taiping Rebellion, which was led by a failed aspiring civil servant who claimed he was the brother of Jesus Christ.

  • Jeff

    “They are trying to show that they can be good without God but that’s ridiculous,”

    Right – because everyone knows how poorly that’s worked out for the Dalai Lama.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Broggly: I’m not allowed in the club? Aww…

  • EZDon

    Why, being an Atheist, a Theist or an Agnostic, do we feel [have] a need to convert [or have others share] our belief system? Does having others share a [my] belief system make us [me] more secure in our [my] belief(s)? Does the fact that more share our [my] beliefs cause our [my] system to be more believable [to me]?

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Why do [you] use so many [squarebrackets]?

    Ebon has an essay on the subject, he hs an essay on pretty much any subject a theist might ask about atheism, “Into the Clear Air”, “Omnipresence” might explain a bit as well. “A Rational World” explains why having more atheists would be a net gain for society, but you might also be looking for “Unapologetic”, his particular exaltation in the merits of atheism.

    Of course, that’s a lot of reading, and not everyone has as much free time as myself. A tl;dr that applies to both theists and atheists is this: We think the world would be better off if more people thought like we do. For theists, it also creates a cult of personality, “one person’s insanity is one million peoples’ religion” or whatnot, but many of us are first-generation atheists, we converted against the flow of popular opinion, so clearly for atheists conversion is not for trying to support your own views, cults of personality are unimportant to us in this circle of influence.

    I should note tl;dr in respect to reading four essays, not long reply posts. :)

    Continuing on our [my] thoughts (sorry), I would say agnostics (and these categories should not be capitalized, its bad grammar) do not try to convert people. If anything, the definition is modernly interpreted as someone looking for an answer. They’re trying to be converted or deconverted, not vice-versa.

    So yes: Everyone who wants others to join their group want it either to increase the power of the group, or because they think the individuals are better off that way (both are true for both atheists and theists). Theists require thousands of people sharing their beliefs so they don’t get carted to insane asylums, so they get a measure of security in con/sub/verting people, (Isreal has a police team dedicated to apprehending people claiming to be the next messiah, so clearly you need a few hundredscores at least before you’re not just another delusional twit). Atheists require little community, as the only thing that unites us is the fact that nothing unites us. We’re cats to be herded, to use the popular saying. Our motives are not to avoid being called a lunatic, but rather only (rather than additionally) believe that the world would be better off without religious war, religious persecution, religious intolerance, et cetera and so wish to move as many people away from religions as possible.

    And welcome to the lion’s den. Answer your question close enough? Of course, I’m only speaking on my perspective. We don’t adhere to a book that mandates our opinions, so there’s a lot of different opinions out there.

  • Scotlyn

    EZDon and Zietlos – I have had an uncomfortable time in every group I ever became a part of, since sooner or later, the ways in which I disagreed with the prevailing tides of opinion would become evident. I am happiest among people who expect to disagree with one another, and who make generous allowances for that. (This requires a prior commitment to the view that everyone must think for him or herself!) Of course, we would all like to persuade others to our point of view, and we certainly argue vigourously to that end. But, if we actually succeeded in persuading everyone to become our own thought-clones, it would actually be a bit creepy and icky. For just that reason, I find this blog a fairly congenial place.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    I disagree with you Scotlyn. :p

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I hope y’all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

  • Scotlyn

    Zietlos – be careful – you’re making me happy!


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