Those Offensive Atheist Billboards

I’ve said it before: Even if the billboards just said the word “ATHEISM,” religious nuts would get upset.

It’s a no-win situation if atheists are trying to make peace with certain Christians.

But the ads evoke outrage in some areas. The ads get media coverage. All of it helps let other atheists know they’re not alone out there, and that’s the value and beauty of all the advertising campaigns.

(via Atheist Cartoons)

  • Kate

    It’s a no-win situation if atheists are trying to make peace with SOME Christians.

    Fixed it for ya.

  • Baconsbud

    I like the first billboard the best. Like they say you can’t please all the people all the time. Of course that doesn’t really apply to the more extreme fundies, since they only know how to hate anything not in agreement with themselves.

  • Liudvikas

    Its fun wondering what kind of ads would not receive negative reactions.

  • http://www.heavingdeadcats.com/ Neece

    Some people are bound and determined to be offended at just about anything. The billboards are directed to atheists, not the traditionally religious. They are welcome to ignore them. But for us godless heathens, we are happy to have them reach out to like-minded people in our areas. It’s a good thing, even if some people insist on being offended that someone might have an opinion different than their narrow worldview.

  • Shannon

    Totally OT, but where are the little laughing cartoon guys from? I’ve seen that image over the years. In the 70′s I saw a cartoon my Grandpa drew with those guy and I thought he did it but eventually realized he was copying something. Anyone know?

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com Robert Madewell

    I agree with Kate. It’s not all christians that have problems with signs like that. Though, I’d argue that a very loud majority would.

    I agree with Hemant that it wouldn’t take very much to upset that loud majority. I’ve thought of putting up signs that just say,

    Some people don’t believe in God.
    -url-

    I’d guaranty some people would get their hanes all knotted up over it.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    It’s a no-win situation if atheists are trying to make peace with SOME Christians.

    Fixed it for ya.

    Thanks, Kate. I meant that but I should’ve written it that way, too. I’ve updated the post to reflect that.

  • http://jessicasideways.com/ Jessica Sideways

    Basically, anything that communicates the fact that you can be a good, kind, caring moral person without believing that some Hitler-esque dictator is going to burn you forever if you do not believe in him. I would love to see more atheists stand up and be heard so that we can communicate the fact that it is okay to believe in reality. You do not need to believe something that makes you look like you robbed a drug dealer and took all his shit at once.

  • lurker111

    I remember the little laughing guys from an office humor comic entitled “You want it when???”

    Ca. late 1970s.

  • IvanS

    I’m interested in the theological aspect of this. What is the religious problem with people being good without god ? Isn’t it a point of principle with Christians that salvation is a matter of faith ? So whether you are good or not is of much less concern than whether you are saved or not. If I was a Christian I can’t see that I’d be bothered if atheists were being good, in fact I would probably be pleased since they would at least be behaving morally in this life even if the poor sods were going to fry for all eternity. Fortunately I don’t have to wrestle with these sort of problems as I will be one of the deep fried ones.

  • Amyable Atheist

    As if it wasn’t plainly obvious already, controversy over signs as innocuous and positive as this makes it clear as day that nonbelievers can do no right in the eyes of some believers. Moving on from there, the old maxim is especially true that “any publicity is good publicity” (well, barring violent crimes committed explicitly in the name of atheism/humanism – someone remind of the last time that happened, again? ;-D) in that it creates new opportunities to have meaningful conversations with believers.

    How to do this? I think positive messages that communicate honest truths about nonbelievers, like the current billboards, preserve the moral high ground for nonbelievers by not risking the perception (by the sane, anyway) as attacking or mocking anyone else’s beliefs. Much as I ADORE the first panel in the cartoon and don’t know what I’d do without an outlet for that brand of humor, mockery, as we all know, isn’t going to do much to further the conversation with those for whom it’s a foreign and radical concept that humans can be good without god(s).

    I’m no accommodationist but I do think this kind of civility is the way to go towards dispelling the whole false “strident” stereotype. People will still use it but we can make it more difficult for them defend – I think we’re on the right track!

  • http://krentzelscrania.blogspot.com/ Dallas

    So what do more liberal christians think of these signs? All I hear about is what the fundies think, but there reaction is not a surprise.

    I go to a small liberal arts college where there are a lot more liberal christians than deeply conservative, and I’m interested in what their response would be if my secular student association wore shirts with the message “you can be good without god.”

  • http://www.paulcaggegi.com flawedprefect

    Outrage should be expected. Correct me if I am wrong (I truly mean that), but this does seem to be the first time in history we’re “coming out” in this way.

    I come from a fairly agnostic – yet Catholic – family. Religion is not just about belief in God/Jesus/Mary/Whatever. It’s also part lifestyle. It’s also part-identity.

    I feel it’s only natural to be outraged by something unfamiliar when it threatens your way of life, rituals, and relationships. While the billboards don’t expressly say “stop going to church, baptizing your kids, and celebrating all your sacraments” it is somehow conveying that meaning to those offended.

    Now we may think it’s only a cracker which gets swallowed at a holy communion, or a medieval torture device which folks choose to hang around their neck, but in some way, those things are part of someone’s identity, and at its core, I think that’s what is being threatened.

    If I can (ironically) quote a biblical story I’d once heard as a child, “This too, shall pass”. I think this outrage is temporary, and once they see we’re here to stay and as proud of our non-belief, outrage will be replaced with tolerance, because there are ways, rituals and beliefs with which we identify ourselves, also. It may be a long time before we get understanding, but that’s why we must fight and continue to fight.

  • David Keen

    IvanS there isn’t a theological problem with people being good without God. The Bible recognises that everyone has a conscience and a moral sense. From here in the UK, I don’t really recognise this as an issue, is it a US thing?

    “As if it wasn’t plainly obvious already, controversy over signs as innocuous and positive as this makes it clear as day that nonbelievers can do no right in the eyes of some believers.” and vice versa. As Neece says, some people are determined to be offended by anything, and that seems to cut across all groups.

    I’m most offended by those posters which declare ‘the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’, or something else in 17th century English at a train station.

    Unfortunately, in the UK our media know exactly who to go to for an ‘as Christians we’re really offended by this’ quote. Christian Voice and the National Secular Society, despite both being pretty small organisations, get more airtime because they can be banked on to give trenchant opinions. That gives the impression that Christians are queueing up to be offended by things, which isn’t remotely true.

  • Siamang

    Yes, for everyone who thought “there probably is no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life” was too offensive, there are now the “you can be good without God” billboards.

    And the reactions are exactly the same, as far as I can see.

    I’m starting to think that these new, milder billboards are the result of a successful “shut up” campaign by believers.

    They’ve successfully gotten us to go to a super mild campaign, by their own behavior of throwing hissy-fits. See Sean Hannity.

    I’m looking forward to the overton window moving the other way. Not toward hostility, but certainly toward a stronger message.

    Otherwise the next billboards may read “Is it okay to continue to exist if we don’t ever mention that we’re atheists again? PLEASE!?!?!”

  • Stephen P

    I remember the little laughing guys from an office humor comic entitled “You want it when???”

    Ca. late 1970s.

    Yes, I first saw them with that text in 1977 (sometimes I am a fount of spectacularly useless knowledge – but it was on my first job, which is how I remember.) I saw them pinned on a wall, but they may well have come from a comic. I’d be interested to know if they were new then.

    And yes, I’d like to see them in that billboard form too.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    This is why I started the Billboard Wars Project on Dangerous Talk. If you have any photos of some really harsh Christian Billboards, SEND THEM TO ME along with the city and state they are in.
    -Staks
    DangerousTalk.net

  • Chas

    We should save our passion for specific issues (church-in-state, faith healing, gay marriage)
    not an outreach campaign.

  • Amyable Atheist

    @Siamang – I don’t disagree with you – we should certainly not be cowed by the hissy fitters (Sean Hannity, who has clearly never ridden the NYC subway in his privileged frat boy life) nor tailor future statements to them, because we’ll never win that battle, as you observe. However, I’m not positive but weren’t the “there probably is no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life” ads only run in Britain and Europe?

    Obviously the U.S. cultural position on atheism is far too unsophisticated to handle that flavor of message – surely we’d see such billboards set ablaze in the south and the beknighted “Heartland” (read: Methland, and yes, I live in Chicago) and vandalized in far worse ways than the one that got the “without” painted over (which still seems more “prankster making a James Brown [Good God, y'all!] joke than “enraged fundy” to me, but whatever).

    Given the more virulent strain of U.S. fundies in comparison with Europe, I think baby(er) steps are an appropriate way to reach out to normal people while keeping the fundies from blowing up the billboards and buses. Unless I’m wrong and we have had them here, in which case I don’t know what I’m talking about ;-D)

  • Richard Wade

    An attempt at a non-offensive atheist billboard:

    Pssst! It’syay okayay ifyay ooyay on’tday elievebay inyay odgay. Eithernay ooday eway. Isitvay usyay. shhh. (url)

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    A couple years back there were these signs all over Baltimore that just said “BELIEVE”.
    (may still be, but I haven’t been to look)

    I wonder if you could do “DISBELIEVE” instead.

  • http://DaysUntil.com/humanist Dave D

    Even if the billboards just said the word “ATHEISM,” religious nuts would get upset.

    We really ought to try this at least once to see what happens!

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    It doesn’t matter if SOME Christians find the billboards offensive. They aren’t open minded enough to appreciate the message anyway. It is open minded believers and undecideds who see the billboards and take time to consider what it has to say.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    IMHO, part of the usefulness of the billboards is that they offend certain Christians while not being all that offensive in and of themselves. Any damn fool can offend theists by saying some variant of “TEH THIESTS IZ STOOPID,” and theists who are offended by that look justified. To offend one’s opposition by saying something innocuous, on the other hand, highlights the irrationality of the opposition.

  • IvanS

    @David Keen.
    Actually I’m in the UK myself, so I recognise what you say but there’s still an undercurrent of this kind of thinking. It isn’t voiced so openly because this is a country that doesn’t really care about religion but there is always an implication from Christians that to be truly moral you must have some kind of belief, which is why so many of them bang on about atheism being a faith too. Oddly, some of the worst offenders here are the apophatic types like Karen Armstrong who are forever striving to show that religion is an inevitable human trait which must be devoid of literal belief but full of right actions. They seem convinced that you can’t be moral without some sort of background faith thingy, although they can never quite put their fingers on what that may be.

  • heironymous

    We should save our passion for specific issues (church-in-state, faith healing, gay marriage) not an outreach campaign.

    Personally, I agree with passion about church-in-state and gay marriage whole-heartedly.

    But I also feel we should attempt to take the moral high ground away from the theists.

    That definitely includes “spreading the good news” that Millions of us are Good without God. I personally pondered how I was going to raise my children to be good ethical human beings without the benefit of the church I grew up with (a good liberal Roman Catholic Church) After much pondering, I arrived at the following conclusion:
    Equating morality to religion is equivalent to equating law to monarchy.

  • http://www.myspace.com/Dunnam0127 Joseph Dunnam

    Hermant would you consider yourself to be a good person?

  • defender

    Without a source of morality outside of man, there can be no moral distinction between Mother Theresa and Adolph Hitler. Both followed their convictions. Think about it.

  • Siamang

    Ray Comfort clone is obvious!

  • lewis

    Defender: that is a ridiculous and absurd statement. There is no requirement for anything ‘outside man’. You might as well say “Without the Easter Bunny there can be no morality.”

  • Carol

    Without a source of morality outside of man, there can be no moral distinction between Mother Theresa and Adolph Hitler. Both followed their convictions. Think about it.

    Morality is not “following your convictions.”

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/ keddaw

    Without a source of morality outside of man…

    How about one inside man, just for a change?

    How about an intellectual morality that would end all discussions about morality being the province of religion, about each man being a moral island.

    If it is at all possible to objectify any part of morality, and I’m not sure it is, then it will come from the intellect, not from the paranormal.

    If I am right and morality is purely subjective, different for each person then you are completely wrong to equate Mother Theresa and Hitler. They may well both have been following their internal moral principles, but they most certainly weren’t following mine. Thus I can say which one I consider more moral as can you and everyone else on the planet. Why is that so hard for the religious to get? And why is it when their own morality collides with Church morality most are happy to ignore Church teachings? If they truly believe their Church is right then how is it possible that the two moralities are not aligned?

    Incidentally Mother Theresa may have contributed indirectly to more deaths than Hitler thanks to her work in not allowing the promotion of birth control of any form in India as per current Catholic doctrine.

  • Anonymous

    true faith only occurs AFTER you are knowledgable and open minded to all other ideas and beliefs out there. To be offended is to have no faith in the strength or validity of your own beliefs.

    –Ignorance is The ENEMY.


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