Atheist Billboard Vintages

by Jesse Galef –

The funniest thing about the atheist billboard campaigns is that it almost doesn’t matter what they say. The message gets bypassed and the signs turn into a lightning rod for all the religious arguments about atheism. “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” somehow gets portrayed as “A new billboard questioning the existence of God.” Facepalm-inducing idiocy ensues.

Having followed the billboard campaigns (supported by the United Coalition of Reason) for a while, I feel like a wine connoisseur talking about them: “Ah yes, the March Detroit* had some nice vandalism with a hint of bigotry, but wasn’t as full-bodied as the February Sacramento…” or “That news segment was a delicious medley of ignorance, condescension, and misrepresentation, but could use a touch more controversy.”

But this story from North Carolina is particularly rich. It packs so many of the usual themes into just two minutes! Faux-controversy, opinion from a local religious leader, a counter billboard campaign, interviewing random people in the street…

As often happens, I want to respond to every single thing said. But instead of writing pages, let’s do it rapid-fire:

  • Secular spokesperson Jennifer Lovejoy: Great inclusive message.
  • Random person in the parking lot: I don’t even know what you’re trying to say. Religious groups advertise all the time.
  • Second random person in the parking lot: Not everyone thinks that “God is everything.” It definitely shouldn’t be part of a patriotic activity for our secular government.
  • We Still Pray Organization: Well done! Putting up your own billboards is the correct way to disagree.
  • Pastor Sexton: Were the original authors of the pledge of allegiance being “disingenuous” by leaving out the words ‘under God’? Then how are we disingenuous by suggesting it?
  • Third random person in the parking lot: No. Through shared convention, words have meanings. The word ‘God’ cannot simply refer to “anyone I believe in” and it cannot “stand for anything.”

But I think my favorite part is the reporter who is unwilling to actually do any, you know, reporting of his own. Talking about the words ‘Under God’, he says: “Jennifer Lovejoy says the pledge hasn’t always been like that.” You know, it’s not just her opinion… feel free to assert it as a fact for your viewers!

Since the NC billboards have already been vandalized (and the vandals praised for it) all that the story was missing is someone asking why/whether we atheists even have the right to free speech.

Still, this North Carolina vintage is quite good…

* I had mistakenly written “Dallas” instead of “Detroit” in the original posting. Sorry for the mistake!

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.wellactually.org Rubbs

    Random person in the parking lot: I don’t even know what you’re trying to say. Religious groups advertise all the time.

    I think this guy was supposed to be on our side. He said (if I transcribed it correctly), “Followers of Christ are not going to get non-believers to believe in God, by going out and marking out billboards.”

    Seems like he’s saying that vandalizing the billboard is only going to galvanize us. (I agree.)

    That said, it wasn’t a statement soundly calling out the vandalism. If this is the best comment they can find in our favor, then this news station has failed to present the proper information.

  • William

    They sure do like to grovel.

  • RavynSkyes

    I agree with Rubbs. The first guy was trying to say that vandalism is not a good way to get a message across. His comment was kind of weak, but it might have been edited that way.

    It annoys me when people try to make the word “God” (with a capital G) seem like it’s all-inclusive. We all know it’s not, so quit with the bulls**t.

  • Maliknant

    God IS everything. To the sheep.

  • Jim Baerg

    More from Nitwitness News

  • David D.G.

    Jesse, I love the “wine connoisseur” analogy! It’s funny, it’s clear, and it’s a great way to organize and present the topic. Nice going!

    ~David D.G.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    More like Eyewitless News. Amiright?

  • http://www.atheistvolunteers.org/austin Joe Zamecki

    When our billboards get vandalized, they get more media attention. So let’s check the score:

    1 Media attention because the billboard goes up.

    2 More media attention when the billboard gets vabdalized.

    3 Still more media attention when the billboard gets fixed.

    4 Potentially more media attention if it gets vandalized again.

    At least one billboard company has cancelled the contract and refunded the ENTIRE cost to the Freethought group that rented it. That means they got media attention twice, and it ended up costing nothing. If media exposure was the only goal, that scenario was golden.

    Obviously that plus exposure to motorists is prime. However they work out, our movement is kicking ass! :o)

  • Brandon

    I was unaware that NC had a secular group. I haven’t heard anything around Raleigh. I’m glad the billboards are starting to go up around here. It’s quite lonely.

  • Daws

    Short and sweet is sometimes best :)

  • http://www.fofdallas.org Zachary Moore

    Actually, Jesse, the “March Dallas” vintage didn’t have a hint of either vandalism or bigotry. Both the Dallas and the Fort Worth billboards were posted without so much as a dirty look, and the news crew who was looking to stir up controversy had to invade a nearby church before they could find someone who would offer a negative opinion.

    Some billboard campaigns provoke negativity, it’s true; but it’s also valid to note that many do not.

    Best,

    Zachary Moore, PhD
    Executive Director
    Fellowship of Freethought Dallas

  • Jesse Galef

    Zachary Moore,

    Thanks for the catch! I meant to say ‘March Detroit’ but wrote ‘March Dallas’ for some reason. I was going off of this story: http://unitedcor.org/20100315.htm.

    I’ll fix that now.

    – Jesse

  • aerie

    Ick. I read the article from the link to WorldNetDaily where Miss Chrissy Satterfield is “the only conservative writer at ‘Voice Exchange'(a genY blog). She’s just another christianazi for sure. She says the vandals in NC were *her* kind of vandals…And says when she saw the vandalism…”she couldn’t be more relieved”. Wow. Just wow.

  • beckster

    @Brandon – There are several freethought/atheist groups in the Triangle area on meetup.com. Search meetup.com and google groups and you should find something!

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “The funniest thing about the atheist billboard campaigns is that it almost doesn’t matter what they say. The message gets bypassed and the signs turn into a lightning rod for all the religious arguments about atheism.”

    I’ve found that to be true for almost any form of atheist expression. When I do the Atheist Meme of the Day on Facebook, I can never tell which Meme is going to get lots of conversation and which is going to be fairly quiet… since the responses are often so unrelated to the specific Meme. I write about the First Cause argument, and people reply with Pascal’s Wager. I write about Pascal’s Wager, and people reply with “But you can’t disprove religion with 100% certainty!” I write about the “100% certainty” argument, and people reply that without God, life would have no meaning. I write that atheists have meaning in our lives, and people ask why atheists have to proselytize and why we care what anyone else believes. It’s like a Rorschach test. Whatever’s on their minds about atheism, they just spew it when they see the word “atheist.” Weird.

  • Richard Wade

    Great wine analogy, Jesse, I love it. A’ votre santé!

    I agree with others here that the trumped-up “controversies” over these billboards are nothing but a gift to the atheists, providing far more publicity than what was purchased.

    Those opposing these signs only parade their ignorance of history, their hypocrisy about freedom, and their deep insecurity about their faith.

    I’d like to see a time lapse movie of an easily accessible atheist billboard from a hidden camera, with several days of righteous Christian vandalism compressed into a couple of minutes. Not to catch the culprits for prosecution necessarily, just to show them for the cowardly punks that they are. The narration could be some inspiring quotations by the Founding Fathers about the importance of freedom of speech.

  • muggle

    First, Jesse, I don’t even drink and I loved the wine analogy. Very cleverly done.

    And your rebuttals, great. It’s so easy to get long winded and boring. (You may have noticed I have trouble shutting up.) Sometimes short and sweet says it so much better. Just like the one nation indivisible signs. I absolutely love them. I think they’re my favorite, to date.

    I’d like to see a time lapse movie of an easily accessible atheist billboard from a hidden camera, with several days of righteous Christian vandalism compressed into a couple of minutes. Not to catch the culprits for prosecution necessarily, just to show them for the cowardly punks that they are. The narration could be some inspiring quotations by the Founding Fathers about the importance of freedom of speech.

    Wouldn’t that be a great you-tube video?

  • fritzy

    Third random person in the parking lot: No. Through shared convention, words have meanings. The word ‘God’ cannot simply refer to “anyone I believe in” and it cannot “stand for anything.”

    Exactly! If it can mean “anything,” it, by default becomes a meaningless word and has no reason to be in the pledge in the first place.

    Of course, as with any word, particularly a loaded word such as “God” it does mean something, hence the reason so many xtains are offended by the notion of restoring the pledge back to it’s original condition. I wish they would stop playing these games.

    This is another one of those logically flawed and disingneuous arguments that’s thrown out there to attept to legitimize something that they know is not Constitutionally acceptable. But damnit, that Constitution is so annoying and inconvenient to being an effective evangelical.

  • Nancy

    An interesting little history of the Pledge found here.

    Note that Bellamy (the author of the Pledge) was a Christian socialist and in his later life stopped going to church because of the racial bigotry he found there.

  • Noodly1

    Here are some comments from the Raleigh CBS-affiliate, WRAL, about the WSP billboards: http://www.wral.com/golo/page/1896337/?id=7921903

    (FTR, yours truly is “Instant_Karmen.”)

    I realize that the anonymity of the internet prompts some people to say things that they’d never say “IRL,” but I’m still always discouraged by the sheer number of irrational beings there are out there.

    But, yes, good for WSP. That is, as has already been pointed out, the correct way to respond. Now we just all need to rally around the NCSA to ensure they have the funding to weather the war.

  • Guy Allen

    I think the next billboard should say:

    “ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, INVISIBLE…”

  • http://findingmyfeminism.blogspot.com/ Not Guilty

    I am seriously going to harm myself because you insist on posting so many facepalm worthy things. The stupidity if humanity is going to cause me to beat myself senseless…

  • Rhodent

    I was impressed (and not in a good way) by the quality of the reporting:

    1. The report speaks of billboards “in the western part of the state”; most of them are in the central part of the state and one of them is in Wilmington, which is on the coast.

    2. The report says NC Secular posted the billboards “along I-40”. The only billboard that is on I-40 is the one in Greensboro (the one in Winston-Salem is on 40 Business). Heck, I-40 doesn’t even come within 30 miles of Charlotte.

    3. The report says that the billboards could be in the “Down East” area soon because NC Secular plans to put them up “from the mountains to the coast”. As already noted, it already reaches the coast (and the mountains, for that matter). There is nothing on the ncsecular.org website to indicate they plan any beyond the six currently up. This is a poorly-supported statement which is in there for no reason but to increase controversy.

    And that’s ignoring matters like the vacuous “man on the street” interviews. The sad thing is that this is actually better reporting than I would generally expect out of a TV channel in that part of the state.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    I like how the xian billboard writes “indivisible” out completely. Telling.

  • Guest Pest

    Of course, if I were one to vandalize the xian “under God” billboard, it would be simple to just add ” – Iran” to the end of it.

  • http://www.unitedcor.org Fred Edwords

    An important take-home in all of this is that the counter campaign adds to the publicity garnered by the original campaign. Thus our billboards get more media publicity when the other side spends money on their billboards to answer our billboards. In sum, pushback of any kind leverages the original effort.

  • Jude

    I like Richard’s idea. So why don’t we go ahead and do it? I’d gladly contribute a few bucks.

  • Pete

    Joe Zamecki Says:1 Media attention because the billboard goes up.

    2 More media attention when the billboard gets vabdalized.

    3 Still more media attention when the billboard gets fixed.

    4 Potentially more media attention if it gets vandalized again.

    5 Faith = Anarchist -> lawless society

    Tut Tut Gangsters !

  • Rich Wilson

    What does a doomsday church need with a million bucks?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYW_lPlekiQ

  • Rich Wilson

    Whoops! Wrong article :-(

  • http://www.ncsecular.org/ Jennifer Lovejoy

    Glad my message of inclusion got across. You would think I said differently based on the e-mails I got. =)
    I did an interview with ABC World News Thursday night that will air next week.
    I hope our positive message is heard.