A Misguided Christian Protest

There’s an atheist billboard in California right now that’ll be up through Memorial Day thanks to the Orange County Coalition of Reason:

Somehow, that optimistic, welcoming message is offensive to some Christians. And they’re fighting back!

A group of Christians who have been gathering to conduct Bible studies under a “Godless billboard” erected by a national atheist organization say they will do so until the sign comes down.

Henry Longbrake, a Garden Grove resident who has been coordinating these sessions each evening since May 11, says he and other Christians are exercising their freedom of speech just as the atheists did by putting up the billboard.

“There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said. “They’re spreading the wrong message. We’re doing this Bible study right under the sign because we want to show our support and love for our God.”

The group will meet under the sign every night from 7 to 8 p.m. for Bible study until the billboard comes down, Longbrake said.

“I guess you could call it a silent protest of the billboard,” he said.

Wow! They showed those atheists! How dare they try to stop Christians from praying?!

Oh… Right.

The atheists never did that.

(***Edit***: As the comments have pointed out, no one was trying to stop the Christians from praying. That was sloppy writing on my part. I still say they’re protesting unneccesarily since this billboard isn’t about them — it’s a message to atheists who are already out there. The billboard isn’t going after the Christians personally. So I still think the “Martyr” comment below holds true.)

This is nothing more than a symptom of Christian Martyr Complex — for whatever reason, they’re pretending to be victims every time atheists assert themselves.

But Fred Edwords of the United Coalition of Reason has a perfect response for them:

It’s fine with us,” he said. “The answer to freedom of speech is more speech.”

That’s it. Four words. Beautiful :)

I’ve never seen someone deflate a protest that so quickly… that’s gotta hurt.

  • Silent Service

    Hemant,

    Please point out in the information you provided where the Christians said that atheists were trying to stop them from praying. I missed it. It would be wrong to make such a claim if you don’t provide the actual claim you are denigrating.

  • Matt

    “They’re spreading the wrong message. We’re doing this Bible study right under the sign because we want to show our support and love for our God.”

    —uh, right there?

  • http://filipinofreethinkers.org Jeiel Aranal

    Funny, they’re doing the same thing that many atheists cite as the activity that made them atheist!

  • GodlessinNC

    Seconded. It’s more of an inference than a demonstrable fact from what you’ve provided. We do ourselves no favors by being sloppy when confronting zealots.

  • JayBab

    I’m more curious as to why you have a banner for the Christian Prayer Center on your web site?!?!

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Maybe God will send some mosquitoes to keep them company.

  • Mr Ed

    “Godless billboard”

    Do some billboards have gods?

    I know the rapture was a bit of a stretch but protesting a sign and claiming victory when it comes down on a date set before your protest is going after awfully low hanging fruit.

  • Shawn

    Wow! They showed those atheists! How dare they try to stop Christians from praying?!

    Oh… Right.

    The atheists never did that.

    This appears to be a strawman on your part, Hemant. I saw nothing in the article that would suggest anyone was claiming atheists were trying to stop anyone from doing anything. In fact, they even quote one of them explicitly saying atheists had the right to do it.

  • Michelle

    Honestly, I’m all for this particular Christian protest and wish more of them would choose this route. He is asserting his beliefs in a peaceful, appropriate and even respectful manner. “But I also believe that everyone has freedom of speech,” he said. “Our goal with the Bible study is to be available at that location to answer questions and at the same time show support for freedom of speech. (The atheists) have the right to voice their opinion and so do we.” His sign only says Bible Study, a good suggestion for most Christians, it does not say “God Hates _Add you bigotry here_”

  • Barrett

    I am wondering the same thing as Silent Service. Nowhere did they say the atheists were trying to prevent them from praying.

    Also, right there in the part you quote, the coordinator essentially says the same thing as Fred Edwords (that the atheists are using their free speech, and the Christians are using theirs too).

    Henry Longbrake, a Garden Grove resident who has been coordinating these sessions each evening since May 11, says he and other Christians are exercising their freedom of speech just as the atheists did by putting up the billboard.

    Nothing to see here.

  • Shawn

    … protesting a sign and claiming victory when it comes down on a date set before your protest is going after awfully low hanging fruit.

    I don’t think that’s their intent. I think they just want to be sure to protest what they consider a harmful message, and be available to answer questions about it, for the duration of its run.

  • mkb

    This post is an example of Atheist Martyr Complex. The Christians are not claiming to be victims. They are not saying that the atheists are trying to prevent praying. They are not trying to provoke th atheists (sorry Tom). They are exercising their rights in a perfectly respectful way. Time for us to grow up.

  • RollTheBones

    Hemant,

    Please point out in the information you provided where the Christians said that atheists were trying to stop them from praying. I missed it. It would be wrong to make such a claim if you don’t provide the actual claim you are denigrating

    It doesn’t take big leap to understand they are what they are protesting, or when they say,

    “There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said. “They’re spreading the wrong message.

    Spreading the wrong message? As opposed to having telepathic ability to speak to angry fairy Gods?

  • martin

    They are saying atheism is unhealthy for the community, so I wouldn’t put this under atheist persecution complex, it is Christians saying atheists aren’t welcome.

    And I am all for what they are doing, though think its silly, and obvious of persecution complex as Hemant feels.

    Great thing is, it just gets more people to see the sign, and provides more security to prevent vandalism, so they are just doing those who want the sign up more service than disservice.

  • Sackbut

    I am at a loss to understand why the Christian group thinks the sign is unhealthy. Atheists should think they are alone? Atheists should not be assisted in finding groups? Religious people shouldn’t find out that atheists exist, or that atheist groups exist? Doing otherwise is unhealthy?

    I suppose this is a generic “we don’t want to acknowledge the existence of atheists in any public way” complaint?

    FWIW, I agree with others that there seems to be no component of “atheists are trying to prevent Christians from praying”, contrary to what is claimed in the post.

  • Stephan

    This post is an example of Atheist Martyr Complex. The Christians are not claiming to be victims. They are not saying that the atheists are trying to prevent praying. They are not trying to provoke th atheists (sorry Tom). They are exercising their rights in a perfectly respectful way. Time for us to grow up.

    Except that these Christians explicitly said that atheists reaching out to one another so that they are not alone is the “wrong message” and is “unhealthy” for the community. How is it wrong for like-minded people to find each other? How are atheists getting together unhealthy at all? The only possible reasoning is that they think atheists should be kept isolated. So, yes, they think atheists should be second-class citizens, and they are protesting a sign to make that exact point.

    Consider if atheists protested churches simply for saying “Believe in God? You aren’t alone” and said during the protests that it is bad for the community to churches to exist, and that they would protest until the church stops telling people they aren’t alone. How messed up would that be?

  • Raven

    “There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said. “They’re spreading the wrong message.

    That right there is what’s eye-roll worthy. I’m sure they feel all righteous and godly now. :sigh

  • ManaCostly

    The article did not mention the christians claiming atheist were preventing them from praying. Do I detect a straw man argument from the Friendly Atheist?

  • Barb

    I’m going to disagree with the tone of some of these comments; While these Christians are not specifically saying that the sign is trying to stop them from praying they are, in fact, giving passersby the impression that they feel infringed upon by it by holding a protest (peaceful as it may be) directly underneath of it. This is not an isolated incident, you can find a slew of stories just like it; Christians protesting Atheist free speech, however I’ve not heard any stories of Atheists protesting under Christian billboards (please post if you know of any, a quick search revealed none for me…)

  • el perro

    There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said.

    Oh Really? NO question? In whose mind? Because I suspect that the vast majority of intelligent people, including theists, would question that statement. How arrogant these losers are for feeling that there is “no question” regarding their personal beliefs. It is precisely this kind of arrogance that makes many of us absolutely hate theism and theists.

  • Dan

    Can an atheist group “counter protest” by way of holding their own atheist get together where they aren’t there to attack the bible study people, but to set up their own separate near-by camp, where they discuss topics of their own, like so many atheist meet ups? Maybe they can even be a group that Christians at the bible study, or anyone driving by can go up to and ask questions about atheism.

    Again, I don’t suggest this atheist camp does anything to attack the bible study happening, but just that they too offer a group situation which people can pop their heads into.

    —-

    TO ANSWER the question about why these Christians say it’s unhealthy, I’ve only ever thought they say so because the billboard is encouraging people to turn away from god, and thus salvation. The billboard nurtures doubt. It’s saying it’s okay to doubt… and doubt can lead some people away from god, and thus lead them away from salvation. Which of course, is unhealthy. Or so they think.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    If anyone’s in the area and wants to join them, feel free to use my secular Bible study notes.

    From the article:

    he and other Christians respect the atheists’ freedom of speech, but want their voices to be heard as well.

    Next up: white men demand representation in Congress, and straight people demand straight characters in movies and TV shows.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m more curious as to why you have a banner for the Christian Prayer Center on your web site?!?!

    Because Hemant doesn’t pick the ads, google does based on keywords in the post. So when he talks about Christianity, he ends up getting Christian ads. Which means (at least if any of us click on them) Christian advertisers end up footing the site’s bills.

    Not intended, and not avoidable, but kinda ironic.

  • Guffey

    I’m confused too, I don’t get why you think the christians are saying that the atheists want to stop them from praying. That seems a stretch. I see nothing wrong with the Bible Study (assuming they are not trespassing or other technicalities) – it’s kinda like the “boot guy” setting up next to Brother Jed.

    Was there another article you read that didn’t get referenced? This just seems odd.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    To all the commenters:

    I had to reread what I wrote to see if I did in fact make a strawman argument, and you have a point.

    I’ve edited the piece to clarify what I wrote.

    Thanks for calling me out on that.

  • mkb

    I think that the Christian message is unhealthy for communities. So what? Don’t read so much in to what the guy is saying.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Well done to the Christians. The typical response is to vandalise the sign in some way. They have not done so and are objecting peacefully while raising awareness of both points of view. It is such a shame they spoilt it by saying that the billboard and message was unhealthy. Questioning assumptions isn’t unhealthy (unless you’re being chased by a lion and your assumption is that you are about to get eaten or something) and should be encouraged.

    Maybe their presence will prevent anyone from vandalising the sign. That would be good. Maybe some atheists would like to attend the bible study and answer some questions from the god fearing believers. That might show them that their assumption that we’re unhealthy for their community is in doubt at least.

  • littlejohn

    Regardless of one’s position on the existence of god, has it not occurred to the Christian prayer group that they are merely drawing more attention to the billboard?
    A True Christian(TM) would simply have vandalized it.

  • mthrnite

    Atheist dance party under the sign from 8 to 9 p.m. every night till the sign comes down. MAKE IT SO! :D

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    As always, christians persecute anyone that doesn’t totally accpet their lies. Then they claim they are the ones being persecuted. But, what is one more lie in over 2000 years of lies?

  • anti_supernaturalist

    failure to rupture

    How disappointed I am that a much ballyhooed rupture of reality did not happen on 21 May. There’d be no need to buy advertising space, the noisome xians would be gone.

    Since a typical citizen of xian Ameristan is both a proto-fascist and a fundie know-nothing, I hoped to see large tracts of the US mid-west and south depopulated and opened for resettlement by decent human beings.

    • Well, zoroastrians, jews, and xians have been wrong for the last 3,200+ years. Verily JC himself hath said that he would BRB in the lifetimes of those who supposedly knew him.

    Just before JC’s alleged make-over, a transfiguration, “he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’” Mark 9:1 NIV. (See 9:1-3 NIV.)

    • JC couldn’t have been lying — let’s hear from apologists about JC’s no-show. Nevertheless I live in “the true and certain hope” that his fundie “children of darkness” will be taken up and removed forever.

    Is the “rapture” one day finally going to rid Earth of all fundies? Really?

    Let us pray: As they levitate away, can they take with them their damned bibles and filthy tracts?

    Com’ on back real soon, JC. I’ll put some shrimp on the barbie for ya’. Amen,

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • Richard Wade

    “There is no question that this billboard is unhealthy for our community,” he said. “They’re spreading the wrong message.

    Every time this particular billboard goes up, Christians behave as if they think it is addressed to them. They seem to miss the question mark at the end of the first sentence, making it a statement telling them to not believe in God.

    I used to think that this was just their immature self-centeredness, thinking everything is about them, but lately I’m beginning to think that for many of them it is a conscious deception.

    They are essentially butting into a conversation between atheists and other atheists, and they want atheists to stop communicating with each other. They want us to continue to be isolated, so they object by pretending that they think the message is addressed to them.

  • Annie

    I think the whole exchange seems rather civilized… what a refreshing surprise.

    As an atheist, would you feel the need to protest under a religious billboard? Or a billboard that warns of space monsters coming to invade earth? Probably not. Why? Probably because we are not intimidated by such things and just find them silly.

  • SAL

    @mkb

    I second that

  • http://www.elvisinmybasement.com Kmuzu

    Doesn’t standing under the sign attract more attention to it? Thus having the opposite intent ..

  • T-Rex

    Ummm, religion sucks. And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • Andrew

    I say we test their resolve. What does it cost to keep the billboard up for each additional month? how about a year?

  • PCE

    @T-Rex

    brilliant contribution.

    @Andrew

    I agree. Let’s see how serious they are. What do they expect to come of this? Would they be satisfied if the billboard came down at the already determined time? Will they take credit if it is taken down then? That seems lame. I’m interested to see how long this lasts.

  • dauntless

    @Andrew and @PCE

    I completely agree. I’m not from that area, but I’d be willing to donate money to this group if it meant they would pay for additional time to keep the billboard up (or perhaps replace it with a more provocative billboard).

  • Denis Robert

    Actually, Jesus is the one telling the “Christians” to stop praying: Matt 6:5-6 could not be clearer on that point.

    I, as an atheist, do not give a **** whether or not a “Christian” prays or not. It’s his/her time he/she is wasting, after all…

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    It is kind-of like if the sign said,

    Don’t believe the Emperor is wearing any clothes? You are not alone.

    Then a bunch of courtesans assemble below the sign to show off the Emperor’s latest line of clothing.

    Hans Christian Andersen

  • Rose

    Won’t a bunch of cars and a crowd of people standing under a bilboard just draw more attention to it? Plus, standing under said billboard isn’t going to convince people to take it down early. If anything we should be thanking these lovely protestors! :D

  • http://www.conticreative.com Marco Conti

    I would be interested in the reaction of the “community” if

    a) a group of Atheist set up shop next to the protesters.

    b) If same group targeted a Xtian billboard nearby (there must be one) and conducted essentially the same kind of protest.

    Beside that I wouldn’t volunteer for either job and it could be viewed as sophomoric, and probably not in our best interest I would still be curious about the outcome.
    Would they be as tolerant and peaceful? Would they scream bloody murder?

  • Rose

    Ha! Let them enjoy their freedom of speech. They may not realize it, but they are actually proving the point of the sign. Christians are silly and you don’t have to be in their club…

  • Trebor Fairwell

    If someone put up a billboard which said, “Don’t listen to those silly atheists? You’re not alone.” I know a few friendly atheists who would be offended.

  • fiddler

    “…we want to show our support and love for our God.”

    I find it increasingly odd that they attribute a need for support to gods. This is something most commonly heard in reference to critically injured and/or dying people. Is their god dying? Or is he just impotent and requires the “help?” Why can’t they see that they do less help in promotion of their god than those who sit quietly with a personal faith that isn’t thrust upon others in society?

  • http://defendingreason.wordpress.com/ Ben

    As an atheist, would you feel the need to protest under a religious billboard?

    I’ve actually felt tempted to erect something near a church sign (you know the ones with the movable letters with catchy but meaningless phrases). The sign said “Prayer doesn’t need proof, it needs practice.”

    I wanted to put up a sign that said “Don’t pray for your sick child, take them to a doctor.” I didn’t, but mainly because I’m lazy.

  • http://www.godhatesatheists.net Eric Keyte

    I saw this on TV a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a bible study but it was a group of Christians protesting. “It’s fine with us” is exactly what I would expect from Fred Edwords of the UCR. It’s perfect!

  • http://fryonic.tumblr.com/ Fryonic

    “I guess you could call it a silent protest of the billboard,”

    I guess, if you don’t know what the word silent means.

    The bible study is probably going to involve talking, oui?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Fryonic, the Christians in the photo seem, lonely. I don’t know how many chances to talk they actually experience.

  • Larry Meredith

    @Trebor Fairwell

    If someone put up a billboard which said, “Don’t listen to those silly atheists? You’re not alone.” I know a few friendly atheists who would be offended.

    But that’s not even equivalent. Our sign doesn’t say anything about Christians or accuse them of being silly.

    Richard Wade put it really well:

    They are essentially butting into a conversation between atheists and other atheists, and they want atheists to stop communicating with each other. They want us to continue to be isolated, so they object by pretending that they think the message is addressed to them.

    This billboard is only sending the message that atheists aren’t alone and can meet others like them. These Christians object to that message. They aren’t objecting to the idea of atheism, but rather objecting to the idea of atheists communicating with each other. As others have said, they are making the statement that atheists should be isolated and think they are alone.

    They are doing it peacefully, which is a good step forward from vandalism, but still very disrespectful and distasteful. How would they like it if a group of atheists protested church on Sundays, making the statement that it’s unhealthy to the community to have Christians assemble and communicate with each other? Just because it’s peaceful doesn’t make it respectful.

  • http://www.examiner.com/freethought-in-philadelphia/carol-everhart-roperhttp:// Carol Everhart Roper

    Well… of course it IS unhealthy for their community. However, we define “their community” as “unquestioning believers.” Anything which prompts their members to think would be deemed unhealthy.

    Sick’em, I say. (yes, I meant sick.)

  • http://saganist.blogspot.com/ Saganist

    I think that’s a beautiful picture. It’s free expression working exactly as free expression should.

  • Panwolven

    Best part is that any atheist or on the fence non-believer that sees that protest is going to be so disgusted that the message of the billboard just seems all the more appealing. :)

  • Robin

    Why do they think that this will cause the sign to come down earlier than planned?


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