Church Billboard Actually Contains an Atheistic Message

You all know atheists have been putting up a lot of billboards lately.

What do you do if you led a church and you thought those ads sent an awful message? (What? Atheists think they’re good without god? Never!)

Well, the absolutely worst thing you could do is try to “fight back.”

If you put up your own billboard in response, or complain about the atheists’ message to the media, you’re playing right into our hands. We get more media attention, we get more chances to get out message across, we get to keep the conversation going, we get more eyeballs/donors/members. If Christians respond, it’s a win for us.

In Ohio, where the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently put up a number of ads as part of their “Out of the Closet” campaign, one church is responding in a way that makes you wonder: What the hell were they thinking?

Seriously. That’s what it says.

Bravo, McElroy Road Church of Christ. I know what you were getting at, but you inadvertently did our work for us. (Thanks for the free ad!)

Not only are they telling us that god doesn’t exist (in a large font, no less), they’re also telling us to be skeptical of what we hear! I couldn’t have said it better myself :)

In fact, the Mid Ohio Atheists group — a group that has nothing to do with this billboard — is getting credit for it:

Members of Mid Ohio Atheists have had people contact them and congratulate them on putting up our first billboard.

While we certainly do agree with the sentiment expressed on the billboard- that there is no god, and that people should not believe everything they hear, we want to clarify that this is not our billboard. It was not paid for by us in part or in the whole. Nether were we involved in the design of the billboard.

I don’t know who the church paid to design the ad, but my hunch is that it’s the same person who designs all those funny-and-they-even-know-why church message boards:

(Thanks to Edward for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    Well I’m convinced.  There is no god.  I was worried for a moment but if the church says so then it must be true.  ::roll::

    • Peter Mahoney

      Also note that since a CHURCH said it, the billboard companies WILL display it.

      IF an ATHEIST group wanted to use the same exact text/font/etc. but a link to the local atheist group, they would likely be told that it was “too controversial/offensive”.

      In some ways, this  church billboard sets a PRECEDENT (at least with this particular billboard company) that they DO allow billboards that question the existence of god.

      Atheist legal teams should make note of this, as this may be useful in the future if the same billboard company or others in the same territory try to discriminate against atheist groups doing billboards.

      • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

        “there is no god, don’t believe everything you hear”
        is so much less controversial than
        “You can be good without god”
        don’t you agree?
        no?

      • fearphage

        This precedent has been set for ages. Fat people can talk about other fat people and no one cares. The same is true for races, sexes, clubs, frats, schoola, etc. You have additional freedoms about how you talk about and discuss groups you belong to. One of the best examples is black people can freely use the N word. I mean we always have freedom of speech, but society looks down on people saying disparaging things about groups they aren’t affiliated with in general.

        There is at least one exception to this rule. The case where people in the worst situation can openly talk negatively about the other group on the other end of the spectrum. Fat people can say whatever they want about skinny people (the group not necessarily individuals) and no one really cares. The same can be said about poor people bad mouthing the rich. However the reverse of both of these situations would be considered mean generally.

        I’m not sure if this entire blog post is sarcastic or if you don’t understand the message the church is pushing. It would be the same if the billboard said “The sky is green” across the top. The intent of the billboard was to cast doubt on whatever the message is across the top.

        • Rennyrij

          Of course everyone understands the message – but WHICH LETTERS ARE BIGGER?  If you are driving through and don’t have time to read the whole thing, that top line is all you are going to be able to “pick up”.  I would love to see it posted around here, in northeastern PA!

  • Bradyn Stanaway

    I think we can all agree this is a good thing :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/midohioatheists Mid Ohio Atheists

    Hemant!  Thanks for picking this up and running with it.   

    • Rich Samuels

      You guys should offer to fund the missing question mark. For more tongue in cheek media attention obviously.

      • Annie

        Yes!  That would be great PR.  “Atheist group donates to church to amend billboard.”  I love everything about this post.

  • Anonymous

    If this were an ad actually paid for by atheists I might take some issue with the first sentence. Not because I think it’s wrong (it’s as wrong as “There is no Santa Claus”) but because it needlessly leads to debate about certainty, accusations that we “have faith that there is no god” and the whole tiresome rest.

    But having this paid for by a church is pure awesome. They could have gotten their message across by just adding a question mark “There is no God? Don’t believe everything you here”. Thanks McElroy Road Church of Christ!

    • scott-k

      That was my first thought too…  That this was an atheist group making a positive claim to knowledge, and asserting that there is no god.  I was all set to take issue with it.

      Then I realized it was a church billboard – epic fail  :-)

    • Jay Sweet

      That was exactly my thought.  A simple question mark would have made their intention clear.  Without the question mark…  ouch!  :D :D

  • Xytan4

    LMAO! Epic fail!

  • David McNerney

    It’d be really cool if an atheist group put up the same ad but with their name on it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/midohioatheists Mid Ohio Atheists

      That was brought up at our last meeting.  Along with the idea to just put up a sign saying thanks and that we agree. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      If this billboard had been put up by a humanist group, they’d be slammed for being too aggressive and “attacking” religion.

      At least in the McElroy area, now, you can be as aggressive as this and no one can complain.

  • Rich Samuels

    “McElroy Road Church of Christ – Come for the grace – stay for the stupid”

  • http://www.facebook.com/markfheil Mark Heil

    Shhhh… We don’t want them to take it down…

  • Charles Black

    They weren’t thinking Hermant as if they could even do that for a start.

  • gski

    This is an indication of the church’s
    insecurity and fears. Atheists put up a few billboards and in the
    minds of the church leaders, all of their Sunday sermons, ads, the
    bible, everything they say goes unheard and the people only hear the
    atheist message.

    • Matthew Bolz-Weber

      Not all of us Christians are this insecure and afraid of Atheism.  Some of us who are church leaders are confident enough in what we believe and talk about with the members of our community that we welcome and enjoy conversations with Atheists (and agnostics, and members of other religious communities).  The trouble, from my perspective, is with those who (as you say) are so insecure with their own beliefs that they are threatened by any challenge.  The further trouble with many Christians is that they don’t have a sense of humor or playfulness about their own religious beliefs.  They don’t see how this billboard and the bible (albeit in tremendously different ways) are both absolutely hilarious. 

      $0.02

  • Karen

    I think it’s brilliant.  Do you think they are planning more?
    LOL

  • http://twitter.com/ungraveity Peter Lundin

    My first thought was that this church actually have a sense of humor.

  • http://twitter.com/eccles64 Robert Tobin

    “Don’t let worries kill you. Let the Church help you”
    The “Holy” Roman Catholic Church had the copyright to that during the days of the Holy Inquisition that lasted for 1,000 years.

  • arensb

    I’m not sure how obvious it is, but I think this billboard is supposed to depict a wall on which is written “There is no God”, and on top of that, there’s a banner saying not to believe everything you read. As in, “don’t believe that there is no god”.

    So it makes a certain amount of sense. It’s just poor execution.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if there can be a good execution, but if they had the question mark, it would have been far clearer.  “Don’t believe everything you hear/read” idea is more damaging to faith than non-faith.

  • Brian Utterback

    Hmm. Why is the first line of the billboard in two fonts mixed together? One font is with serifs and one is san-serif.  Are you sure it hasn’t been altered? Looks like either “He” or “Here” was made into “There”.  Also “I” into “Is”. On the other hand, the word “God” is also mixed, and it is hard to figure how that might have been altered.

    Looking more, I think that the “R” in “THERE” is moved. I wonder if the first word might not have been “HEAR”, and the “R” was moved to cover the the “A” and the “T” and “E” added to make “THERE”. That might be a reference to the tag lines “everything you hear”.  The “IS” has the “S” added, but is it just added or covering up something? The “N” in “NO” looks original, but the “O” does not. On the other hand, the “O” in “GOD”  matches the the “O” in “NO”.  The word “GOD” looks like the “GO” match in size, but the “G” and “D” match in font.

    I don’t know what it originally said (unfortunately the website doesn’t listwhat the billboards say, although it notes that the billboards are up) but I call shenanigans!

    • Anonymous

      Maybe they’re so stuck in the past that they still use the ransom note style.

      • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

        It’s this whole teenager-friendly movement that’s been going on the last decade or so. It fits the design of the extreme teen bible that my wife has from high school. 

        Think of like… saved by the bell or something. Extreme, right? heh.

        • Rieux

          FWIW, it’s only the anti-theistic message on the billboard that’s in “extreme” ransom-note style. The design point seems to be that atheism is anarchic, crazy, and (if you like) behind-the-times.

          Meanwhile, the church’s attempt at a rebuttal, “Don’t Believe Everything You Hear,” is in a more standard Geneva sort of sans-serif font. Stable, sane, modern, intelligent, or whatever.

          Pity that the message totally backfires on them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593675787 Glenn Davey

      There are lots of crazy fonts that are like that on purpose. I know what you’re getting at, but mixed fonts are common. They were probably going for a “rough” look, like we’re all hanging out late at night in dark alleyways posting our godless messages on brick walls…

      • Rich Samuels

        This. The designer who has obviously found demand for his style dropping since everyone realised nu-metal was f’ing terrible probably now does work for gratis for his local church.

    • Robert Pryor

      I live in Mansfield, and pas these billboards all the time. There are actually 2 of these “There is no god” billboards. I nearly spit out my coffee after seeing it for the first time. These are genuine billboards, folks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/midohioatheists Mid Ohio Atheists

      I took the photo, its up on Park Ave in Mansfield Ohio across from the Richland County Sheriffs Dept.   I promise you it is in the original format.  

      • Robert Pryor

        There’s also one on US-30 East. I think it’s between the Trimble Road & US-42 exit.  Can’t remember if that’s the exact location, but it’s in the area.

    • guest

      it’s not uncommon to mix fonts for effect. I worked in a design firm for years. 

    • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

      Maybe they’re trying to say that a large team of chimps have been banging on typewriters for 50 years and this message is the result. I’m totally okay with this hypothesis.

    • http://www.facebook.com/midohioatheists Mid Ohio Atheists

      http://hphotos-snc7.fbcdn.net/323023_222213801162123_100001205132417_635686_3935631_o.jpg

      Another photo from a different angle and a bit further away..  Taken the same day.

    • http://www.facebook.com/midohioatheists Mid Ohio Atheists

      http://hphotos-snc7.fbcdn.net/323023_222213801162123_100001205132417_635686_3935631_o.jpg

      Another photo from a different angle and a bit further away..  Taken the same day.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I think the mixed-fonts are an illustration of how messed up and scary it is to live a God-free life. Something like “Being good without god is like being grungy and none of your fonts are consistent!”

      Sure, you might have gotten that just out of the dirty, crusty background, or the red shadows. The mixed-serifs just go to show how insidiously wrong a heathen life is ;)

      • Rick

        I think the ransom note design is an attempt to portray anyone who would say “There is no god” as a criminal or at least illiterate.  It doesn’t look to me like it is missing any question mark as some of the other commenters have said.  It’s very critical toward atheists in general.

    • carmenstobaus

      Although comments below seems to verify the sign’s existence, good on you for being skeptical about a pic you saw on the interwebs!

  • Guest

    There was a church in Michigan that had similar billboards over a year ago.  I wish I could remember their name/website.

  • http://twitter.com/jamssx James Southward

    Then there’s this Dutch priest http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14417362

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Hmm, if the “There is no God” was in quotation marks then it might work. Or if the next line after that was something like “Don’t listen to fools” thus referencing the Biblical line about fools saying in their hearts there is no God. 

    One unfortunate thing is that if this gets vandalized we won’t know who is doing it. Vandalism of atheist billboards seems to be much more common than the reverse (considered as proportion of vandalisms) but it would be hilarious if some God-fearing Christian who hates that atheist scum thought he should go and vandalize this billboard. 

    • Rieux

      Of course, that vandal wouldn’t actually need to make a mistake. The person you’re hypothesizing could know full well that it’s a church’s billboard; (s)he’d just have to recognize, as Hemant and the rest of us here do, that the message is actually (and accidentally) an anti-religious one. If an ad saying “Don’t Believe in God? / You Are Not Alone” deserves to be vandalized for blasphemy, surely this one does as well, regardless of its sponsor.

      • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

        Yeah, an illegitimate question-mark modification would be vandalism.

  • Erp

    Apparently the church has 6 billboards up.  Not sure what the others say or who they are aimed at.  From their website: “We are so excited if you look around town you will see 6 Billboard signs around Mansfield with our message on there.”

  • JustSayin’

    The second photo reminds me of a local church’s sign from back in June:

  • Matto the Hun

    As someone else pointed out, using the phrase “Don’t believe everything you hear” should, on its own, be the last thing you want to tell a church crowd.

    Of course, their minds will immediately disassociate that message form what their church leader tells them.

  • Anonymous

    Wish I had a photo, but a baptist church I drove by on Sunday mornings, placed a caution sign in the roadway that said “Caution Slow Church Zone”

  • Anonymous

    Man, I read the billboard first instead of the post and thought, “Why is there a little church ad on an atheist billboard?”

    That is absolutely hilarious.

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    When did Dave Silverman move to Ohio? And why is he running a Poe church?

    • http://profiles.google.com/wrenn00 Wrenn Simms

      Nope.  He’s still near NYC.  :) 

  • Leia

    I’d like to congratulate the Mid Ohio Atheists. Not only do they get credit for having a billboard up, but they got it for free!! :)

    I understand what the church was trying to say, but if I were driving by on my way to work and had a total of 2 seconds to read it as I passed, I would have thought it was an atheist ad.

    I love this. Seriously. This made my day.

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    Pure awesome. I say we let this church keep doing what they’re doing. :)

  • femtoRgon

    The haphazard mixed typefacing on the top statement, and the blackened corrupt-looking background make the statement come across very negative.  Then the url and emblem of the church which appear to be breaking through the background corruption.  The emotional impact is quite clear to me, that of raising anti-atheist bile, even if the overt message does seem a bit muddy.

  • Achess

    HAHAHAHAH, priceless !!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/randall.bourquin Randall Bourquin

    Ha! I work in advertising/marketing and that is some terrible copywriting.   

    Will other Christians lash out against this billboard as they´re offended? I would hope so, given their response to milder messages by atheists in the past. 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    It looks like an atheist billboard that sold some space (on the billboard) to a Christian church to offset the cost. 

  • Anonymous

    As a Christian acquainted with some of the methods that churches use to reach people, I’m sure they thought this would be an eye-catching billboard that would hopefully either bring people into their church to hear their message or at least get them to do some thinking on the topic.  But, to your point, with the main message of the billboard being in as large a font as it is, I think they missed the boat on this one. I mean, it’s a billboard.  People typically don’t have an opportunity to slow down and read the entire message.  That’s the whole point of a billboard–use a catchy message that can be read quickly.  They should really talk to their marketing person.  

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Exactly.  Mid Ohio Atheists’ street shot of the second billboard illustrates well why this is a complete backfire. The huge majority of viewers will be driving by, and will glance at the sign for no more than 1/2 second. The first line will go right into their minds. Only a few speed readers will catch the second line, which basically goes very nicely with the sentiment of the first.  Almost nobody will see the nearly invisible name of the church, and nobody’s going to remember the website address.

      People will just assume it’s one o’ them damn ay-thee-ist billboards they’ve heard about,  and never give it a second look. They will have been desensitized to the idea of such ads in their town, which is good, because when real atheist signs show up, maybe there will be less outrage and less vandalism.

      • http://www.chriscocca.com The Daily Cocca

        atheism certainly is as legitimate a part of any community as is any faith or religious worldview, and I hope Christians from some of the more conservative traditions will start to understand that more.  you may also be right about the mere logistics of the sign: only the big words will be read, the website will be forgotten, etc.  But lots of the same people will keep passing it and will see more of it each time. they’ll see the cross, the word “grace,” etc.  It’s not well-executed for a single pass.  but it might be less confusing or accidentally pro-atheist in general than you’re suggesting. that said, I’m not commenting to defend the sign or to really offer a thorough critique.  As below, I do find the responses varied and interesting. 

  • Jim_caerleon

    My favourite church sign is still one I spotted around town:

    A six inch tongue can bring a six foot man to his knees.

    Seriously, that’s what it said.

    • scott-k

      Behold, I come quickly!

      (Rev 22:12)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000566044049 Angel Fish

        lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000566044049 Angel Fish

      nice one!

    • http://twitter-fail.com/ Twitter Fail

      That’s what she said

    • http://twitter-fail.com/ Twitter Fail

      That’s what she said

  • Musekats9

    Too funny…… and so true! Couldn’t be a better representation of their rationality (lack there of) LMAO ~MH

  • Anonymous

    These are both funny! Not surprising considering most of the ridiculous stuff they post on those signs.

  • http://www.chriscocca.com The Daily Cocca

    It’s likely that the designer had Psalm 14 in mind with this ad. It’s what I (a Christian) first thought of when I saw it.  When many others commenting here saw it, the first thing to come to mid was “they’re doing their work for us!”  An interesting point of phenomenology.

    I don’t agree with the sentiment that “don’t believe everything you hear” is more dangerous to religion/faith than to non-faith/irreligion.  Long gone are the days when the religious narrative was the only thing bouncing around the public square, and I, as a Christian, am glad for that.  Again, an interesting phenomenological point: the sign assumes a zeitgeist that’s contra the beliefs of the church.  Much of the readership here seems to be assuming a zeitgeist that’s contra atheism.  Even if you could convince the makers of the sign that yes, indeed, there are more theists than atheists and yes, indeed, theists are responsible for more of the “everything” in “everything you hear” than atheists, it probably wouldn’t matter. Evangelicals, like atheists, view themselves as marginalized.  I’m not saying one claim is valid over the other…I actually think both are true in their own ways. 

    So anyway, yes, you get what the church was trying to do.  I get why some people think it’s ironic or moronic or funny.  I’m more interested in the reasons behind the responses and how  our experiences/expectations/conclusions frame our gut responses. Richard, thanks for sharing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XZR6WL24TXNHGIM3GQDDTA7FTI Soul

    There is no God, thereby there is no Mayor or a City? Only you living your own life in respect to others? Good without God, huh? Maybe, the reason for living is the heartbeat to dealt with, no more no less! Use or be used…

    • http://profiles.google.com/aquaria40 L J

      Word salad is word salad.

      Please don’t post when you’re drunk.

  • Waddingtonmartin

    Here in London UK this week I saw a sign outside an evangelical church. It said: ‘Where will YOU be on the Day of Judgement?’   Underneath, someone had scribbled ‘Still here waiting for the f***ing bus.’

  • Mike Faulkner

    I have always been amused by the account given by radical English historian A.J.P. Taylor of how he came to lose his religious faith. Writing of his school days in his autobiography, A Personal History, he says:  ‘….I experienced a conversion during my second year at Bootham. I was sitting in the art room and looking through its big window across to the Minster when I had a revelation just like Saul’s on the road to Damascus. A voice said: “There is no God”. I had never thought about religion before; I had taken it for granted. From that moment Christian’s burden fell from my back forever. What a relief. I have had many troubles in life, but religion has never been one of them – no running around after a faithor worrying about the unseen.’

  • swamama

    I. love. it!

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    Too much sacamental wine?

  • JoeTheJuggler

    I saw one near my house that said something like “Jesus saves us. . . but from what?” 


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