Atheists: Don’t Ever Put Up This Billboard

Don’t think the billboard promoting Larry Taunton‘s book The Grace Effect is a big deal?

Just another example of a silly Christian billboard in the South?

Well, here’s a question for anyone just glossing over it: Would Christians react the same way if we put up an equally ignorant billboard?

Reader Keith created this mockup:

Arguably, this would get media attention, even though the implication that a devoutly religious leader would end up just like Hitler makes no sense.

I’m still wondering why the Stalin billboard has gotten virtually no press coverage.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Flawedprefect

    Mein Kampf is also available for free from Project Guttenberg. But be careful! if you read it three times, (insert government agency here) will come after you! :)

    • Newavocation

      Wow another way to get a job!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I think the target audience doesn’t recognize the picture of Stalin, and wouldn’t know anything about him even if someone else named him for them.

    They might think that’s Captain Kangaroo.

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

      good point – I expect that some people might think it’s hitler.

    • Jason

      Or Mario.

      • Aaron Scoggin

        Yeah, he’s more recognizable as Mario than Stalin. The only person they really teach you about in school like that is Hitler.

    • http://www.facebook.com/d3st88 Morva Ádám

      Are you serious about US citizens being unable to recognize Stalin and Hitler? Sorry, it’s hard to tell, the whole world is an Onion article.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Yes, I’m serious about Stalin. Most American adults would recognize Hitler, but I am confident that a much smaller percentage would recognize Stalin. Far fewer would be able to tell you anything accurate about Stalin.

        This is a country where an enormous number of high school graduates cannot identify six states on a blank map of their own country, often not even their own state. This is a country where an astonishing number of college graduates think the monthly phases of the moon are caused by the shadow of the Earth, and summer and winter are caused by the Earth getting closer or farther from the sun.

        Never underestimate the depth, breadth, and persistence of the ignorance of the most materially rich people in the world.

        • Kevin_Of_Bangor

          Richard Dawkins
          The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True

          I have yet to get this book for my 13 year old child because funds are tight but we look at it every time we are in the book store.I enjoy reading it myself.

          • Atoswald

            Kevin, try your local library. I work in my local library and we have several copies of this title. Here, you can check it out for 3 weeks at a time and renew your check out twice. That makes for 9 weeks of wonder. Then you can return the book and check it out again, over and over, until you can afford to own your own copy.

          • Rich Wilson

            I know you value your anonymity, but if you’d take a copy as a gift, send me an address.  (You should be able to get my FB account from here, or find me on 
            https://www.facebook.com/groups/dadsbeyondbelief/ )

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              Good for you, Rich. I had the same thought.

            • Kevin_Of_Bangor

              I sent you a message to your facebook page and I had no clue there was a facebook group of atheist dad’s. Gonna check that out too.

              And thanks for the generous offer :-)

              • http://twitter.com/kevinsky Kevin A

                I’ll check that fb group out too, awesome!

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

          You’re referring to the 1% ers, no?

        • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

          You know what’s sad? Up until this point, I too thought the phases of the moon were caused by the Earth’s shadow. In fact, at first I wanted to correct you and say that you were wrong. It’s what I was taught growing up. Thing is, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t taught by teachers, but by other adult authority figures growing up, whom I didn’t question. I don’t remember ever learning anything different.

          I looked it up just now, because I wanted to make sure you were correct, and now realize the phases are caused by which parts aren’t being hit by sunlight. The problem is, it made so much sense for the Earth’s shadow to be the cause, that I honestly couldn’t think of any other explanation before researching it myself.

          Poor quality of education is partly to blame, as well as ignorant people running around telling children things that aren’t quite true, but they think they are. Along the same vein as old wives’ tales and urban legends. It’s considered true because it kind of makes sense if you don’t know the real cause.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            You know what’s even more sad?  I know how the phases of the moon work.  I have the ‘bright light and styrofoam ball’ demo burned in my memory. (
            http://www.physics.uci.edu/~observat/ELEM_Activity_MoonPhases.pdf)

            A couple of days ago my son noticed that the moon was ‘following’ us as we drove home from preschool.  So I started explaining how it’s so far away that us driving 10′ or 10 miles doesn’t make any difference, and got into ‘new’ vs. ‘full’ terminology, and then the phases of the moon.

            And God Damn if I didn’t start to say “the earth’s shadow”!  I caught myself and said “We need to get a styrofoam ball and I’ll show you”.

            In my opinion win because I didn’t tell him something wrong, and win because I stopped telling him and switched to him seeing it for himself, which is vastly more effective.  And maybe win because he saw me get it wrong and have to backtrack.

      • Vlmetiva

        Totally. I had no idea who was on that first billboard.

      • Kelley

        Unfortunately you would be surprised how many people would not recognize either.  I am 26 years old and I had coworkers who had no idea who Hitler, Stalin, or Anne Frank were.
        People really give rednecks too much credit.

        • TychaBrahe

          Well, I know who Stalin is.  

          But I have mild prosopagnosia.  I’m not sure I’d recognize Stalin if I just saw the billboard.  I also wouldn’t recognize any other members of the Nazi era besides Hitler, although I took an entire semester on the history of the period, called Nazi Mind, in high school.  I know who Goebbels and Goering and Himmler and so forth were, but I wouldn’t recognize them.

  • Silo Mowbray

    I expect it got little or no press coverage because there’s no money in it. As we all know U.S. society is most-oft viewed through a Christian lens. Equating atheists, a marginal, worse-than-rapists group, with Stalin is acceptable. Try staining the Christian cloth with something equally horrendous and the outrage would be palpable — and that would sell papers and 30-second spots on FOX News.

    Disclaimer: I’m a business guy. My first litmus test for human behaviour is money. I wish my guesses weren’t so often right. :-(

    • JimG

      That’s a publisher’s or CEO’s concern, not a reporter’s or local editor’s; and in half a dozen newsrooms, I’ve never seen “selling more papers” (a chimerical goal anyway, since one-day circulation has negligible impact on long-term revenue) as even an undercurrent in a news decision. Maybe at agenda-driven FOX, but not at any newspaper I’ve seen in a dozen years.

      • Silo Mowbray

        Good point JimG, thanks for that. I admit to having a jaundiced view of the media these days. My own biases do interfere with my objectivity.

        On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how many news organizations aren’t adopting the FOX model? If you repeatedly report news in a way that confirms the biases of a given market segment, you’ll likely capture that segment. Up here in Canada the National Post has a distinct conservative slant, opposite to the Globe & Mail, which is more liberal. Each has its own market, albeit with some overlap for centrists like myself.

        • JimG

          I agree, Silo, that some outlets do have consistent slants; I’m peripherally familiar with the National Post, but I wonder (I really don’t know) if it actually makes money. In newspapers, at least, persistent bias is generally a money-loser. Witness the Washington Times, which would have gone bust in its first year if not for heavy subsidies from the controlling Moonies. It’s also important to make a distinction between editorial (opinion) slant, which is usually set by a small number of higher-ups, and regular news coverage, which is usually filtered through a variety of viewpoints: reporter, editor, copy desk. There are fewer layers at small papers, but even there there’s often diversity of opinion.

          • Silo Mowbray

            All good points Jim. I can’t offer any data to defend my original point as it was written, so allow me to concede defeat on that and attempt a different approach, but still with the “Christian lens” component.

            I wonder if the lack of coverage has to do with the judgment of reporters and editors affected by said lens: most people wouldn’t be interested in such an article because it’s not offending the majority or even an important minority. What news is reported is determined by what is deemed to generate sufficient interest to justify column inches. Evil atheists being offended by The Truth doesn’t rate up there with Tebow and his Right Arm Miracles.

            • JimG

              I think you’re quite right there, Silo. Reporters and editors have the same limitations and personal biases as everyone else. I’m personally skeptical, liberal and atheist; I try my best to keep the last two out of my professional writing.

              While I’m far from an ideal journalist, I try to be as evenhanded and well-informed as possible on the subjects I’m covering. But not everybody does, and thorough study isn’t always possible on daily deadlines.

              And a lot of smaller, local media outlets do mirror their communities. I still doubt that often translates to a deliberate discussion of popularity=coverage, but I’m sure it does mold individual reporters’ and editors’ attitudes on what’s important enough to merit discussion. I think your hypothesis of a “Christian lens” is spot-on.

      • Johnjohnson

        Um editors main concern is what well sell the most ads.

        • JimG

          Got anything to back up that assertion, John? I’ve watched lots of them at work on small and mid-sized papers, and I’ve never seen that raised, not even once.

          Generally, journalists take very seriously the division between the “news” and “business” sides; and editors are on the news side. Maybe you’re thinking of publishers, who oversee both but tend to lean toward business; again, however, they’re usually divorced from day-to-day coverage decisions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1320345003 Sallie Des Biens

    Devout is synonymous with perverse.

  • The Captian

    “I’m still wondering why the Stalin billboard has gotten virtually no press coverage.”

    Wooooo Hemant that’s a good thing. You know how the press coverage would be here in the states. On every major news program/newspaper It would be one of those false balance he/she said stories where the atheist complains it’s false, and then they give the same amount of time to the guy who put it up telling everyone it’s true. No context, background or historical evidence will be given to show it’s false, and even if historical evidence is shown, it will also be “balanced” so the press will not have to take sides with reality.

    Oh, and FOX will just run a bunch of segments saying how true it is.

  • Rockconway

    Hitler was not devoutly religious. Perversely superstitious? Maybe. But atheists do their credibility a disservice to try to hang religion around Hitler’s neck.

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

      I was under the impression that this was originally a reaction to people saying Hitler was an atheist, which he certainly was not. Also, didn’t he have the support of the catholic church, as well as multiple references to christianity in Mein Kompf? I never read either, but I thought I’ve heard people speak to those ends.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

        Yes, and yes. Also, his speeches — filled with God-bothering.

      • JimG

        Hitler made frequent reference to “God” and “divine providence,” but those could easily have been generic religious pandering a la American presidential candidates. Even Mein Kampf was written not as a personal memoir but as conscious propaganda for public consumption.

        He apparently looked with amused cynicism on Himmler’s attempts to found a neopagan Nazi “church,” but his actual personal beliefs remain speculation.

        The most likely account I’ve seen came from Albert Speer, Hitler’s closest adult friend. He said Hitler definitely believed he was an agent of “destiny” in some supernatural sense; but formally, Hitler remained a nonpracticing Catholic, but one in good standing, all his life. He did fight churches, but over power and social control, not theology.

        • Anonymous

          Yup, and the Catholic Church never excommunicated him.

          In fact, the only major Nazi they ever excommunicated was Joseph Goebbels….. for marrying a Protestant. :/

    • walkamungus

      Hitler was a practicing Catholic, and the National Socialists early on co-opted the Church.

    • Anonymous

      Superstitious is more something that describes Himmler. The Nazis had this weird neo-Pagan, nordic/germanic mythology. And while in the long term that may have been supposed to supersede Christianity, in the short term it certainly didn’t. Few people truly bought into that. Hitler didn’t. Himmler did and really pushed it.

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

      He was a lapsed Catholic, but had a strong belief in a god
      who  supported his “mission”. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Feinberg/100001461100962 Andrew Feinberg

      Yeah, see, that’s the parallel here. Stalin was as driven by atheism as Hitler was by religion. They were both flaming nutjobs. That simple fact renders their religious views moot.

      You always have some jerk who will draw a parallel with any evil bastard to show how something they don’t like is bad. It’s like Bergevin saying evolution caused the Columbine massacre. There’s no logical cause and effect link, it’s just an attempt to hang a negative emotion on something or someone by contagion.

      • Anonymous

        Neither were driven by those things. It was part of their characters and personality, but far from what motivated them

  • http://www.bottle-imp.com Daniel

    Plus, there is always Godwin’s Law to consider.

  • Meee

    A better response billboard would be something like:

    “HAVE FACIAL HAIR? SO DID THEY” and then a picture of Stalin and Hitler.

    • http://www.twitter.com/a_okafor007 Anthony C. Okafor

      LMAO

    • Reginald Selkirk

      So did Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa.

  • Anonymous

    When I saw the one with Stalin, I was waiting for “Imagine a Christian Nation? So did he” with Hitler.

  • Michael

    There is definitely a correlation involving mustaches here isn’t there? So glad I shaved mine.

    • Anonymous

      Also Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet

      Moussilini didn’t have one though

  • Anonymous

    Look on the bright side, this billboard company doesn’t seem to object to objectionable ads. Ideally an atheist billboard could be put up without question.

  • Jbandsma

    Does nobody ever remember to tell these idiots that Stalin was in seminary to become a Russian orthodox priest? As a SCHOLARSHIP student. True, he didn’t finish but religion played a big part in his early life.

  • Fake

    Stalin studied to be an Orthodox Priest.

    Hitler studied to be a Catholic Priest.

    That’s where they learned to manipulate people.

  • Joolz

    I’m not surprised that many Americans wouldn’t recognise Stalin.  A few seasons ago on The Amazing Race (used to be a vicarious pleasure) more than half the contestants during one stage (probably around 10 out of 14) couldn’t identify a photo of Jackie Kennedy! I’m a Brit who has never set foot in the US and I knew who she was.

  • TychaBrahe

    The book titles aren’t parallel.  A better one for the second billboard would be Hitchen’s God is Not Great.


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