New Atheist Billboard in Colorado States ‘God Is An Imaginary Friend’

A new billboard created by the Boulder Atheists (on behalf of the Colorado Coalition Of Reason) just went up in three locations — two in Denver and one near Colorado Springs:

“God is an imaginary friend; Choose reality, it will be better for all of us.”

Somewhere, those of you who love professional design are cringing… But maybe there’s a silver lining for those of you who like seeing more blunt messages on these atheist billboards.

[Marvin] Straus said the [three] billboards cost the group $1,200 and will stay up for four weeks. The Colorado Springs billboard was scheduled to be put up on Monday…

Straus said the locations were chosen by group’s advertising agency as the ones with the most exposure that also fit in to the group’s “limited budget.”

“We would have billboard in every major city in the state, including Boulder, if we had more money,” he said.

Straus said the group’s efforts in the past have generated a lot of positive feedback, along with a fair number of “interesting” responses.

“Some actually want to dialogue, some just want to vent their spleen,” he said.

Even though I agree with the message, I wonder how effective it’ll be. One of the downsides to having an “in your face” message like this one is that it forces the spokespeople to be negative in their interviews. The reporters will ask them to explain how god is imaginary, how moderate theism hurts everyone, and how most people don’t live in reality.

A good spokesperson can get around that, of course, but atheists are on the defensive.

Compare that to a billboard that says “Millions are good without god.” It’s not as controversial, but when the reporters call — and they always call — you get to explain how morality doesn’t derive from religion, how atheists give to charity, etc. It’s a much more positive conversation.

I know there are benefits of the blunt billboards — I’m a fan of the American Atheists’ “You KNOW It’s a Myth” series — but it’s just something to consider. Not everyone is as eloquent as Dave Silverman and that can sometimes come back to bite us.

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.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, the initial story I saw this morning on the news was not very flattering.  Here’s the video:
    Of course, they have to talk about Tebow

    • http://www.facebook.com/sajadiah Sajadiah Nico

      You’re right. But we knew that. They never like us because our thoughts make them uncomfortable. They claim it’s offensive. Good. It should be because their incessant yammering about their fairy tale is offensive. The fact that their flock attacks the minds of our children is offensive. They create fear for kids because if they don’t act right they are going to spend forever in a pit of fire with a big red monster poking them with a pitchfork.  It’s how it begins. I don’t know many Christians out there that can intellectually “take on” an average atheist. Their story is flawed. Period. I’m just simply tired of having to hear it all the time from their new poster boy Tebow to their holier-than-thou evangelists. I find it annoying and I hope these billboards annoy the hell out of all of them. (I can never resist a good pun).

    • Yukimi

      And all the time it said Athiest instead of Atheists in the message below…. T_T

      • Anonymous

        Nice catch.

    • GregFromCos

      The lady who said the billboard steps on her “Freedom of thought” made me laugh. Does she really think that silly beliefs have the right not to be challenged? Just sad.

      Not a fan of the billboard. But I’m sure it will get some press.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Mmm, a billboard that screams “GOD IS IMAGINARY” and through it’s design, subliminally screaming “WE DON’T LIKE IMAGINATION”

    is creativity our devil?

    • Gordon Duffy

      I love imaginary things, I dont love people pretending they are real.

      Massive fan of Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter? Want to play D&D or Warhammer 40K? No worries.

  • Tim

    Not a bad eff0rt.  I don’t think it is that confrontational.  And I dislikes the “what Myths do you see” one because it showed Santa (not good for kids to see) and Satan (not good for our image)

  • TiltedHorizon

    The goal of a billboard is to grab and hopefully hold attention, while this will certainly be talked about I suspect it will just end up being written off as further proof of atheist hatred.

    • Nordog

      “…I suspect it will just end up being written off as further proof of atheist hatred. ”

      If not, they can just read the comments on this blog for that proof.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

      I didn’t know attention for attention’s sake was a goal. If I’m spending that much money on a billboard I’m damn well going to try to achieve something other than spending money.

      • TiltedHorizon

        “I didn’t know attention for attention’s sake was a goal. ”

        I guess I was not clear enough. The point I was trying to make is this billboard is “attention for attention’s sake”. The message it is lost since only the perceived insult comes across.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sajadiah Sajadiah Nico

    I like that it’s going up in Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family should love it! It’ll take one back for that monstrosity of a commercial we endured during the Broncos/Patriots Playoff game. These people have simple minds and if this challenges even ONE PERSON to think for even a second… the seed is planted.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

      If I’m coughing up $1200 I want to do more than make one person think “for a second”. Here is an interesting idea. Put some thought into how you can craft a message that gets more than one person to think and doesn’t insult the people who’s perception you are trying to change.  Then take that message to a professional graphic designer to make it look good at grab your attention. This has as much thought as a cardboard sign written with a marker and that’s how it will be received.

    • Anonymous

      I am christian, and not from USA, but I’d like to see Dobson et al when they stare at this sign… hehehehehe, it should be nice for sure

  • http://drzach.net Zachary Moore

    “Somewhere, those of you who love professional design are cringing…”
    No joke, Hemant.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TLHIXVS2CHDJNWYPZJIZ5NNZ3A Robert

    I would think a message with something like the following might be effective:

    “1,000 different Gods in the last 1,000 years.  *
    Atheists believe in one less God than you do.”

    *actual figures may vary

    • http://astoundingathiest.blogspot.com/ Ben268268

      I did a quick Google and found an athiesm Wiki with a a few quick and dirty estimates on how many gods “existed”.

      http://atheism.wikia.com/wiki/How_many_gods%3F

    • chmf

      That wouldn’t really be affective on the people who believe in multiple gods…

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TLHIXVS2CHDJNWYPZJIZ5NNZ3A Robert

        True, but Hindu’s are really the issue here.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a bit basic but I like it. Maybe it will have religious people try to explain how their god and an imaginary friend actually differ.
    That should prove entertaining.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

      Yeah because that’s what they will try to do.

  • Achess

    You summed it up nicely Hemant.

    Love the blunt message; hate the design.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Fundamentals of marketing 101:

    1.  Who is your target audience?

    2.  Will your target audience respond to your message?

    If #1 is religious-theistic individuals then I’d say the answer to #2 is no.

    It would be great if some marketing researcher would put these messages to some focus group.  Obviously my answers to the questions are my opinions but my intuition says I’m right.

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Yes, you are right. I’m amazed at how often our side gets it wrong.

      • Richard Hughes

        It’s important to remember that ‘our side’ is not inherently more competent or clever or intelligent than the other side. We have our mess together on one specific point of fact, is all.

        • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

           Maybe I set the bar too high for atheists, but I’m guessing this billboard can be chalked up to inexperience and running off of emotion rather than incompetence or stupidity.
          While it should be more than apparent to the most casual reader of atheist blogs that we have our share of dumbasses, there’s no doubt in my mind that the other side has us beat by a mile in that regard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

      There is no thought put into this other than “Lets mess with the Christians again”. No real goal. No thought to design or message.

  • Anonymous

    Hemant, a billboard like this does put us on the spot and requires us to respond with critical honesty.  If we can drop all the supernatural pretenses and the my god your god stuff maybe then we could just hold people accountable for acting inhuman or unjust. We need to do away with religious privilege and bigotry that passes for religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

    What is this supposed to achieve? What goal do they have in mind? If they are trying to gain public acceptance for atheists this is certainly not going to do the trick. If their goal is to piss off believers then break out the mission accomplished banner. If their goal is to draw in new members then why can’t they take the time to craft a message that helps public perception of atheists at the same time.
    It’s difficult but not impossible.

    Most times the things that are difficult to achieve have the most value. For the amount of money being spent on this you would think a little more time would have gone into the design and message of this billboard. This looks like some crank designed it in Microsoft Word. We need to start being smarter with our messages and more professional in our designs because I don’t know who will take a sign like this seriously.

    • Egleberisa

      The Christians are often in a cognitively dissonant state. Poke, poke, poke, until they break out or lose their minds. Alternatively, it shows that we’re not willing to sit down and take their shit, and it thus emboldens nearby atheists to stand up to injustices around them. The ‘being blunt’ route is certainly not ineffective, it just accomplishes different goals.

  • BillyB

    I love how most religious people – especially ministers – behave like everybody else when no one is looking (but seem to suddenly be on their best behavior when someone comes around who they need to put a religious show on for). I would ask such people, esp. ministers, “Why is it that you act just like everybody else when no one is around to see you, but you put on a religious show when someone comes around who you want to look all religious in front of?’

    Doesn’t this actually suggest that God is just as imaginary to you as he is to Atheist and other freethinking individuals? I mean, God is suppose to be everywhere, and able to see you at all times. Thus if God were as real to you as those individuals you seem to start behaving good in front of when they come around, then you would be behaving that good all the time because God sees you all the time, right?

    As far as I’m concerned this is concrete proof that God is really just as imaginary to most believers as he is to non-believers. It’s easier to get along in the world when you can blend in with everyone else so most people just go along with the believing crowd without even thinking about all this. If God were as real to them as those people are who come around them that they can actually see, hear, and feel and thus put on a religious display in front of them, then they’d be doing that all the time. It’s easier to just relax and be yourself when no one you want to see you is looking, and thus God is simply an imaginary friend who they bring up when appealing to REAL PEOPLE IN THE REAL WORLD who probably happen to share their belief in this imaginary being. Because if God were as real as anyone else in the room, then they would ALWAYS be on their best behavior. It’s easy to just do whatever you want to do WHEN NO ONE IS THERE.

    • T-Rex

      “Men of the cloth” deserve the most scrutiny and ridicule as they are the snake oil salesmen lieing to the sheep in their congregations. These “leaders” get no respect from me what so ever. They are at the bottom of the intellectual and moral food chain.

      Back on topic, when will these atheist organizations hire someone with atleast a little bit of talent and imagination to design a billboard that isn’t an eye sore? I’ve got no problems with the messages, even though they aren’t necessarily the best, but the designs of these are horendous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.zamecki Joe Zamecki

    Meh. The more billboards, the merrier, I say. I like the strength.  Plus that price is amazing. They really scored there.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    I’m sure these kinds of messages will be helpful in getting more people to come out… especially the newest generation of atheist youngsters. The more people who think we’re a bunch of arrogant, hateful assholes, the easier it’ll be for these kids, right?

  • Drakk

    Explain to me how someone is supposed to scan a QR code on a billboard, from a car.

  • Bill

    “Choose reality” needs a semicolon after it, not a comma.  This billboard makes atheists look as illiterate as fundamentalists!!

  • Richard Hughes

    This is appalling in its incompetence.

  • Marco Conti

    I am not afraid of being offensive and confrontational. It really depends on what I want to achieve. However, I never want to be perceived as sloppy and unprofessional and that’s the first thing I see when I look at these billboards. Even the colors are wrong. 

    Like others have noted, there seems to be a lack of focus in the message. “Imaginary friend” really doesn’t do it for me even as an insult.

    I like the “Good without god” better, but only marginally so. I would prefer to see “good without religion” as that may find a lot more people agreeing with it and once you get rid of religion, god is the next logical step.
    “good without god” invites a discussion about a deity which they cannot prove nor we can disprove. religion instead is a very real target and a better way to open a discussion with those on the fence. 

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      Excellent points.

      “… once you get rid of religion, god is the next logical step.”

      Not sure this would apply to everyone, but this was certainly my personal experience.

      • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

        I’m not certain that holds true for some people. Although there are about 15% of the US populace who do not identify with a specific religion, a much smaller portion of that 15% identifies as atheist or agnostic.

        Even if a person no longer believes in a deity, there are still more nebulous beliefs in a spirit realm and other supernatural phenomena. For example, I’ve known people who are completely fed up with the authoritarian trappings of religion but embrace some notion of a spirit realm in combination with a nature centered spirituality and simply do not identify with a religious label.

        • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

          “I’m not certain that holds true for some people.

          Yes.
          I know.
          That’s why I wrote:

          “Not sure this would apply to everyone…”

        • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

          “I’m not certain that holds true for some people.

          Yes.
          I know.
          That’s why I wrote:

          “Not sure this would apply to everyone…”

  • Worried about the World

    It is too bad that people refuse to believe that God exists.  There is so much proof that He does and yet people still have a blind eye to it.  I guess that is free will for you.  A friend once said, ” I would rather spend my life believing in God and when I die to find out that He did not exist than to live my life like He did not exist to find out that He did…”  I pray for all of the non-believers.

    • Anonymous

      If there is “so much proof that He does [exist]” perhaps you would be willing to provide just one example? That should be easy enough, right? Actual evidence is required though, not some wishy-washy belief that serves as proof to you.
      Instead of praying for us, maybe you could do something that is actually effective, something that has a positive impact on the world you are worried about?
      Try reality for a change. “It will be better for all of us.”

  • Hc Conn

    I’ve never liked the idea of “them” and “us” its one of the things I dislike about religion and I hate to see atheists in the comments use it.

    I think the billboard is a billboard and billboards don’t change peoples minds.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve never liked the idea of “them” and “us” its one of the things I dislike about religion and I hate to see atheists in the comments use it.

      Bingo.

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      Oh, but tribalism based upon “rationality” is so much better than tribalism based upon religion. Don’t you see? We’re better than them and that makes our version of tribalism different.

      Oops, I meant to say that our ideas are better. Little slip of the tongue there.

      /sarcasm

  • Anonymous

    Off topic, but I wanted to take the opportunity to say that each time I come to Hemant’s site and see the numbers climbing in the Scholarship for Jessica Ahlquist area, it makes me smile. Good on you, Hemant for providing a place where we can all contribute to the further education of such an intelligent and dignified young woman.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Thanks to everyone for contributing!

  • Annie

    I agree with Hemant’s points about the downside of being “in your face”, but I also think there is some benefit.  For so long, we have been kind and considerate… so careful not to step on anyone’s toes (on billboards).  Although I’m not terribly fond of the layout (and I wish a semicolon was used instead of the comma), I do think it is high time we stop worrying about hurting the religious folks’ feelings.  We have every right to say what we feel in this country, and I think it is important to exercise that right.  I feel that the stronger the message, the more we show we are not afraid.  Bottom line:  I completely agree with the sentiments on that billboard.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I agree. While I hate the design, I don’t think the phrase “God is imaginary” should be considered any more inflammatory than “God is real.” You don’t see theists tiptoeing around, not mentioning that they believe their deity exists. On the contrary, they make statements that proclaim its existence loudly and openly.

  • Mr Z

    What’s with the ending where you refer to it biting ‘us’ ?

    What us? Who us? There are millions of people who don’t collect stamps. That does not mean that they all have some value set in common. People will do as they want. Insinuating that there is an us is like trying to say that the rest of the state/country/world should be careful not to offend your sensibilities with regard to not believing in gods.

    Saying that you think it’s a shame that it was not better or better designed is fine. Nothing is above criticism. Acting like these people are acting against you is taking offense when none should be taken. Not even ardent atheists pointed at Tebow and said “look, all believers are stupid like that guy” because that would be untrue. We may find them all irritating but Tebow has a special kind of stupid. Why would you assume that actions of atheists elsewhere in the country/world should reflect on you and your goals? Are you the self appointed leader of non-believers? Are you laboring under the notion that non-believers are somehow organized with some form of central leadership? I may indeed have a lack of believe in gods in common with you or other atheists but that does not mean that I, in any way, have anything else in common with you. I might indeed despise your very existence but we still have atheism in common. Why would my actions reflect on you or your actions reflect on me because we have that one lack of something in common.

    I don’t think that other people who hate reality tv reflect on me when they are misbehaving out in public. I just don’t get this business where you use the word ‘us’.

    Please leave me out of your plans, group, and whatnot. Quit counting me in your numbers. The thought that you speak for non-believers is scary. Please stop speaking as if you do.

  • Andrew

     Hemant,
    I agree with you that this billboard is ineffective, but I disagree with your claim that the “You KNOW it’s a myth” billboard is any better. I doubt that these divisive messages will change anybody’s opinion. A much more effective method would be to acknowledge what some main religions do well (e.g. teach to be kind) and demonstrate that atheists can be as well. If we acknowledge what they do well, we won’t be turning as many people off right away.
    A

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    I keep on coming back to vocal atheist circles with the hope that something has improved. As I read through the sheer number of people who have no understanding of why the kinds of messages on this billboard are counterproductive and simply serve toward portraying us as bitter, arrogant people, I am left wondering if many of us actually are bitter, arrogant people.

    Between the lack of awareness shown on threads such as these and the level of sheer cluelessness that riddles online atheism in regard to sexism, racism, classism, and islamophobia, I am continually disappointed in the caliber of people I meet in spaces such as this.

    Several years ago, a progressive friend of mine who adheres to no religion but believes in a god, told me that a lot of atheism seems to be populated by people with quite a few negative personality traits. Of course, I disagreed with her at the time.

    Now, I am no longer certain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.e.st.lawrence Jes St.Lawrence

    This is advertising, so it’s important to consider the impact on your target audience.  Just because a message is viscerally satisfying to you doesn’t mean it’s going to persuade other people.  Do you want to elevate Atheists in our society, or is it just important to piss off the people who hate us?  

  • Ctaylor06x2

    Billboards and anti-religion sentiment such as this only cause hatred and separatism towards our cause of getting people to think for themselves. While I entirely agree with the message, it’s delivery is spiteful and vindictive in connotation.

  • Guest

    If the target audience is believers, then let’s try to find a way to reach them:

    Maybe there’s a God, Maybe there isn’t.Let children decide for themselves.

    Maybe there’s a God, Maybe there isn’t.It’s okay either way.

    Maybe there’s a God, Maybe there isn’t.Life is the same either way.

    Maybe there’s a God, Maybe there isn’t.Either way, I’m okay.

    Maybe there’s a God, Maybe there isn’t.Either way, Life is the same

    Believers and Non-Believers can be friends.

    I accept your beliefPlease accept my non-belief.We are all good people.

    Beleivers do good thingsNon-believers do good thingsLet’s come together

    Belief has good pointsNon-belief has good pointsLet’s all be good together

    Believers can be goodNon-believers can be goodLet’s all just be good together.

    Believers can be goodNon-believers can be goodLet’s all get along.

    Believers and non-believers, religious and non-religious, theists and atheistslet’s all be friends!


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