They’re Hideous, but I CAN’T LOOK AWAY!

Designers are going to cringe (Yellow! Comic Sans! Random baby!)… but it’s hard to argue that these new billboards in Minneapolis (put up by the Minnesota Atheists and American Atheists) aren’t going to get attention:

(***Edit***: Commenters points out that the font in question is not Comic Sans. It’s Chalkboard. This doesn’t make me feel any better.)

The message is solid: Kids don’t deserve to be indoctrinated with religious nonsense. Let them ask questions and figure things out on their own. Ditto for adults who might be questioning their own faith.

(via Greg Laden)

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000019835554 Patrina Chamney

    The yellow *is* pretty awful, but I love the way they’ve phrased the message.  I haven’t been fond of most of the other billboards – especially the ‘good without god’ type, as they’re semantically flawed, unfortunately implying that there *is* a god. 

    • Anonymous

      Or, alternatively, tautological. Everyone who is good is good without gods.

  • Mel

    Nice message, but dude, I think we have enough graphic artists in the atheist community to help create something better…

    • PickleyTurtles

      Agreed!

  • Spudman101

    Well, if anything is likely to convince people that there is no god it’s billboard sized comic sans.

  • Jwh565

    My eyes! Oh my eyes! But the message is sound.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    Is that actually Comic Sans?

    • Spudman101

      It might be chalkboard, but I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.

      • Karol Stasiak

        It is Chalkboard. Look at s’s.

        • Spudman101

          It’s hard to tell as I can only look at it for a couple of seconds before my eyes start to burn.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    I’ve heard a yellow background and Comic Sans font makes text easier to read for dyslexic people.

  • Heather

    I REALLY like the 2nd one, it’s so true! But c’mon Minneapolis, you can do better!

    These organizations should have a contest or something, maybe a free book or something low cost, maybe even nothing…I’d design a better one for free just to help get some good and honest messages out there!

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

      I don’t think a contest will raise the bar too far. What we need to start doing is hiring professional designers. No matter what the message is, putting it in this travesty of a  design will gain it or the organization any respect. They could have saved a bundle and hired some graffiti artists to tag the message and had it looking much better.

  • Wim

    Doesn’t the second one commit the genetic fallacy? We are also all born without belief in the big bang theory, but that doesn’t mean the big bang theory is false.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      The Big Bang theory is fact it doesn’t require belief.

      God is a myth and thus requires belief.

      That’s the difference between indoctrination and education.

      • Wim

        That doesn’t address my question.

    • Ubi Dubium

      No one is knocking on your door to tell you that you will be eternally punished if you don’t believe in the Big Bang.  There aren’t any billboards that say that ABigBangists are evil people who hate America.  I don’t see the equivalence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Georgia-Stanton/647620116 Georgia Stanton

      I see what you mean. It seems like it would be different, though, because one can and should (in my opinion) be taught to turn around and say, ‘okay, so why should I believe in the big bang theory; what’s the evidence to support it, what does it mean and is there any alternative hypothesis around?’ if one is inclined to do so, rather than being taught to believe it without question.
      That seems to me to be what the slogan’s about – questioning and coming to one’s own conclusions. In our/the non-believers’ case, that conclusion is that science makes the most logical sense for explaining the workings of the world (just to oversimplify the issue). If anything, I’d probably only change the last bit – you know, the suggestion that non-belief is the logical and therefore most favourable conclusion. I mean, I obviously think so, but still.

      Then again, I’m in Australia. x) These billboards aren’t exactly in my backyard. It’s also in the a.m., so I should probably sleep…

  • Anonymous

    I love them. Without reading them they look just like one of those bargain basement pro-life bumper stickers, which I think is great.

  • Rod Chlebek

    Looks delicious

  • http://biodork.wordpress.com/ Biodork

    We have a TON of anti-choice billboards up here in the Twin Cities, all with this type of awful, amateurish graphic design. I saw some of the discussion on the MN Atheists Facebook group before the final designs were realeased, and I believe the boards above were designed with that in mind…poking at the many, many anti-choice signs that go up in this area. You’re driving into work and, oh look…another lame “pro-life” sign…heyyyyy…waitaminute!

    • Ubi Dubium

      Yes, if this is a direct take-off on a fundie billboard design, then the garishness is entirely excusable.  Can you find an image of one of those for us  for comparison?

      • http://biodork.wordpress.com/ Biodork

        I don’t have any photos that I’ve taken myself, but I found these online, and they’re pretty typical of the ones found in this area. http://prolifeacrossamerica.org/archiveBillboards/archiveBillboard.htm

        • Ubi Dubium

          Thanks.  Those are pretty cheesy and eye-hurting.  I see the point of the bad design of the atheist ones now.  I think I’d like to see ours be even closer in design to those other ones, so it’s even more of a double-take when the message is so different.

      • http://biodork.wordpress.com/ Biodork

        I don’t have any photos that I’ve taken myself, but I found these online, and they’re pretty typical of the ones found in this area. http://prolifeacrossamerica.org/archiveBillboards/archiveBillboard.htm

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

    lol I like the strength! I’ll take that over a professional looking design any day. Plus if a professional designer were to take this on, what look would we suggest? 

    This one is good because it’s hard to miss. That part is really important. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      I agree with Joe. First off you are driving, if you want a message to come across and be easily read it needs to stand out. I’ve seen a lot of busy boards out there and the message does not come off well. That’s why pictures are easier to use than text most of the time. 

      A picture of a burger from Burger King or of Santa Clause or whatever is more easily understood than a description of either one.

  • Stogoe

    If all the graphic designers out there could stop Complaining About Billboards You Didn’t Personally Create, that would be wonderful.    I need to hunt down a “Stuff Graphic Designers Say” video, or create one, because wow are they self-entranced.

  • Erik Cameron

    Not intelligently designed?

  • Sware

    The concept they’ve put forth is rather simple & the message is a good one.  Unfortunately they just look like really bad clip art. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/rexmundi71 Aaron Johnson

    I would have liked the “chalkboard font” better if it was on a black or green chalkboard with a wooden border, or a whiteboard with red or green or blue letters.

  • Annie

    It’s easy for me to be an armchair critic about all these billboards, but the truth is, if I saw one of these advertising an atheist group in my area  I would jump for joy regardless of what it looked like.  I am just thrilled there are so many atheist billboards to scrutinize, as that means there are lots of them going up!

  • Kristen B.

    Born-again atheist.  I love it!

    • Anonymous

      I still prefer the “Born Right The First Time” bumper stickers :)

  • Forrest Cahoon

    Where are these billboards located? I live in Minneapolis and want to go check them out.

    • Forrest Cahoon

       Oh, duh, should’ve clicked the link: “One is in the warehouse district on North Washington Ave. (near 10th
      Ave. North) in Minneapolis and the other is on University Ave. (near
      Lexington Ave.) in St. Paul.”

  • Irenedelse

    What, no commeent about what a yummy baby it looks like? Where are the baby-eating atheists, then? ;-)

    BTW, see that post over at Freethought Blogs?
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/bluecollaratheist/2012/01/24/shameless-attack-on-the-atheist-food-supply/

  • Marcie

    Yeah for the MN!!  I live down in Mankato but am glad to (finally) see some MN billboards being posted.

  • SJH

    We really know that babies are born atheists? I don’t think that you can count someone as an atheist if they can’t yet rationalize or have not yet asked the question. That is like saying that babies don’t like football. It may be innate within him to love football but doesn’t know it yet. You won’t know what they like until they experience it and formulate an opinion.

    If I were to guess, it seems to me that we are born as believers since it seems to be a natural tendency to assume that a higher power is operating.

    Can you really assume that if no one is taught about religion then religion won’t exist. If this is true then how did it come to exist in the first place? At some point some cave man decided that God existed and decided to communicate that opinion to others. They in turn agreed with him and it went on from there. And it was likely that this opinion about God did not just start in one place (unless the very first human, by evolution or creation, started the movement) but multiple places across the world. Each one having different interpretations of the supernatural phenomena that he was experiencing. Most people used these experiences for good and a few used them to take advantage of others. Fortunately, today, the vast majority of religious use their beliefs for good. Unfortunately the few that use it for evil get the press and make the history books.

    • EllieM

      Actually evolution does play a role in the existence of religion. Do a bit of reading on the development of pattern recognition in early humans. This ability evolved as early humans moved out onto the savannas from the forests. Humans with the ability to recognize the predator in the tall grasses had an advantage and that ability developed. As evolution favored false positives over false negatives (ie. if you wrongly assume the ‘pattern’ in the grass is a lion you lose nothing, if you wrongly miss the lion you die) we developed an over-active pattern recognition system.  Now pair that with the same tendency to attribute agency to things (Was the movement in the grass just the wind or was it ’caused’ by a lion?) and you have a brain that has evolved to see patterns (whether they exist or not) and to attribute them to an outside agency (whether it exists or not). 

      Add all of this to early humans attempts to understand the world around them and it’s pretty easy to see why we would make up gods to explain those patterns we thought we saw and the agency that wasn’t there. Would children born today do the same thing? Since we now know what causes day and night, what lightening is, how earthquakes happen, and most of how the physical world operates…I doubt it. Don’t believe me? There are civilizations that have no beliefs in a deity. They were just born that way.

      • SJH

        I’d be interested to learn about these civilizations. Please let me know what they are so I can educate myself.

        Regarding our tendency to attribute patterns to outside agencies, I don’t know that this really tells me anything. We do rightly attribute patterns to outside agencies. Some of use attribute them to a God some don’t. Do you really think that lighting and earthquakes were the only things attributed to God? If so I would like some information on that as well.

        Also, a question I have been pondering. Why would people make up a God if they were not innately inclined to do so? For example, if there was an earthquake, why would people assume that the outside agency causing the quake is a god as opposed the the far more simple explanation that the land is shaking because something natural is shaking it? Maybe giant people that I cannot see shook the land. Maybe it was a very strong wind that rattled the land from beneath. Any of these might seem like appropriate explanations for the cave man mind  but he chose to believe in the supernatural instead.  If a god does not exist, then it seems to be a bit of a stretch that people would believe that a god performed this action.

        Are we to assume that before atheism everyone was to naive or perhaps to stupid to realize that unexplainable phenomena have natural explanations that we just don’t understand yet? People do understand this however they are also naturally inclined to believe in a God or gods and therefor often attribute things to him or them.

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

      Children don’t spontaneously start believing in gods and goddesses. They have to be told that they exist. You can’t believe in something you’ve never heard of. Children who haven’t had the god-concept inserted into their brains are atheists by default.

      Your view of the ancient world puzzles me, since it’s not like “some cave man” invented the god you worship. Animism and polytheism were around long before monotheism. Ancient polytheists had gods and goddesses, true, but those gods and goddesses are not the same ones people believe in today. Historically speaking, the specific deity most people in Western culture worship came quite late in the game.

      • SJH

        Of course they didn’t spontaneously believe in God. But someone at some point said to themselves, “maybe one or many supernatural beings exist I should worship it or them.” Someone had to be the first and it happened before recorded history.

        Of course  religious worship hasn’t always been the same. I don’t understand the point of that comment?

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

          Yes, some of the earliest human beings did say that to themselves. They were born into a confusing, often hostile world with no way of understanding the natural processes that happened around them. If you don’t know what thunder is, is it really a big stretch to start to say that a man in the clouds is making all that racket, and he only does it when he’s angry with people?

          My point was that ancient people weren’t born believing in the supernatural. They didn’t understand what they saw, so they anthropomorphized nature and posited the existence of magic that was responsible for the things they could not comprehend. 

          Ancient babies were born ignorant of such things, just like modern babies are. Their beliefs are dependent upon what the adults in their lives tell them. If a modern three-year-old is told that a god loves her and is taught to sing about the god and pray to the god, she will accept that without question. If an ancient three-year-old was told that the Fire Goddess will be angry unless he makes a sacrifice, he would have also accepted that uncritically. The indoctrination is the same for both children. Indoctrination happens when adults tell young people that their beliefs are true, even when those beliefs are a matter of opinion and there is no empirical evidence for them.

  • Shanti

    I agree that simplicity will catch the eye. When I’m driving back to AZ from CA, there is a desert stretch with those stupid black and white billboards that are one sentence quotes “signed” by “god”. They piss me off every time because, as I’m speeding by, they are so easy to read that I can’t NOT LOOK AT THEM!!!

  • Shanti

    I agree that simplicity will catch the eye. When I’m driving back to AZ from CA, there is a desert stretch with those stupid black and white billboards that are one sentence quotes “signed” by “god”. They piss me off every time because, as I’m speeding by, they are so easy to read that I can’t NOT LOOK AT THEM!!!

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

    I love these billboards. While the color is bright, I really like the messages. “Please don’t indoctrinate me with religion” is wonderful (wish more parents took it to heart) and “We are all born without belief in gods” is something I always try to point out to theists. I’m especially pleased that they used “gods,” plural. Bonus points for recognizing that the Christian god isn’t the only possibility.

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

    Clean, simple, easy to read. I like these billboards.

  • sara b
  • sara b
  • Anonymous

    Christian parents teaching their beliefs to their children is the same as every other parent teaching their children their beliefs, either expressly or through example. Just as atheist parents tell their children that there is no God, Christian parents tell their children there is a God. Calling it indoctrination is just another way to demean those beliefs and shows that these atheist groups are not as tolerant and open minded as they profess to be.

    I also disagree with the idea that children are born atheist.  Agnostic maybe, but clearly not atheist.  As was said above, until you are exposed to the   information and make a decision about it you can’t say that you don’t believe.  You just don’t know.  

    • Ejmoskal

      As an atheist mom, I try not to indoctrinate my fifth grader. We’ve had long talks about agnosticism and atheism and belief. She is absolutely aware that if she chooses to believe in a God or Gods, I will still love her unconditionally.

      This is, I feel, somewhat different from the way that the vast majority of religious parents raise their kids. Not believing is not really presented as an option, and this is the very definition of indoctrination.

      My two cents.

    • Kem

      As an atheist mom, I try not to indoctrinate my fifth grader. We’ve had long talks about agnosticism and atheism and belief. She is absolutely aware that if she chooses to believe in a God or Gods, I will still love her unconditionally.

      This is, I feel, somewhat different from the way that the vast majority of religious parents raise their kids. Not believing is not really presented as an option, and this is the very definition of indoctrination.

      My two cents.


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