As an African American and an atheist, the recent stir caused by the PA Nonbelievers/American Atheists billboard is both surprising and disheartening. While I expected a negative reaction from religious African Americans, I was disturbed to find dissent from Black people within the Secular Movement.
The quote presented, “Slaves obey your masters,” was not taken out of context and is only one of the MANY locations in the Bible that you can observe a pro-slavery message. The image used was not created by American Atheists for this purpose, but was reprinted to illustrate the brutality that the Bible condones — and the reality of the conditions my ancestors endured. I am deeply saddened that the purpose of our billboard has been labeled as racist or as an “attack” on African Americans or a particular PA community. This vitriol is sorely misplaced, and should be directed at those who peddle Scripture as fact — or toward the PA House of Representatives that successfully sought to legislate it as such.
If you are rightfully upset by the Bible passage or the image used to represent it, do not take it up with American Atheists. We don’t agree with them either! The only difference is that we refuse to deny the reality of what is in the Bible, and its role the historical & ongoing oppression of African Americans. If that is controversial, then so be it. As long as 2012 is the “Year of the Bible” in PA, we will be providing even more samples of the “Good Book” to show the folks of Pennsylvania what their government thinks is important. Maybe 2013 will be the “Year of Improved Infrastructure” or the “Year of Job-Growth” instead.
I think it’s fair to argue that the billboard didn’t convey its intended message as effectively as it could have. A lot of people were only seeing the image instead of the reason behind the image — it’s hard to blame them. When you’re driving past a billboard, you see the picture and it’s easy to skip over the fine print. People were also offended that anyone would bring up slavery at all or use it in any way to advance their own cause. (And, yes, people are complaining about the need for better graphic designers for atheist billboards … but what else is new.)
All that said, I’m with AJ on this one. If you’re upset about the message, don’t take it out on the messengers. The Bible has some horrible verses in it and many Christians choose to ignore them. The PA Nonbelievers and American Atheists were only shining light on them. Good. They should keep doing that. People disgusted by the verse should realize their disgust lies with the Bible, not the people quoting it verbatim.
Could the atheists have presented the idea more effectively? Of course. Thankfully, there are more billboards in the series and they’ll go public soon. There’s enough time to modify them and put the lessons learned into action.
Let’s hope AA makes sure the reasons for quoting Bible verses are as clear to everyone as the images it chooses to use.