Dave Silverman Promotes Reason Rally on CNN

In case you missed it this morning, here’s the video of American Atheists president Dave Silverman talking about the Reason Rally on CNN:

It’s a quick and appropriate dismissal of what the critics have said about the Hebrew and Arabic billboards.

Also, the host asks Dave about Alain de Botton‘s idea of an “Atheist Temple” and Dave says — very calmly, I might add — that it’s probably not something he would go to, but if it helps someone who’s an atheist, great. What a far cry from the people going apeshit ballistic over the suggestion that it might be worthwhile for some people to take ideas that religious groups use and hone them for a secular purpose.

Dave also has a piece up on the Guardian (UK) website explaining why American Atheists advertised in religious communities:

We’re not out to irritate or insult those who disagree with us, but we’re also unwilling to be intimidated by them, unwilling to let them control or suppress our message. (If Pepsi starts letting Coke decide where their ads should be placed or what they should say, let us know and maybe we’ll reconsider.) If we can get conversations, civilized arguments, and fresh reconsiderations going with our billboards, so much the better.

Some American atheists, in our consistent experience, do not realize that there are many others of the same mind in their communities and neighborhoods — often enough, even in the seat next to them in temple, or the community hall at the mosque. Close-knit communities with strong religious traditions are especially vulnerable to harboring this sort of isolation for non-believers. An intellectually suffocating culture in many religious communities is designed to keep dissidents from knowing about rival ideas and about others like them within the community. Our actions are designed, in part, to counter that illusion, to break down that wall of deception.

The fact that there’s so much of an outcry against them just sends the message that AA has struck a nerve and they need to keep reaching out to closeted atheists in religious areas.

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-Sam

    What would an atheist temple even be, besides a supreme waste of money and a demonstration of ego? My idea of an atheist temple is to take a beautiful forest and don’t do anything to it. Ding! A beautiful, harmonious place where I can go to clear my mind and seek inner tranquility.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephan-Goodwin/676660806 Stephan Goodwin

      I can imagine humanist buildings where people can go and know they are surrounded by like-mined people and discuss issues.   Would I call it a temple? Nope.  Would it be specifically atheist?  Eh.  

      • Greisha

         1.  Libraries. 
        2.  TAM (The Amazing Meeting) in Las Vegas in July for last few years.

  • Tom

    Overall, yay Reason Rally!

    But:

    I find Mr. Silverman’s argument of “Of course bilboards can’t convert people, we all know that” to be disingenuous.  He appeals to absurdity, “Bilboards can’t convert people!”  Like someone is asking him if they had magical atheist-conversion-rays emminating from the bilboards.  Of course bilboards don’t covert people.  No one can convert anyone but themselves.  Ultimately the believer has to accept the reasoning themselves, no converter is involved.

    So no, I don’t agree with Mr. Silverman.  His bilboards have words and pictures that mean something, and if someone who sees them can read and understand the pictures, then there is a message.  Bilboards communicate, in that sense.

    So drop the argument, it’s insulting to smart people out there who can in fact convert as a result of messages on a bilboard.

    But if someone invented a Deconversion Basebat Bat, I would buy one.  Bonk!

    • Dan

      Feeling a little over-literal today Tom? Your nit-pick about the difference between a billboard converting someone and someone ‘converting themselves’ due to reading a billboard is totally missing the point. Silverman is saying that isn’t even who these ads are targeted at, they are targeted at unbelievers/doubters in the community, not hardcore believers (and also to let people know that atheists exist in their community). Would you really and truly call someone a ‘smart person’ who deconverted due to a single billboard? I sure wouldn’t, I highly doubt that there is a true believer out there who is stupid enough to deconvert from reading a single sentence, and that was Silverman’s point.

      • Tom


        Would you really and truly call someone a ‘smart person’ who deconverted due to a single billboard?”

        You bet I would!  It took them only one time to see the light!

        • Dan

          I’d say anyone who completely rejected their life philosophy due to reading a single sentence on a billboard is probably a complete idiot, and certainly not a rigorous thinker, but I guess we’ll have to disagree

  • Katherine Arrandale

    The comments on the Guardian article are a mixed bunch. I can’t help thinking that some fellow Brits don’t quite understand the atmosphere of the US, having never lived here. Someone commented that “I’ve also missed the ‘agony aunt’ columns in liberal USA papers to advise all those poor trapped atheists.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/15217304) I wanted to send them here to Richard’s column! Atheists who need advice for dealing with religious families and communities are not as rare as they seem to think…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephan-Goodwin/676660806 Stephan Goodwin

    I personally really like American Atheists, and I like Silverman’s in your face approach.  But I feel like he is being a bit disingenuous.  Is his approach really supposed to get people to come out of the closet and find a comfortable place in the atheist community?  

    I guess for people like me, The Atheist Experience did that in someone the same way Silverman is doing it.  Maybe I’m just underestimating the closeted atheists though.

  • anon atheist

    David
    Silverman did a brilliant job at advertising the reason rally but I
    have to say that I’m also suspicious about the billboards making
    atheists aware that there are other atheists. How can anybody who
    cares or with internet access not know that there are other atheists?
    I think the billboards are really aimed at indifferent atheists who
    are closeted but might realize that by coming out and being visible
    publicly they will contribute to make being an atheists acceptable.

    • Anonymous

       It’s easy for us, completely integrated into the community, to be aware that there are millions of atheists everywhere, but we need to remember that it’s not like that for everyone. In some communities atheism is only ever discussed in the context of how evil it is. In Orthodox Jewish communities there are often extremely strict restrictions on internet access.

      Yes of course pretty much any atheist outside a cult compound knows there are other atheists, but they know it the same way a gay kid in East Texas knows there are other gay people. Yeah, they’re on TV, and you know there are a lot in San Francisco, but here? Here I’m all alone. This outreach is meant to tell closeted atheists that they are not even a little alone, that there are fellow travellers all around them and that they have a community waiting for them. This is a very powerful message, particularly for people who grow up in communities totally centred on religion, where rejection or religion means loss of community.

      • anon atheist

        In small towns there nearly are no other atheists. That’s why there also are no billboards.

  • SteveS

    It is really important to tell people they are not alone. Billboards are a good thing. I don’t see how humanist “temples” could do anything but become another religion over time… Still we need some way to congregate and a forum for the people who are ‘almost there’ to talk to the like-minded. 

    I live in a smallish town which is deeply religious and deeply tea-party… There are no atheist meet ups. Despite never really believing, I would really like to be able to get together with some people who don’t think I have horns coming out of my head. I see so many sides to this and I have no pat answer.

  • Annie

    I thought Silverman did a great job.  I agree with him… billboards will not deconvert people,  but it could be the little push needed for someone to realize, “Hey, I don’t believe this garbage at church.”  I think the billboards are aimed at people who just haven’t given it much thought yet.  Once seeing the billboards, they may actually go to the website, or google atheist groups.  I think it is a wonderful way to get the ball rolling for someone who doesn’t believe but hasn’t made that leap yet.  Also, I think billboards are valuable in letting the rest of the country know that we are here, and there are enough of us to pay for billboards, bus ads, NYT advertisements, etc.  That is what people are squeamish about.  Not that we exist, but there are enough of us who have the gall to not just sit and hide, but actually speak out. 

  • Anonymous

    It must annoy Madalyn O’Hair’s son William Murray, who converted to christianity and made a living for a time peddling “Mommie Dearest” nonsense about his mother, that not only has the American Atheists organization his mother founded managed to survive after her kidnapping & murder, but that it even shows signs of thriving. And to rub salt into William’s wounds, atheism itself shows signs of becoming mainstream in American society outside of any organization’s educational efforts.

  • Anonymous

    One point about American Atheists doing billboards: they always try and get more for their money by making them newsworthy. How do you reach people? How many times do they have to hear something before they take notice? (I might ignore something several time before taking interest.) 

    Getting people to talk about atheism is a worthy goal. If the truth is on our side (and I think it is; there’s likely no deities checking up on us daily) then bringing up the topic is a win for us.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I am a fan of David Silverman and the great P.R. he gets for American Atheists.
    Every time I see him on TV makes me happy that I pay my dues and donations to American Atheists (and other atheist organizations). 

  • Keulan

    I think Silverman did a great job in that video. I still think the idea of an atheist temple is silly and unnecessary though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

       the idea of an atheist temple is laughably wrong headed.

  • Ryan Jean

    “Also, the host asks Dave about Alain de Botton‘s idea
    of an “Atheist Temple” and Dave says — very calmly, I might add — that
    it’s probably not something he would go to, but if it helps someone
    who’s an atheist, great. What a far cry from the people going apeshit
    ballistic over the suggestion that it might be worthwhile for some
    people to take ideas that religious groups use and hone them for a
    secular purpose.”

    Hemant, I’d like to offer a different way of looking at this.

    Yes,  the reaction was strong — a few people went “apeshit ballistic” over it — although I think you severely oversimplify the reactions from most who were critical.

    I look at it this way:
    1.) Taking de Botton’s claim at face value, I first question what religion has to offer secularism that isn’t already present in its own form. I have yet to have one meaningful item pointed out to me that has value to secularism that currently exists *only* in the context of religion.
    2.) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you did find something valuable of religion that has no secular equivalent, how much religious trappings would you be willing to accept along with it before it would be an unacceptable compromise? Would you be willing to go without some benefit, common to religion, being secularized if it could not make a clean break from its religious underpinnings?
    3.) Assuming again that you located such a benefit as yet untapped in a secular framework, and were able to create its secular corollary without issue, how much religious language (e.g. — the so-called “atheist temple” idea) would you be willing to keep using for it before such terminology would unacceptably water down the very thing you are trying to benefit from?

    These may seem unusual points coming from me, seeing as I am a Humanist lay leader endorsed by the Humanist Society/AHA who is currently seeking acceptance in that role by the U.S. Military, but I would venture there is no real conflict once you examine the situation in detail. Humanism as a non-religious philosophy of life offers a secular vision of every aspect that the religious claim the secular world (or atheistic views in general) is unable to achieve without religious trappings.

    I feel confident in declaring that #1 and #2 as non-issues from a Humanist perspective. (To the degree that #2 is debated, I allege this is due to the falsehood of comparing Humanism directly against religions, rather than comparing its underpinning philosophy against the inherent minimum of religiosity itself and the ensuing baggage.) As for #3, I will admit it gets murkier, as is evident by the very fact of my lay leader application. The problem for me is not that Humanism or Secularism requires the use of religious language, but that religion is so pervasive that we cannot avoid it.

    I hate, for example, that Humanism must be called a religion by military regulations (and in general by the IRS, for example) in order for the philosophy to gain a foothold on the landscape currently dominated by actual religions, but it is a pragmatic necessity if we are to advance at this stage in gaining acceptance and support for being non-religious in the military. Once the stigma of being free from dogma is eroded, shedding such unnecessary language will be important, but as long as superstition sustains a stranglehold we cannot gain traction and advance the cause without using the language that the majority understands.

    To summarize, much like Dave, I view de Botton’s specific idea of an “atheist temple” as superfluous nonsense. If it helps some, for example by easing the break from religion, then fine; let us not be under any illusion, however, that it represents a reducing of secularism to the lowest common denominator, and that much work will then be required to clean the mud tracked in on our floors in the process…

  • Muzakbox

    I drove by the Hebrew billboard on my to Brooklyn last Saturday and it made me feel happy and proud to be part of the community. I like the billboards. On the way to city I drove by a giant red one with white lettering that said “I love Jesus!” and another one that said (I don’t know the exact wording) Thousands of years ago God flooded the Earth because man turned away from him come back to Jesus. And one that just had a bible citation. And another and another and another….

    Whether they convert anyone or not I think we need to point out we are here amongst all the noise of religiosity. I also drove by churched, mosques, synagogues. Everywhere I look is blanketed with religion. To me it’s an island in the ocean of religion that I constantly feel like I’m drowning in.

  • BenZ

    I think that this is the first David Silverman interview on mainstream TV that wasn’t a cable-news debate with David trying to get in a word edgewise against a religious polemicist. Wow. CNN got something right for once. Good for them.

  • Rohen

    If anyone is “Offended” by the billboard with the Slave…then they should be offended while reading the Bible.


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