Atheist Billboard in Portland Vandalized

Last month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up a series of billboards in Portland, Oregon reading, “This is what an atheist looks like.”

One of them featured local atheist Mark Hecate:

This is what that billboard looks like now:

Believe it or not, those horns are not actually his. They were spray-painted on him in an act of vandalism.

Wm. Steven Humphrey, the editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Portland Mercury, thinks it’s just hilarious (emphasis his):

[The ad campaign is] a cute idea, showing normal looking folks who are atheists, with the obvious intention of “un-demonizing” them in the eyes of judgmental Christian types. HOWEVER! I have to admit, I got a good guilty laugh out of this bit of spray paint can alteration.

I’m sure he’s a sweet guy and all — but c’mon… you have to admit he makes a great devil! The only thing missing is a word bubble with him saying, “BWAAAA-HAAA-HAAAA!” (And if you want to get technical about it, if Satan really existed, he would totally believe in God. Soooo… never mind?)

I promise you if Christian billboards were vandalized in the same way, the police would be involved and churches would be doing everything in their power to fix the problem. I don’t know how much it costs to replace a billboard. Maybe Clear Channel replaces them for free in situations like this. But if not, it would be a really wonderful gesture for a local church to take a collection for a new billboard… or for people to admit that, even if you disagree with what atheists believe, this is hardly a decent or effective way to communicate those thoughts.

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.

  • Dave

    I actually think the billboard works just as well, if not better this way.  The point is that the religious demonize atheists, and in case that point was too subtle, now it’s driven home!

    • observer

      Except  that, if you didn’t know already, the billboard doesn’t look like it’s been vandalized, so people may miss the point. looks comical or sarcastic in this respect.

    • Antinomian

      While  Irespect your optimism in regards to critical thought as performed by a christian, I’m sure, as usual they will take and read it literally. 

  • Jonzee72

    It’s not very original vandalism

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.sanocki Steve Sanocki

     Honestly,
    I actually saw him like that when I first saw this Billboard online a
    week ago. Whoever picked that photo of him should be flogged with His
    Noodly Appendage. lol

  • http://cryofly.myopenid.com/ anuran

    That is a good sign. What would a religion be without its hallmark activity? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/vinimarques Vini Marques

    I literally laughed out loud, too. To be fair, the headline + headshot design choice were asking for it.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    Doesn’t help that the guy is named for a witch :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/darren.nolen Darren Nolen

    They should totally leave it up the way it is… That should be his new Facebook photo.

    Yes, yes…  religious double standard and all, totally agree.

    But, the picture is pretty darn hillarious

  • jeff

    …And this is what Christian love looks like. (with an arrow pointing to the vandalism)

  • Stonyground

    I would say that laughing it off is by far the best strategy and, as others have already pointed out, the message was that Christians demonise us, so the vandal has done nothing but confirm that message.

     It should also be noted that, according to the Bible, Satan isn’t particularly bad at all. The only totally evil character in the Bible is YHWH, the Christian god. Satan is a bit mischeivous but generally is an OK guy. He is very polite, always tells the truth and is against the kind of people who want to criminalise harmless fun. YHWH, on the other hand, is a cruel sadist and mass murderer and a serial liar. He has the mentality of a spoiled toddler and throws violent, destructive temper tantrums at the drop of a hat. He writes countless pointless laws just so that he can punish people for breaking them. Just to be clear about this, it is the Christians’ holy book that descibes their god in this way, they would know all this if any of them actually read it. 

  • Rainydayjess

    Someone should go up and spray paint your comment: “Believe it or not, those horns are not actually his. They were spray-painted on him in an act of vandalism.”

    Problem solved.

  • GwydionFrost

    Am I the only one who didn’t miss the fact that Wm. Steven Humphrey, the editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Portland Mercury, when admitting his “guilty laugh”, OUTED HIMSELF as an atheist?

    “And if you want to get technical about it, [b]if Satan really existed[/b], he would totally believe in God.”

    • Marco Conti

      Actually, he starts the article with :”I’m an atheist…” so I guess it was not such a big secret :-)

      • GwydionFrost

        *d’oh!*

        Well, that’s what I get for only reading Hemant’s excerpt from it.

  • Marco Conti

    I think they should put horns and beard on the atheist photos to begin with. Let them deface that!

  • J. R. Boedeker

    Add me to the list of people that think it’s funny. 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is the comment I left at the  Portland Mercury:

    “Ha. Ha. If
    Mr. Humphrey found something equally as funny about a vandalized
    Christian or Jewish billboard, I doubt that he would have written an
    article to so blithely laugh about it. If he doesn’t wish to personally
    “promote atheism as a thing,” that’s his right, but to give his tacit
    support to suppressing a group’s free speech is unconscionable. Those
    who think that objecting to this incident reflects atheists being
    oversensitive don’t seem to realize that this happens constantly all
    over the country. Ads that merely try to call out to other atheists in
    the area, or try to show the community that they are good, ordinary
    people too are vandalized with regularity. Being shunned, despised,
    slandered, libeled, and even physically attacked gets old after a while.
    If Mr. Humphrey ever gets a big dose of that kind of treatment, he
    might not be so glib and dismissive about this issue.”

    • Sfindley312

      Well Mr. Wade, It seems as though he does it because he sees how your faction slanders etc. theism on this site.

  • Renshia

    That’s funny as hell. Really look at the thing. It was asking for it.

     “if Christian billboards were vandalized in the same way, the police
    would be involved and churches would be doing everything in their power
    to fix the problem”

    I think your being a little dramatic. Churches would chip in and fix it, cops would do no more for them than they are for the FFRF. 

    Maybe they need to think about the practicality of the medium they are using. The way it is, it’s just asking for someone to  screw with it. Hell, the guy even looks like the devil with the beard thing and all.  I am not condoning it, but maybe, next time, take out a newspaper ad.

    • http://twitter.com/rlrose328 Kerri Russ

      If it were a Christian billboard, they would be screaming about a hate crime.  Or any other faith, for that matter.  But because it’s just those atheists, we deserve it for not believing in their god.  Our thoughts and feelings don’t matter because they are not religious.  The police wouldn’t do anything about it, that’s true… but there wouldn’t be a column in a publication with someone, even one of our own, laughing about it.

      • Cascadiaj

        To be honest, this is Portland, liberal bastion of oregon ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Oregon#section_2 ), home of hipsters, “Keep[ing] Portland Weird,” and enough banksy/Obey-ers you can’t buy spray paint in the city without someone copying down your ID before unlocking the cabinet.

        I’d hate to see this reaction in something other than the hometown weeklies, but knowing the audience, the biggest crime going on here is the vandal’s offense to artistic originality.
        And that pointy goatee! I mean… c’mon.

      • Renshia

         Oh, Bullshit.
        “If it were a Christian billboard, they would be screaming about a hate crime.”

        And how is that any different than what Hemant is doing right above here.
        Everybody that gets victimized like this gets to screaming about hate crime.

        So what’s your point, do you think they should act differently than we do?

        “we deserve it for not believing in their god. Our thoughts and feelings don’t matter because they are not religious.”

        I guess you hold a special place for empathy in your heart for when bad things happen to Christians then . You were first to volunteer support and donations for, lets pick one, the football jesus being rebuilt, due to your over whelming empathy for them. Right?

        “but there wouldn’t be a column in a publication with someone, even one of our own, laughing about it.”

        Really…..http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/06/15/act-of-god-kills-touchdown-jesus/

        Doesn’t sound to me like he is recruiting a cleanup crew.

        Sorry, we all have our little bit of fun at others expense. I guess we just shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. And we shouldn’t pretend we are somehow more victimized than others, and we sure as hell shouldn’t get all self-righteous about being laughed at when we get pawned.

  • Mommiest

    How do we know this was done by Xians? It could just be someone with a slightly twisted sense of humor. Was there an phone call taking credit or something?

    I don’t usually see a sense of humor in pro-religion graffiti. I bet an agnostic did it.

  • Baal

    Vandalism is bad but I think the horns work.  It’s not quite the same message but the satanic atheist comes off as satire.

  • Cris Waller

    I drive past that billboard (and a couple of the other FFRF offerings) every morning on my way to work.

    I highly doubt that it’s the work of any Fundie. This is Portland, after all. Based on the neighborhood and the local graffiti, I think a prankster is far more likely. 

    I don’t agree with vandalism, at all, but I do think that overreacting to this as slander, or blaming it on Xtian nutjobs, further reinforces the image of atheists as humorless and dogmatic folks. 

  • Santiago

    Love the horns.

  • Pseudonym

    I promise you if Christian billboards were vandalized in the same way,
    the police would be involved and churches would be doing everything in
    their power to fix the problem.

    Promise? Double-pinky swear?

    We do actually have examples of Christian billboards being vandalised, you know. This one, for example, was reported on this very blog. Is there any update on the outcome of that billboard? Were the police involved? Did whoever put up the billboard drop everything to fix it?

    How about some actual evidence, instead of vague promises?

    BTW, anti-same-sex-marriage and anti-abortion billboards are defaced every day. However, I would classify them as political billboards, not Christian billboards proper. And yes, I would say the same of a pro-same-sex-marriage billboard.

    • Sfindley312

      I doubt you will hear anything from this faction because they’re not hearing what they want to, no common sense with them.

  • http://markkoop.net Mark Koop

    Shucks, now I feel guilty for having chuckled when I first saw it.

  • djh

    Actually, that is pretty funny…why’d they pick a guy who looks like Old Nick in the first place?

  • https://twitter.com/OffensivAtheist Bismarket

    I’m glad it’s not me in the picture but sorry, i can’t help but find it a bit funny.☮

  • GobigRed

    So being that Mark Hecate is an  atheist he shouldn’t be bothered by devil horns because he wouldn’t  believe in the “evil one.” That being the case, what’s the big deal? He actually looks better with horns, time to lighten up Mr. Hecate, your smug picture was turned into something else with those devil horns, you’ve been exposed as a fool. After all, nobody in this country points a gun to your head, and tells you to go to church. It’s Freedom of Religion in the USA and Freedom from Religion for those to choose, freedom is for everyone, atheist and those who worship God. 

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      So being that Mark Hecate is an atheist he shouldn’t be bothered by devil horns because he wouldn’t believe in the “evil one.” That being the case, what’s the big deal?

      Uh, vandalism? Is that not a big deal to you? I thought Christians were supposed to believe in treating others the way they’d like to be treated and obeying the law.

      He actually looks better with horns, time to lighten up Mr. Hecate, your smug picture was turned into something else with those devil horns, you’ve been exposed as a fool.

      Why are you insulting his appearance and calling him a fool? What did Mr. Hecate ever do to you? You don’t know him. The billboard says absolutely nothing negative about you or your religion. So what’s with the name-calling?

      After all, nobody in this country points a gun to your head, and tells you to go to church. It’s Freedom of Religion in the USA and Freedom from Religion for those to choose, freedom is for everyone, atheist and those who worship God.

      Exactly! So what is your problem with the billboard? It’s trying to lessen the social stigma associated with being an atheist in our country, a message that is sorely needed, especially since you yourself seem to be an example of it. The mere fact that atheists exist should not be offensive to you.

  • http://twitter.com/RobinEdgar Robin Edgar

    Knowing what I know about the FFRF, I am somewhat surprised that the original billboard advertisement did not have the “demonizing” devil horns added in the first place.  Like many of the other commenters here, I think this “Adbusted” billboard works quite well as an ad about how atheists are demonized 

    Full disclosure: I am a liberal theist who has no quarrel with your average atheist but is not impressed with the anti-religious intolerance  and bigotry of what I call “fundamentalist atheists”. In fact I have had a bit of fun with previous FFRF ads myself.

    Here is my Adbusting version of a Richard Dawkins quote that was used in a previous FFRF ad campaign -

    “P. Z. Myers is arguably *THE* most unpleasant *character* in all Atheism.”

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      I am a liberal theist who has no quarrel with your average atheist but is not impressed with the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry of what I call “fundamentalist atheists”.

      I’m curious how you define “intolerance and bigotry.” Atheists are not trying to pass laws against people who believe in a god. Atheists are not proposing closing down churches, making it illegal for theists  to believe what they wish, marry, create families, teach their children to follow their religion, send their children to religious schools, etc.

      How are “fundamentalist atheists” being intolerant and bigoted? Are they trying to oppress you? I’m genuinely curious here. What did Dawkins do to deserve that label? Call the biblical deity “the most unpleasant character in all fiction?”

      Atheists are an extreme minority, living in a society that is not only awash in supernaturalism, but also actively promotes the idea that faith is a good thing and that people should believe in a god. Many of us don’t agree with that. I don’t think that faith is good, and I would love to see a world without religion. Merely expressing my opinion  is not bigotry or intolerance. I’m not advocating taking away the rights of theists. I’m not trying to ostracize them. I simply don’t agree that what they believe is real.


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