Pastor Says Uplifting Sign for Atheists is a ‘Negative Message’

I understand why a headline for the South Texas Coalition of Reason‘s new atheist billboard in Corpus Christi would say “Atheist Billboard Stirs Controversy”… more people are going to pay attention to a religion-based controversy.

But it’s still shocking to hear a pastor (and another random dude) express their dissent against a message like that one:

Juan Perales works right underneath the sign and we were there as he saw it for the first time.

“I don’t think a sign like that should be up,” he says.

“I believe all people should believe in a higher supreme lord. Somebody that created us, and that’s God,” he added.

Ronnie Marriott, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, says he respects their right to free speech, but…

I hate to see it when groups use that freedom that we have of speech to kind of put a negative message, especially to spread what I believe to be lies,” he says.

Anytime you follow, “I respect their right to free speech” with a “but,” you know nothing good is going to follow…

And isn’t that just perfect Christian logic right there?

Atheists: You’re not alone! = Negative message.

You’re all going to burn in hell if you don’t accept Jesus = Positive message.

Also, where are the “lies” in that billboard? There isn’t one. Or has the pastor been in the church so long he can no longer distinguish between truth and lies?

It’s fine that he disagrees, but there’s nothing negative about this billboard. It’s a Bat-Signal for people, some of whom may attend that pastor’s church, who seriously doubt their faith. They don’t have to stay in the closet any longer.

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.

  • MargueriteF

    It’s amazing that anyone can object to this billboard, even in Corpus Christi. It’s easily the least offensive of all the atheist billboards I’ve seen (save possibly the “kittens” one). It’s simply an affirmation to atheists that there are other like-minded people out there. The guy who thinks the sign shouldn’t be up there clearly doesn’t understand freedom of speech or of religion– there’s no reason a sign shouldn’t be up because it makes him sad, or because he disagrees with it. That’s just ludicrous, and I can’t even understand why the station would bother to quote him. Who cares what some random guy thinks, anyway? This is why I don’t watch local news– they’re always sticking microphones into people’s faces, getting their uninformed opinions on tape, and calling it “news.”

    Two of the three quotes from callers at the end were nice. The one about “we need to tolerate our atheist brothers and sisters” was particularly nice to hear. Tolerance and acceptance– I like that. The one about “this is God’s country… evil will happen”… not so much. If God’s so insecure he can’t even handle an inoffensive billboard telling atheists they’re not alone, he needs to relax. Maybe he could go take a nice vacation in the Bahamas or something. Have one of those nice little drinks with parasols on it, get a tan, go swimming. He’ll come back feeling much better, and far more ready to cope with the occasional sign put up by unbelievers.

  • DKeane123

    I too really liked the “Talk Back” section – I was surprised that 2 out of the 3 were generally positive.

  • m6wg4bxw

    The existence of atheists, united to support each other and oppose theism, is certainly a negative message for them. Also, “not” is a negation.

  • Achron Timeless

    Lies? What, is there not really a South Texas Coalition of Reason? Because, well, that’s the only thing stated.

    Unless Ron there knows for certain that there is only one solitary atheist in his town, and that they are in fact alone… well I’d say that’s slander to claim the sign is lying.

  • baal

    Of all the various billboards, this design I like the most. It’s positive and looks good. I count it as a silver lining that the pastor’s negative comments come off as groundless.

  • Kristin

    I just don’t understand how someone can “respect ones’ right to free speech” yet call the message lies. I guess as long as it goes with their beliefs, it is considered truth. Anything other than that is lies and we will all burn for believing it. I don’t find it offensive at all, it is just reassuring those who question their faith and all they have been taught to believe, that there are others out there who feel the same way. What I want to know is, why are these people so worried about a billboard message in the first place?? If their followers beliefs are strong, there isn’t a need to worry about the billboard having a negative impact on them.

  • C Peterson

    Very unimpressive reporting from the TV station, as well, which can’t even manage to spell “atheist” correctly in their Talk Back transcriptions. And this in a day when spell checkers are ubiquitous.

  • C Peterson

    Anytime you follow, “I respect their right to free speech” with a “but,” you know nothing good is going to follow…

    Isn’t that the truth! I had occasion at one point to spend some time in Tennessee, and the most common thing I heard was “I haven’t got anything against black people, but…”, inevitably followed by some horrible racist statement. It doesn’t matter who the speaker is referring to, this construction is always bad news. And honestly, it points to bad moral standards. If somebody simply says that blacks or atheists are bad, they might be moral people, true to their own beliefs, at least. But when they qualify their statement this way, they demonstrate that they know they are saying something wrong.

  • wyocowboy

    So the hate u spill about gays is not negative? Wheres the logic pastor? Oh i forgot religion is not logical. .

  • Neil Rickert

    I hate to see it when groups use that freedom that we have of speech to kind of put a negative message

    I see that billboard as carrying a very positive message.

  • Diderot

    I guess if Marriott believes there is exactly one atheist on the planet, telling them that they’re not alone would be a lie. It would hardly be the silliest of his beliefs.

  • Gus Snarp

    I just don’t get why anyone would find this billboard offensive. Obviously not enough kittens. That this merits new coverage is just sad. I suppose it’s good publicity for the CoR, but it’s just a sign, an entirely inoffensive sign, hardly worthy of a news report. Obviously we won’t be truly accepted members of society until signs like this stop being news. I live near enough to the Creation “Museum” to see their billboard routinely, and I consider them offensive and harmful to children, but the last thing I want to do is make a news segment out of them and give them more publicity, nor would and news channel do the segment if I asked them to. So I guess we can just thank the Christian bigots and the media for the free press.

  • Artor

    “Somebody that created us, and that’s God,” said the pastor.

    Uh, no. I was created by my mom & dad. I really do have a personal relationship with them, and they stuck around for a couple decades until I got through school and moved away, which is much more than Gawd ever did for anybody. It would still be absurd to worship them though.

  • Claude

    This billboard is the best atheist billboard I’ve seen; it appeals to the isolation of atheists in the overwhelmingly Christian culture of the deep South and forecloses the culture war opportunity for people like Rick Santorum and Robert Jeffress to grandstand. It’s pathetic that some Christians took issue with the billboard’s completely benign message. These types will cry Satan and persecution no matter what.

    I might just send the SouthTexasCoR a contribution for their terrific campaign.

  • liu

    I disagree that anything following the statement “I support your right to free speech, but…” will result in something negative. I support Christians right to free speech, but I think their speech is negative and harmful. I support Nazis right to free speech, but I think their speech is negative and harmful. To denounce someones views, but to also say that they should be allowed to voice those views is, in my opinion, more good than bad.

  • Rain

    How could anyone possibly be against something that would make such a great tee shirt or a tie or a hat?

  • icecreamassassin

    I dunno – I don’t really see a lack of respect from the pastor in this case. He’s not calling for the sign to be taken down; he isn’t asking for any kind of legislation or even communal picketing to prevent further signs from going up.

    He’s disagreeing with the message, and he’s stating that he thinks that the message is wrong. He hates it. And he’s totally free to hate it – he’s totally free to exclaim that he believes the message is wrong in the public forum. Let him put his beliefs out there on the epistemological limb and have him either a) defend his beliefs or b) accept that there are those who think that his beliefs are wrong.

    There is no problem with him hating the billboard. Would he be happier if that billboard weren’t up? Yeah, sounds like it. And I could be wrong, but it just doesn’t sound like he wants to do anything to stifle the dialog or prevent STCR from speaking out.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Very good point.

  • ProfessorPedal

    The male news anchor looks like a cousin or something of Pat Sajak.

  • anniewhoo

    I think someone in Corpus Christi should make a video that shows the clip of the pastor, then places two people in front of the billboard, or even two people at a South Texas COR meeting, to prove that his statement was false. The video could end with a call to the pastor to prove what he spouts from the pulpit as truth.

  • blasphemous_kansan

    “Don’t” also contains a negative.
    Double negative = a billboard with a positive message :)

  • Rebecca Davis-Nord

    Not only multiple misspellings in that Talk Back segment, but also several instances in which the person leaving voicemail actually used different words than what was transcribed. Is accuracy worth nothing?

  • m6wg4bxw

    Nice work! How fucking awesome would it be to witness your response given to Perales, on the spot, with a straight face?

  • Dangerous Talk

    It still amazes me that these billboards are considered controversial.

  • Nichelle Wrenn

    I have learned to never utter the word truth around fundamentalists I went to a Bible study to cure myself of my ignorance regarding Christianity. I informed them that I was an atheist only seeking to find out the truth. I had no idea why they all gave me a knowing smile until much later. You see, they think they have a monopoly on ‘Truth’ and that the Bible and ‘Truth’ are synonymous. And so anything that contradicts their interpretation of the Bible must be a a lie. The existence of atheists is offensive to them so any mention of us is damaging to their worldview, especially if we publicly announce ourselves in such a way that contradicts that lies they may have told themselves (and their children) about us. If Christians have learned anything about atheists at all it is that we are at least deluded unhappy people and at worst immoral Satan worshipers. You can really shake up their word by being polite, respectful and cordial I have noticed. That sign hits right at their own misconceptions of atheists as hateful people.

  • Kengi

    Don’t embed autoplay videos in your posts. That’s just plain rude. Provide a link instead.

  • Donna Williams

    “I’m not sick” is a positive message.

  • Sven2547

    So being alone is a positive thing, but not-being-alone is a negative thing?

  • m6wg4bxw

    Grammatically speaking, the inclusion of a negation makes it negative. This is separate from, for example, liking (positive) or disliking (negative) what is described.

    I mixed the two in my initial message.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’ve love to have 5 min with the pastor to ask him if he thinks atheists/agnostics can produce anything positive. And I suspect that after some dancing he’d essentially give a Steve Harvey “no”.

    Then I’d like to ask him about the contributions of a few better known atheists.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Sorry! Will fix that right now.

  • CelticWhisper

    Quick tip: install the Flashblock extension to prevent videos from playing until you click a “play button” overlay.

    It’s still poor netiquette to embed autoplaying media in a page (but good netiquette to quickly correct the problem as Hemant has done) but in those cases where it happens, Flashblock can take care of a lot of it.

  • CelticWhisper

    Agreed. “The cure for offensive free speech is more free speech.” Bonus: it fosters intellectual growth by presenting, rather than quashing, varying ideas and points of view.

  • C Peterson

    Why not? I respect the right of the religious to spout their lies. Freedom of speech includes the right to lie, and the right of others to call them out on lies. Now calling anything in this sign a lie is pretty obviously silly, since it’s a simple statement of verifiable fact. But the statement reflects an error of knowledge and logic, not an implicit disrespect for free speech.

  • Debra Cleaver

    Actually, he IS calling for the sign to be taken down. “I don’t think a sign like that should be up.”

  • DougI

    If the pastor like chocolate ice cream, announcing that you prefer vanilla is clearly a negative message. The pastor is weak in his faith that he feels threatened by a billboard.

  • icecreamassassin

    I was specifically referring to the pastor (Ronnie Marriott), not Juan Perales.

  • meekinheritance

    This also applies in other contexts, such as, “I’m not racist, but…” or “I’m not homophobic, but…” or “I’m all for equal rights, but…”

  • meekinheritance

    Yes, those different responses illustrate the difference between respecting someone’s right to free speech and not.

  • meekinheritance

    He fears not for himself, but for his flock, because obviously they have demonstrated their gullibility.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I like the “Talk Back”, it’s like playing fundie “Duck, Duck, Goose”.

  • Marco Conti

    So much stupid in the world.
    We should all believe what the good pastor believes, or we are abusing our freedom of speech.
    I won’t even comment on the rest of the idiots.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    That would be the flock that he is busy fleecing. His livelihood depends on keeping them in the fold.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s a Bat-Signal for people, some of whom may attend that pastor’s church, who seriously doubt their faith. They don’t have to stay in the closet any longer.

    You nailed it. I suspect that’s at the core of most clerics’ eager and unprovoked antagonism against anything to do with atheists. Loss of business.

  • cipher

    “Negative message” = “Something I don’t want to hear”.

    They’re operating at the developmental level of children – and not particularly bright or mentally healthy children, at that. Of course, there is no way in which one can explain this to them; they simply retreat to their fallback position of “You simply don’t get it because your mind is clouded by sin!” People suffering from arrested development don’t know they’re suffering from arrested development.

    There is no reasoning with them. Fundamentalists cannot be reasoned with; they can only be managed. Unfortunately, we’ve failed miserably on that score. We fell asleep on watch and allowed them to commandeer society, all the while mewling about how victimized they are.

  • TheBlackCat13

    “Atheists: You’re not alone! = Negative message.”

    That really confused me. I misread this with the exclamation mark moved one character to the right, which is fine, but then it clashed with the next sentence, and I was really confused until I re-read that line.

  • Derrik Pates

    Well, when you’re dealing with people who seriously believe this is a “Christian nation”, and that not acknowledging their chosen deity makes you unpatriotic and a bad person, anything that might acknowledge “those people” is going to be controversial. I agree, in a sane world, this shouldn’t matter. But who said this is a sane world? :)

  • sag361

    I feel sorry for all yall the devil has yall blinded in the end y’all will die burning cause you’re never accepted jesus

  • Feminerd

    Ahhh threats. Way to show that Christian love.