New Atheist Billboard Campaign in Michigan: Question Everything

The Freethought Association of Northern Michigan just placed the first of five billboards up in the city of Charlevoix:

Some of the other billboard designs (minus the watermarks) that will go up in coming weeks include:

Bob Speeter from the group writes:

Our group is… celebrating our 2nd Anniversary in April. It was the billboards posted on your page that inspired us to use this platform to increase our visibility and let other freethinkers know they are not alone.

The $4,000 needed for the billboard campaign was donated by a group member.

These are simple designs, but their implications should cause a minor controversy. Questioning whether Jesus really turned water into wine or the things that are said in church are not going to go without notice.

Either way, these atheists are getting their message out to the public and introducing themselves to other skeptics who may not be aware of the group. It’s a win-win for them and I hope other groups follow in their footsteps.

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.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    The images are simple (water into wine = question mark) yet effective.

    They do not dogmatically say “you are wrong to believe in this religious nonsense”.

    Instead, they just ask the viewer to “question” these ideas. If the religious stories stand up to rigorous questioning (in my opinion they don’t)… fine. If they don’t stand up, then people will have started on a path away from superstitious mythology.

    Religions are often built on forbidding truly “Questioning” their validity. These billboards chip away at that taboo!

  • named

    They seemed a little confusing to me at first with the imagery being such a small part of the overall design (in the first example in particular). I didn’t really notice it at first.

    I thought they were making a metaphysical statement about questioning the idea or concept of free thought. I’m a little disappointed that it isn’t since that would make a pretty awesome philosophical campaign that could help people question how, as well as how often, people actually think for themselves.

  • Vini Marques

    Oh, lordy. Clipart? Splashes? Were these designed in Word by a 12 year old? I really hope at least the stock image watermarks were removed.

  • Ashley Slye Stephens

    Where to I sign up to volunteer to do the graphics for atheist groups? This is just bad.

  • Moris Molino

    I guess there are no muslims or anything else in Northern Michigan.
    Still.. good on them for getting these up.

  • Mackinz

    It’s not your opinion that they don’t stand up to rigorous questioning… It’s a fact.

  • eric

    I think they could do without the question marks. Kinda redundant with the heavy red underline under “everything” – there’s a very clear inference, even without the question mark, that the reader should question what’s in the picture.

    Otherwise, IMO decent. And artist might complain about the art, but the goal here is communicating a message, not producing new good art.

  • Gus Snarp

    In spite of being ugly, I like them. They seem like they would work pretty well as billboards. I’m usually not one for the whole “why are you only targeting Christian beliefs” thing, but I would like to see some more variety in the things being questioned, given the theme of “question everything”. Throw in some Muslim beliefs, Mormon, Jewish. Maybe a UFO or a Bigfoot so that we associate the religious beliefs with general nuttery. But given a limited budget, it’s great.

  • McFidget

    Come on, can’t they spend more than five seconds designing these things? It would not take much effort to make them look half decent. I know it’s about the message and not about producing fine art but it’s not like anyone’s expecting the Mona Lisa, just make it look like you actually tried.

  • McFidget

    Come on, can’t they spend more than five seconds designing these things? It would not take much effort to make them look half decent. I know it’s about the message and not about producing fine art but it’s not like anyone’s expecting the Mona Lisa, just make it look like you actually tried.

  • Gail

    Not the prettiest billboards, but they get the message across quite nicely. I like how their approach encourages questioning religious tradition – not attacking it. As for the ads centering on Christianity, I think it’s spot on for the area. Northern Michigan is largely Christian, so this religion needs to be addressed most.

  • Rain

    They would make great mugs and tee shirts (and ties).

  • Jaime Villalva

    Hideous, I’m sure a lot of ad agencies would take this pro-bono.

  • Ernest Valdemar

    Southeastern Michigan has the largest concentration of Muslims in the USA, but, yeah, northern Michigan is pretty much Lutherans and Catholics.

    OTOH, I think there’s rhetorical value in tossing Christianity into the same category as Islam, Hinduism, and other religions, along with ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot. (Lots of Bigfoot true-believers up in da north woods, hey?)

  • 00001000_bit

    Ok. Not to hijack the thread, but since others have brought up design, lets talk a little about design.

    This is a quick (couple minute) workup using the concept from the article (Click the thumbnail at the end of this post). Not by any means, the BEST, it could be, but just applying a few principles of design to make it more effective.

    1 – Open Framing. The design “leaves the page”. This makes it feel more fluid and less like a “we pasted everything on moving it until it fit.” It feels more natural and less forced.
    2 – Clearer call to action. The “Join Us” is superfluous. You won’t “join” a billboard. The action is to send people to the website so they can get more information (like how to join, etc.)
    3 – Clearer message. The “Question Everything” is first and foremost. There is no question it is the primary focus.
    4 – Better art. Full disclosure: I don’t own the images used to make this. I took two images (one of water and one of wine) to make the composite image by getting each from an image search – but I have no doubt suitable replacements could be found to purchase from stock photo sites and manipulated the same way to make the final product. The art in the originals is a mismash of clipart and stock photography. At least get two images using the same style.
    5 – Shortened message. Billboards are often read while driving. This gives you 3 things on which you can quickly focus: Image – Question Everything – URL. The “Join Us” and the name of the group are distractions. The question mark is not needed – the word ‘Question’ in the focus serves its purpose.

    I don’t claim this is the absolute best it can be. But something like this is going to be easier to read, and frankly nicer to digest than the others. Design is important. I hate seeing it constantly disregarded.

  • baal

    FAONM!! What does it spell? My brain wants an acronym that spells something when words are stacked.

    Also, How did the folks from New Mexico get involved?

  • M. Elaine

    You’re hired.

  • coyotenose

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    1) awesome sample work! Very cool.
    2) Great explanations.
    3) Can you or someone host a website that serves as a reservoir for such samples or even finished products that are open license for all atheist/freethought groups?
    The site could have themes (e.g., this set is themed “Question Everything”, other themes might be “What an atheist looks like…”, or “Why I’m an atheist….”, etc.), contests (to see which ones resonant best), etc., and would give talented atheists a venue to contribute.

  • Justin Miyundees

    I like the billboards but also feel the criticisms are constructive and worthy. Great work!

  • Gus Snarp

    Well done. You’ve taken what’s good about these billboards and used it in a much better design. Many of us criticize billboards, and others say, legitimately enough, don’t just criticize, come up with something better. And here you’ve gone and done that.

  • qtip

    Very nicely done!

    I actually like that it takes a second to figure out “water into wine” – I think a glance will pique people’s curiosity and when they “get it” they will feel clever. By having the viewer participate and active think about it will make it more memorable in my opinion.

  • Anna

    These are great! They challenge people to think, yet they aren’t hostile or insulting. Of course many religious people will be offended nonetheless, but I’d love to see more campaigns like this. Maybe the next one can be geared towards encouraging people to question the wisdom of indoctrinating children.

  • Noelle

    It’s “,eh?”

  • allein

    Glad I’m not the only one ;)

  • Ashley Slye Stephens

    This is fantastic!

  • Cornell

    Question everything, even an unconscious, unintelligent, purposeless, valueless, meaningless ‘naturedidit’ architect.

    Sounds good to me, just remember boys and girls, EVERYTHING must be questioned, entails WHAT YOU BELIEVE pertaining to the nature of reality as well.

  • Cornell

    And by God can’t you ‘free-thinkers’ come up with better looking billboards? It seriously looks like a 6 year old put these together. Though I guess in the end that makes sense

    What else would one expect from a hate group fill of bigots who live their pointless lives just to bash people who view the nature of reality from a different perspective.