Really? These Atheist Billboards Are ‘Shocking’?

KEYE-TV in Austin, Texas offered up this headline yesterday, noting that it was their most popular video at the time:

Wow! “Shocking” atheist billboards! What did they say? “God is imaginary”? “Religion is child abuse”? “There is no heaven”?

Nope. It’s just the one in that picture. The one that says to atheists, “You’re not alone.”

Talk about freaking out over nothing…

The video itself — which is not embeddable — features a couple of soundbytes from local Christians who “don’t agree” with the billboard (which says more about their reading abilities than it does the content of the message), but there’s nothing provocative about the sign.

It’s editorializing. It suggests that atheists doing pretty much anything is shocking. It’s the sort of adjective you’d never see in front of a report about a Christian billboard telling people to come to church so they can learn about eternal life. I know this may sound like a petty argument, but there’s a double-standard at play here for no good reason whatsoever. It feeds the stereotype that atheists, by simply acknowledging each other and their own lack of religious beliefs, are doing something wrong.

I’ve emailed the station to find out who wrote the headline and why they chose that word. I’ll update this post if I hear a response.

***Update***: I have not heard back from the station yet, but it appears they’ve since changed their headline (though not the URL since it may be too late for that):



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.

  • Eli

    Well, they removed the work “shocking” from the title, but the description under the video says the billboard states “Don’t believe in God” without the question mark, kind of changing the meaning.

    • Highlander

      Well based on what we see on the internet, fundie xtians aren’t very good at punctuation. As someone once pointed out to me, they are one step away from eliminating spaces and vowels so they can get back to how writing used to be back in the good old days before paper and ink were abundant and cheap and no one knew how to read anyway.

  • randomfactor

    Maybe they’re not properly grounded electrically.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I stole this from the comments on the news site because it is how I feel.

    ‘my faith in god is strong’ but that billboard…. ‘it’s not right’.

    So, your faith in god is strong? but others have to keep their beliefs or lack thereof to themselves?

    And it didn’t take very long for the Christians to get pissed off but we all knew that was coming.

    Forgot to add. I wish the sign would read, don’t believe in God’s instead of God. When we say we don’t believe in God we are pretty much picking on the Christian God and yes, I know the Christian God is the dominate God.

    Edit: The word shocking has been removed from the headline.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Saying you don’t believe in something is picking on it?

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        According to most Christians, the answer is yes.

        • Rain

          According to their philosopher-in-chief: ““Whoever is not with me is against me.” (Yeah I know, not the brightest philosopher ever.)

      • David Kopp

        If you don’t sit in sermons, you don’t realize that we evil secularists are in league with Satan. We’re worse than anyone of any of the wrong religions, because at least they still believe…

    • LEW

      Gods (more than one God is “Gods”). No apostrophe needed!

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      • ShoeUnited

        If more than one god, it’s small letters. You only capitalize God when you’re referring to the proper name. Xianity is monotheistic, so if you want to include all, it’d be small ‘g’.

        *flies off* ASSHOLE AWaaaaaayyyyy….

  • unbound55

    Well, to many xtians, finding out that there are actually atheists in their own backyards is likely shocking to them.

  • Atheist Billboards

    The video from the article is essentially the same as this one, which has intro and outro segments by the news anchor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OdVPNZtLPI

  • Bitter Lizard

    If you’re an atheist, implying that you are not the only atheist in the world makes you a militant fundamentalist atheist who is doing the same thing the terrorists did on 9/11 and persecuting theists and making them piss and shit and vomit all over themselves every time they drive by. And atheism is a religion, even though it’s offensive to acknowledge that there’s more than one atheist in it.

    • Rip Van Winkle

      Atheism is NOT A RELIGION. Get it straight.

      We don’t have priests, buildings just for us, funny hats, rituals, tax exempt status or anything like it.

      • http://exploringthejungle.wordpress.com/ Kat

        I’m pretty sure Bitter Lizard was being sarcastic.

      • Bitter Lizard

        I wish you would quit persecuting me by using the first-person pronoun in the plural. Acknowledging the existence of more than one atheist is offensive. Didn’t the Billboardocaust teach you anything?

        • Tainda

          “Billboardocaust” hahahaha

          • Bitter Lizard

            I’ve decided in these Poe’s Law-type situations, instead of correcting them, I’m just going to see how far I can take it.

            • allein

              I was going to suggest you need a sarcasm tag, but this is more fun.

    • Jeff

      Hey BL, could you please use the /sarcasm font? I think you are unnecessarily confusing some folks.

      • Bitter Lizard

        I’m not a big fan of pointing out that sarcasm is sarcasm–it’s a little like using air quotes or laughing at your own jokes.

        I’m a “theist” LOL LOL ;) *WINK* JK!

        It’s just bad writing, in my opinion. It doesn’t bother me that a few people won’t get it. If anything, the fact that people can mistake something like that for the musings of an actual theist only underscores my point.

        • Jeff

          BL: I would have to reply by saying “obviously”, since I was also trying to be sarcastic. You must have a better education in the written word than I.

        • SluttyMary

          you haven’t read fox news comments lately. They do type exactly that sort of thing.

      • The Other Weirdo

        We are now firmly rooted in the sarchasm situation, which is the wide gulf between those who use sarcasm and those who utterly fail to understand it.

        Edit: Fixed wording issue.

        • Jeff

          TOW: Bravo. Nice explanation.

  • Vanadise

    Just FYI, KEYE-TV is based in Austin, not San Antonio.

  • LDavidH

    I’m amazed that American Christians seem to be unaware that there are atheists around. In my native Sweden, it’s the other way round: most people are non-believers and hardly ever come in contact with Christians. Swedish atheists know they’re not alone…
    And let me assure you that as a European Christian, I don’t find this billboard in any way “shocking”…

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Thank you. Wish you were my neighbor. Wish some of my neighbors shared your tolerance for difference.

  • Anna

    I love that the link directly below the “shocking” billboard video is to an actually shocking story: the massacre at the Navy yard. It’s an interesting (ironic?) juxtaposition.

    • Bitter Lizard

      Assuming mass murders are shocking anymore in this country. I think most Americans just accept them as God’s will now. Saying something rational, on the other hand, will always piss people off.

      • Leigha7

        Now that you mention, maybe it’s more surprising there’s nothing suggesting the billboard CAUSED the shooting. You know how that works, atheists put up a billboard, God makes someone murder people.

  • Oranje

    It’s the internet. Everything from testosterone to learning a foreign language is shocking. Or weird.

    • rhodent

      I’m surprised the headline isn’t “6 shocking billboards you won’t believe atheists are putting up by using this one weird, old tip”

      • Highlander

        Why do those ads even work? Are people really that stupid? Does anyone click on them? Does any of those people click on them a second time? They must or the advertiser would stop using them.

      • katiehippie

        My boys and I have started talking this way. “Please get me a glass of juice using this one weird, old, tip” “Finish your homework using this one weird, old, tip”

        • rhodent

          I may have to start doing that. Maybe I’ll try it tonight after I pick her up from the airport using this one weird, old tip. :-)

  • bamcintyre

    You might remind them not to edit the text of the billboards either..
    The billboard says “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone.”
    The article says “Don’t believe in god – you are not alone.”

    These two sentences are absolutely not the same thing.

    • Brian

      Yeah…if anything, Hemant shouldve asked them about that.

      “Don’t believe in God?” is a question
      “Don’t believe in God” is a command

      Two totally different things. First one is asking a question, the second implies that they are trying to tell people what to believe in (or not believe in)

  • Paul Reed

    FYI: It’s “soundbites”, not “soundbytes”.

    • Oranje

      Soundbytes would be mp3s, no?

      • Paul Reed

        No. Wiktionary gives the Y spelling as an alternative, but dictionary.com and the Oxford dictionary give it only as “sound bite” (two words). It think it looks better joined together though :)

        [Edit: "Sound Bytes" is apparently a New York radio station]

  • Verna

    Shocking? Hardly. Foolish? Most definitely!

    • Sweetredtele

      For what reason do you think they are foolish?

      • Bitter Lizard

        We need a kind of inverse of Poe’s Law for when someone mistakes theist trolls for rational people interested in actual human discourse.

        • Sweetredtele

          I wasn’t sure-some atheists think they are foolish wastes of money. Better to be cautious than Poe foolish.

          • Bitter Lizard

            Yeah, to be clear there was nothing really wrong with your polite response. Verna’s utter lack of interest in making an argument makes it look like a hit-and-run job to me.

    • Rip Van Winkle

      Yeah, because telling an insecure closeted atheist that they’re not alone is foolish. It’s a support system. Telling someone that there are others out there just like them is comforting. The only thing ‘foolish’ here is you suggesting it’s anything but a good thing.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      What a sad, dismissive and ignorance-ridden post. Why do you hate non-Christians so much that you instinctively belittle even empathy for and among them?

    • Matt D

      Well, while you are certainly an expert in foolish behavior, you are not qualified to diagnose it.

  • Gabriel

    This is Texas. Many Christians that I have met in this state think it is illegal to be anything but a Christian and they aren’t so sure about some of the other Christians. They are shocked when they learn I’m an atheist. They aren’t able to process it. They have assumed that I worship Satan. Their world view is so colored by their particular brand of Christianity they don’t know how to even consider a different point of view. It terrifies them.

    • Rip Van Winkle

      I’m in Texas and people just look bewhildered when they find out I’m a nonbeliever. I’ve never gotten a negative reaction.

    • Jeff

      I’m in Austin. It’s not too bad here, we are the most liberal place in Texas. But there are a few places where saying you are an atheist can be hazardous. Even more so if, while being hassled, you point out Christians are supposed to forgive.

    • Birdie1986

      Rip – I think you are in the minority. People look at me like I have two heads. I have heard “But, you’re such a good person! That can’t be true.” And, I’ve had people tell me I should just keep my mouth shut – “Don’t walk into a room where everyone is obviously Christian and announce you are an atheist and expect people not to get upset and yell at you.” Yes, really. This is Texas.

    • HollowGolem

      Yeah, I grew up in San Antonio, with a nauseatingly massive Catholic population, as well as plenty of fundies (for instance, the Cornerstone people). I was raised Episcopalian, but as far as the majority religions in the region were concerned, I might as well have been an atheist.

  • Brian

    Aww…you shouldve let them keep their “Shocking” headline, Hemant. It only increases the exposure of the story through its salacious adjective, thereby exposing the story (and the message) to more people, including those atheists who need it.

  • Tainda

    Ehrmagerd! It’s something I don’t agree with and out of my bubble of comfortable things! Bring out the pitchforks!1!1

    • Itarion

      I’ll get the torches!

      • allein

        I’ll bring the marshmallows!

        • Tainda

          Go away or I’ll call the Brute Squad!

          I’m on the Brute Squad.

          You ARE the Brute Squad!

  • ZenDruid

    Now here’s a “shocking” billboard:

    “TEXANS! Your god-the-father is an evil Chaos creature! Now pull your heads out of your asses and give your brain cells some oxygen!”

  • Brian K

    Most media bias is easily explainable as a bias towards sensationalism. Most likely they just wanted a few more web page hits (which they achieved).

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    This would be one of the best TV stations ever if the headline had instead simply read, “Atheist Community Building Support With Billboards Shocking to Christians”.

    But of course then they would have accused us of trying to electrocute Christians.

  • SeekerLancer

    Atheists existing is shocking to them. What else is new?

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I think I heard George Carlin say, “Shock is just an uptown word for ‘surprise.’”

    Let’s face it. We live in a culture which includes people so prudish and socially fragile that the F bomb puts them in a state panic and retreat.

  • Colin Rosenthal

    I have to admit to being slightly shocked by its innocuousness. :-)

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    When the Christians say they “don’t agree”, they appear to be presenting a moral assessment of the message conveyed, rather than a logical/empirical assessment of whether or not what is said is true.

  • alegrenaje

    I saw these on my way into town one Saturday and I literally started crying. It’s pretty awesome that my area has something like this.
    That reminds me, I meant to check out their website. Thanks!

  • James Nimmons

    the comments on my local news facebook alone on this pictre are horrid..foxcarolina


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