Is Anyone Else Talking About How Bloody Awful The American Atheists Inc. “Slaves” Harrisburg, PA Billboards Are?

Hello. Let’s get this out of the way.

I’m Australian. I’m female. I’m white. I’m college-educated. I’ve been to the USA a few times and I have a few friends who are atheists, and a lot of friends from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, who greatly inform my world-view. You won’t often hear me mentioned by mainstream skeptics or atheists (if at all) and I guess I’m happy doing podcast episodes, writing articles and supporting as many fellow non-mainstream promoted skeptical folks as I can. I’m second-last or something on the Big List of FreeThought Blogs banner on the front page. You might be only reading this because of the Steampunk videos I post on occasion. Bleah. That was as uncomfortable to write as it was to read, I assure you.

I occasionally check out the other posts by fellow Freethought bloggers and I’ve quite enjoyed learning about a number of views and perspectives, such as “What Not to Say to Radical Atheists/Humanists of Color“; “Black Atheists Rising: Solidarity for Black Non-Believers” ; “African Americans for Humanism“; “An Open Letter to Members of the Secular Community” and “Black History Month: looking back, looking forward“. No, that doesn’t make me an expert on such topics, of course, but I think they’re vital voices in the atheist milieu, the same way I’ve supported the recently published Young Atheist’s Handbook and other projects via the podcast and so forth.

And with all that (because of that?), perhaps there’s something I’m missing. Because I honestly don’t freaking get this:


I don’t get how the hell this was ever approved as a billboard by an atheist group. I just don’t. I personally find it rather shockingly confronting, distracting me from seeing it as being about atheism (was that its intent? This lesson?) and… maybe it’s meant to compliment (somehow?) the recent African Americans for Humanism campaign?

I tried contacting a few people who identify as African American atheists and a few other people – and people aren’t really talking much. Well, maybe they’re talking, but not to me. One politely said that they pretty much rather focus on interacting in a non-confrontational way and use more positive messages. And that they didn’t wish to be quoted. Bugger.

I can understand THIS reaction to the original poster, because I wouldn’t want it up around my neighbourhood either:


I noticed that Hemnat has written about it, over at Pennsylvania Atheist Group Buys Billboard To Exploit ‘Year of the Bible’, but I’ve just learned that there’s yet to be another Freethought Bloggers post about it. Maybe they’ll have more to tell me as to the how, why… and whatthe?

What did the group who made it have to say?

A literal application of a scripture, Colossians 3:22, will enrage communities into full blown anger, voicing personal attack and death threats. The application of this scripture proves that the Bible is barbaric, horrible, awful, repugnant, and racist? Why do people parade the Bible as the best book on planet Earth? The Bible is by far, the worst book ever compiled and adored by countless humans, including the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. American Atheists detests the Bible and the slavery it condones as much as the vandals detest the image of slavery portrayed on the billboard. Maybe the public can now understand our anger and frustration at the House of Representatives’ “Year of The Bible” resolution? The unanimous theocratic passage of this resolution was a bigoted, narrow-minded and self-centered act against all citizens in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On January 24, 2012 at 3:12 pm, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives vandalized the citizenship of Atheists and other non-Christians in this Commonwealth by relegating us to second class status.
Ernest Perce V,
American Atheists Pennsylvania State Director

The full quote ; Colossians 3:20-23 reads:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Recently the group posted on Facebook (within the last day):

The remaining billboard in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was removed by the advertising company earlier today. PA State Director and David Silverman are fast at work on a brand new message and design with the same level of intensity as the prior message. We will show that the bible is evil and immoral once again. Round two, here we come.

To be fair, my introduction to the American Atheists efforts to promote themselves via banners like these really wasn’t the best (the O’Reilly interview, where I thought that Silverman came across poorly and seemed to struggle for an answer as to why the approach taken was seen as the best) and I thought “Perhaps having someone from a faith or former-faith background would be really useful on their campaign, to give some alternative perspectives and avoid what I saw as a disaster like this happening again“.

I noticed that there’s a “A poll on AA’s new billboards” on PZ’s site for different billboards – and perhaps I’ll learn more as to how effective these billboards are in general.

I am now waiting to see if the brand new message and design will have me going “Seriously?!” again. At the moment, my hopes aren’t up.

But then again… am I the target audience? And (since, I’m clearly not) – who is?

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.