I’m perplexed. Again.
A TV commercial promoting atheism that was rejected by most American television and cable networks when it debuted back in 2014, is still getting rejected by most.
But good luck finding any mainstream news reports online explaining just why the TV companies rejected the ad in the first place.
The only hint of why corporate media was wary of the ad was in a brief report by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which funded the commercial, reporting that a CBS agent said the ad was refused “for words and tone.”
What that means is hard to fathom.
Other than its “word and tone,” your guess is as good as mine what the problem was, except for the fact that the commercial is about atheism, still considered a fearful bogeyman by many Christian Americans, if attitude surveys are to be believed.
The serially reincarnating ad in question features Ron Reagan, now 56, the longtime progressive, atheist son of late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a famously rock-ribbed Republican and conservative Christian. Apparently, that filial divergence was off-putting for a lot of people, including Ron’s conservative activist half-brother Michael, who although adopted apparently idolizes his father and believes his memory is sacrosanct.
“For Ron to do the ad is one thing, but the way he ends the ad … just slaps our father in the face in a terrible, terrible way,” Michael Reagan told the conservative media outlet Newsmax in 2015.
In the 30-second commercial spot, Ron says:
“Hi, I’m Ron Reagan, an unabashed atheist. And I’m alarmed by the intrusions of religion into our secular government. That’s why I am asking you to support the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest and most effective association of atheists and agnostics working to keep state and church separate, just like our founding fathers intended. Lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”
Presumably, it may have been Ron’s “not afraid of burning in hell” sign-off that particularly offended his brother and various TV companies that originally declined to air the spot, including CBS, NBC, ABC and Discovery Science networks. However, the commercial has subsequently aired periodically on CNN, Comedy Central and Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show.
It also was broadcast again this week, during Tuesday’s CNN Democratic debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. FFRF reported that although CBS again declined to run the ad during the September 12 debate, CNN agreed to run the ad twice during this week’s primary election faceoff, and during pre- and post-debate events. It was the first atheist ad believed to have ever run during a presidential primary debate, FFRF noted.
The commercial also aired yesterday on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” (4-7 p.m. Eastern), “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (5-7 p.m.) and “Anderson Cooper 360” (8-9 p.m.).
What I want to know if why CBS and others are still afraid of running an ad promoting atheism?
Back in 2014, when the ad first came out, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor expressed surprise that a celebrity making a public statement supporting atheism and state-church separation was “too hot to handle for CBS.”
“Why are atheism and freethought still treated as socially unacceptable, even though fully a fifth of the population has no religion today?” Gaylor asked then. “If anything should be socially unacceptable, it ought to be blind deference to religion.”
Today, even more Americans identify as nonreligious — about 25 percent of all citizens — a large fraction of whom are atheists and agnostics.
Gaylor’s husband and FFRF co-president, Dan Barker, was even more direct in 2014 when the ad ran into resistance from TV networks.
“It seems that excess gas, erectile dysfunction and other intimate bodily functions, not to mention ads wherein political candidates viciously attack each other, are acceptable,” Barker said at the time. “But the plain-spoken, witty and slightly irreverent remarks of a well-known figure identifying as atheist are too much for the delicate sensibilities of CBS’ censors.”
It’s baffling to me why atheism creates such apprehension. We nonbelievers don’t believe, but we don’t want to force anyone else to think that way. However, we likewise don’t want believers forcing their views on the rest of us, either, in such things as abortion, LGBTQ rights, church-state separation and other issues of importance to the nation.
Maybe when nonbelievers reach 50 percent of the population (and it’s fast approaching), running our TV ads won’t unnerve anyone — as they shouldn’t now.