Saturday, November 15, 2008

Atheist Advertising

A couple of atheist ad campaigns have made it into the news recently. The most famous is a campaign in Washington DC with ads appearing on buses saying "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake".

And my sister just sent me a link to this story about a similar campaign in Denver, featuring billboards that read "Don't believe in God? You're not alone."

Now, both of these seem like decent campaigns to me. The spokesperson for the group that sponsored the first ad says the motivation is to increase awareness for non-religious people in the community that they are not alone, and secondarily to try to help dispel the mistaken notion that morality is necessarily tied to supernatural beliefs. The second campaign very obviously shares the first reason as well, to indicate to the non-religious that even though their views may be in the minority, they are not alone.

Obviously, not everyone thinks its a great idea. From the Fox story:
The humanists' entry into the marketplace of ideas did not impress AFA president Tim Wildmon.

"It's a stupid ad," he said. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."
Well, Tim, we don't individually decide what's good. We can still collectively reach consensus on how we want to treat each other. That's called a society, with laws and mores. As I've pointed out before, many of the rights put forth in the US Constitution are not dictated by god, but are secular ideals. The very first amendment insures freedom of religion, the personal right to worship whatever you want. In contrast, the first commandment of the Old Testament strictly forbids worshipping anything but the Old Testament deity. One is a secular value, the other is a religious one, handed down from on high. How did we get the idea that religious pluralism is good? The founding fathers used their brains.

There are some gems in the Denver story as well:
Pastor Willard Johnson of Denver's Macedonia Baptist Church called the billboards a desperate effort to discredit Christianity.

"The Bible is being fulfilled. It says that in latter days, you have all these kinds of things coming up, trying to disrupt the validity of Christianity," Johnson said. "If they don't believe in God, how do they believe they came about? We denounce what they are doing. But we do it with love, with gentleness, with decency and with compassion."
Glad the atheists could help fulfill prophecy. Now think for a moment about inventing your own religion. What would be a good feature to implement that would be self-reinforcing against any kind of criticism? How about adding something about how there will be people who will try to tear down your beliefs and discredit them? That might be a good psychological mechanism from keeping your followers from ever actually listening to criticisms of their religious beliefs.

And I very much like the idea that you can denounce something gently.

Also from the same story:
Bob Enyart, a Christian radio host and spokesman for American Right to Life, said it's hard to ignore the evidence.

"The Bible says that faith is the evidence of things not seen. Evidence. If we ignore the evidence for gravity or the Creator, that's really dangerous," said Enyart. "Income tax doesn't not exist because somebody doesn't believe in it. And the same is true with our Creator."
Holy crap...I can't argue with that logic, mostly because there is no logic there. Whew.

Anyway, I applaud the efforts of the non-religious to increase awareness of our presence in society and make an effort to communicate to like-minded others that they are not alone. It's a small step toward community building, although as I've argued in the past, ultimately such a community will need to be build on a foundation of positive principles, things we do believe in such as human rights and scientific inquiry, rather than simply the absence of belief in the supernatural.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I was surprised at how out of sorts people were getting over the "you're not alone" campaign. I just didn't see how it was offensive. I guess part of it was the timing close to the Christmas season. You know how the non-religious declare "War on Christmas" every year!

Who knew that gravity and income tax fell into the same category as god?