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Austin Cline

"Controversial" Sign Recognizes Humanity of Atheists; Christians Protest

By July 6, 2009

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In Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Atheist and Secular Humanist Society has paid for a billboard stating: "Being a good person doesn't require God. Don't believe in God? You're not alone." There shouldn't be anything the least bit controversial or problematic about this, a simple statement that atheists are not alone and atheists aren't bad people.

There are Christians in Fort Lauderdale, however, for whom such simple statements are just horrible — and the presence of such a billboard near Christians is utterly intolerable. It's not merely "controversial" to say that atheists exist and that atheists can be good people, but it is in fact an insult to these Christians to learn that they don't have a lock on morality and that there might be atheists lurking in their midst. How do they manage to sleep through the night now?

The community said there are two main problems: The business right next to the billboard is owned by born-again Christians, and the billboard is right in the middle of an African-American community.

After seeing the controversial billboard, Big Mama brought her students out to protest it. "Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus," Big Mama chanted as she led her students in protest.

Neighboring businesses has called to try to get the sign removed. "Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Christian, whoever you are, we all believe in a spiritual higher being. When you have something like this here, people don't want to come and patronize us anymore," said Theodore Hamilton. "We don't agree with this. We don't like this here in our community, and this is a spiritual based community."

Source: WSVN News

I wonder what Big Mamma is so afraid of? Does she fear what will happen when her students finally do learn that atheists exist, that atheists surely live in their neighborhood, and that atheism doesn’t mean a person is immoral or evil? Does she fear that some of her own students might seriously consider atheism when they come to realize that there is nothing wrong with it?

I find it interesting that some Christians sincerely believe that customers won't come to their stores simply because someone else paid for a nearby billboard stating nothing more than atheists exist and aren't immoral. Does this reflect their own personal attitudes — which means that they are so bigoted that they wouldn't shop anywhere near where atheism is mentioned — or does it reflect their knowledge of how bigoted their own customers are?

Either way it's a very negative statement — whether about themselves, their customers, or both — but apparently Christians like Theodore Hamiliton are unable or unwilling to recognize this. Imagine complaining that white customer will stop coming to your business because the NAACP put up a billboard and insisting that one lives or works in a "white based community." Imagine if white people and white students protested that presence of a BET billboard and demanding that it had to come down.

I suspect that most people would recognize the bigotry of such behavior and attitudes, but here we have Christians who consider such bigotry against atheists to not only be unproblematic, but even perhaps a religious and social duty. It's a sign, I think, of just how deeply immorality, injustice, and irrationality have seeped into American Christianity.

Comments
July 6, 2009 at 1:56 pm
(1) Mark Barratt says:

I watched a film about the moon landings the other day. Apollo 8 orbited the moon (the first craft ever to do so) on Christmas Eve 1968, and the astronauts commemorated this with a reading about creation from the book of Genesis.

In the film, Jim Lovell talked about how Madalyn Murray O’Hair sued over what she saw as an inappropriate mixing of church and state. Lovell, because Tom Hanks doesn’t play just anyone, said something like “I have nothing against atheists, and maybe it WAS inappropriate, I don’t know”, a tolerant and reasonable view.

The Apollo 8 situation reminded me of a point that’s made in
this lecture
about the importance of atheists being vocal: silence is viewed as assent.

Here we had a situation where an important breakthrough was being made, something that all humanity could potentially share, and the astronauts (I’m sure with the best intentions) chose to read from a sectarian religious text.

At a time when all humanity could have been brought together, they chose to read from a reminder of one of the things that separates us. It could certainly be viewed as Christians saying “This is OUR moon, YOU’RE not welcome” to anyone who doesn’t appreciate the book of Genesis.

Now I’d be VERY surprised if there were no atheists or other non-Christians involved in the Apollo missions. But I bet most of them didn’t say a word about it. Silence is viewed as assent, so all the Christians could just go about their business unthinkingly regarding their new Christian moon.

But when somebody like Murray O’Hair makes a bit of a (non-violent, non-threatening) fuss about it, it reminds them that we’re here too. There are atheists in the US and around the world, some of whom certainly contributed to this achievement, and it’s unfair to exclude us from things like this by reading from sectarian texts.

I guess this is the fundamental motivator behind the “new atheism”: silence is treated as assent, so we MUST speak out. Atheists exist, we’re not monsters, and we’re living our lives here too.

Now, the subject of this post is kind of another example of this. Here we have a non-confrontational advert that simply states that atheists are numerous and that we can be good people.

Silence is treated as assent, so if this group had remained silence it would have been assumed that they approved of this message; that they agreed that atheists can be decent people and were happy to live beside atheists in a peaceful, tolerant community.

Because silence is viewed as assent, they KNEW they had to speak out. They had to let the world know they were vile, hate-filled idiotic bigots, because had they remained silent, nobody would have known.

July 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm
(2) DavidB68 says:

I’m curious as to why he feels he needs to point out that the billboard was put up “right in the middle of an African-American community.” Does he think that African-Americans could never be atheist or that Christianity was part of out heritage from the moment we were brought into this country, which it was not. But I’m African-American and also an atheist.

Big Mama misread the the statement: Don’t believe in God?(“Do not” in her words), as an imperative and not as a question as it is stated on the billboard. Which doesn’t surprise me, because they mis-read the bible in the same way. And I’m sure other Christians will do the same thing.

July 6, 2009 at 2:42 pm
(3) Mark Barratt says:

Yeah, that comment about African-Americans is rather vague and sinister. Maybe the magic atheist bankruptcy rays affect African-American businesses more than those run by other groups? It makes you wonder where all this information is coming from.

July 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm
(4) noel44 says:

From my experience with fundamentalist Christians of many stripes, the notion that one could be good without God elicits not just disagreement but remonstration. It is taken as a direct affront to their belief system.

Now I have little doubt that these folks are oblivious to their anti-atheist bigotry, but are keenly aware of the first sentence on the billboard. So much so, that like Big Mama, they misread the rest of it and cannot but see it as controversial and threatening.

July 6, 2009 at 8:40 pm
(5) Steve says:

Just thought it was funny that there are all these Christian dating services below this blog. If they aren’t scarred off and somehow hook up they could tell their children they met on an Atheist site.

July 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm
(6) naturalist says:

Also ironic is the recent Mormon ad that appears almost constantly to the right hand side of this blog. I have not seen Austin protesting and demanding such opposing views be removed from About.com screens fearing that such ads will scare off his readers.

July 7, 2009 at 8:31 pm
(7) AL Jeremy says:

There may not be much that Austin can do about the ads in the margins of the site if he wanted do anything. Personally, and it seems that I’m not alone on this, I find them amusing. I even find the multitude of religious billboards and church signs in my area to be useful in that they give insight to the point of view and mindset of the religious in my area. I may find the claims they make laughable or disgusting, but I also know what I’m likely dealing with when someone knocks on my door.

July 8, 2009 at 1:52 am
(8) naturalist says:

On the 4th of JUly our local paper had a full page color ad from the business, the Hobby Lobby filled with 18th and 19th century quotes of statesmen and others esposing how the USA is a Christian nation and could not exist unless it was based on this foundation. Imagine the uproar, that is if the paper would even accept the ad,if a local or national secular organization
bought such space and quoted other sources of the importance of separation of church and state or that religious faith is not a necessary component of living an ethical life.

What this ad did for me was to re-enforce what a insular and grossly distorted world of myth and fantasy these true believers fall into willingly. It’s the myth of the Biblical inerrancy intertwined with a self-absorbed and dangerous myth of nationalistic exceptionlism whose supposed destiny is ordained by divine Providence.

Such irrationality and delusional alliegance to myths, if not abated could be a recipe for disaster. These true believers refuse to see how denial of reality and insularity can lead to a fanaticism with very dark outcomes as history has shown us.

I hope though that as more people, especially the young appear to be embracing secular reality, and thanks to worldwide media commnication like the internet, the more this mythical nonsense will be marginalized and incapable of attracting any effective mass movements.

I also think that the ecological problems we will face this century will force many to wake up to reality. The earth is not governed by supernatural forces looking out for us that allows us to just live complacently without awareness of our collective actions on the planet. We are now increasingly responsible for its sustainablity.

Maybe the much needed outspokeness of atheists, agnostics, realists and the secular in the early 21th century will be setting the stage for a future where most humans will be able to walk away from our the ignorant bondage to supernaturalism.

July 8, 2009 at 5:15 am
(9) Venise Alstergren says:

To me it’s the all important sign that to need to lean on some mythical god needs a person with a somewhat tenuous hold on logic. Anything which challenges this feeble hold-I’m not talking of thousands of years ago, I mean the twenty-first century-they have about themselves, let alone their beliefs, challenges them badly.

July 8, 2009 at 5:17 am
(10) Heidi says:

On the 4th of JUly our local paper had a full page color ad from the business, the Hobby Lobby filled with 18th and 19th century quotes of statesmen and others esposing how the USA is a Christian nation and could not exist unless it was based on this foundation.

And Thomas Jefferson rolled over in his grave.

July 12, 2009 at 1:15 pm
(11) sornord says:

Freedom of speech as long as you say what THEY like or agree with? Yeah, right!

Idiots!

July 13, 2009 at 7:57 am
(12) Mark Barratt says:

Freedom of speech as long as you say what THEY like or agree with?

I live in Birmingham UK, and a few years ago we had Sikhs up in arms protesting a play called Bezhti (dishonour), which featured some unsavoury acts being performed in a Sikh temple.

I remember watching the news and seeing a protester saying EXACTLY that: “We’re for freedom of speech unless people say something we don’t like”, or something along those lines.

I remember thinking that’s insane! That means you’re AGAINST freedom of speech, not for it! Supporting freedom of speech only means anything if you support people’s right to say things with which you strongly disagree.

And if you ARE against people expressing certain things that you consider too hideous to be expressed, then there is no way that that would include atheists just saying we exist, and that we’re not evil!

Idiots, indeed.

July 13, 2009 at 5:12 pm
(13) Drew says:

Mark, this is because when people are dead wrong on something, you can always count on them to twist the meaning of words 180 degrees in order to rationalise their own beleifs to themselves. This is indeed the easiest way to figure out who is right and wrong in a debate – whichever one whose ideas are so bad they are forced to lie so blatantly.

July 17, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(14) Mark Barratt says:

Yes Drew, that’s exactly right.

I was thinking the other day about how Dawkins is similar to Ratzinger. They’re two very misrepresented people. Whenever you hear somebody comment on Dawkins or Ratzinger, you can guarantee that the comment is almost always wrong.

When you hear a negative comment about something hideous that Dawkins said, you can check for yourself and you’ll always find that what he actually said was far more moderate and reasonable, with far more caveats and admissions of fallibility and incompleteness of knowledge than the impression you were given by the report of the comment.

When you hear about something Ratzinger said, you can guarantee that what he ACTUALLY said was far more evil and anti-human than the report.

November 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm
(15) joni says:

Every Knee will Bow and CONFESS Jesus Is LORD!!! God is good!

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