Friday, December 24, 2010

You Know It's Kind of Hateful

The American Atheists recently put up a billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel.

My gut reactions to this sign were
1. I can think of far better uses for $20,000
2. I agree with the message
3.  It's kind of a slap in the face to Christians

The more I thought about it though, the more I came to accept this sign - like it even.  The intentions of the group were to reach out to non-believers and let them know that they are not alone during a season when we are bombarded with Christian and Jewish songs, imagery and stories.  The message in the ad is blunt, but valid.  It's a message that even a lot of Christians would agree with.  At least in my area of North America, the majority of the the Christians I come in contact with don't believe the stories of the bible are literal, but more along the lines of symbolic allegories.

I even got over the amount of money spent on the sign since, due to the controversy surrounding it, they raised $65,000 in donations.  Pretty good return on investment.

And the controversy itself got people talking openly about beliefs which I always think is beneficial.  The more people realize that not everyone thinks the same, the more they will re-evaluate their own beliefs.  I'm always happy when people think critically, regardless of the outcome.

So, end of story, right?  Nope.

The American Atheists have put up a new billboard advertising their January meeting in Alabama.

Now, having lived in Alabama for a time, I'm really glad that an atheist group is making itself known in the area.  I wasn't actually an atheist when I lived there, but it would have been nice to know some people whose first question upon meeting me wasn't "What church do you go to?".  I'm sure many others felt the same way, but you kept those thoughts to yourself.

Alabama is very different from where I live now.  Based on the people I met while there, the bible is taken quite literally by a very large portion of the population.  Those who don't take it as 100% fact, still feel very strongly about it.  So any atheist billboard in Alabama would be controversial and that's okay - controversy opens the dialogue.

But here's what they put up:

Scams?  Really?  Seriously?  This isn't a slap in the face.  This is hitting them with a Mack truck! 

Now, over the years I have become an atheist through and through.  I don't like religious institutions, what they stand for and the untruths* they tell.  However, scam is a very strong and hateful word.  It implies that those running the churches are knowingly deceiving people - that they don't believe in what they're selling.  This is certainly true in some cases, but hardly across the board.  The implication itself could be considered libelous.  I sure hope that the American Atheists don't have to spend all of those generous donations on a court case. 

* Defined as "the condition of being false".  I use that word instead of "lies" because, while I believe that the stories told in houses of worship are untrue, to call them "lies" would be to imply that the story tellers also believe them to be untrue and would therefore be knowingly deceiving the audience.