It's two weeks before Thanksgiving and atheists who have tried to counter the religious reasons for the season with good tidings of godlessness have outdone themselves this year: They've launched publicity campaigns with a bigger ad buy than ever.
The largest is a $200,000 effort by the American Humanist Association (AHA) that includes a television spot that aired on NBC's "Dateline" Friday evening as well as other television commercials -- a first for such an organization -- plus advertisements in national and regional print media.
This year's AHA campaign differs from last season's more upbeat "Be Good For Goodness' Sake"
initiative, in that it takes critical aim at "biblical morality and fundamentalist Christianity" by juxtaposing violent or sexist passages from the Bible and the Koran with more irenic quotations
from nonbelievers like Albert Einstein and Katherine Hepburn, as well as AHA statements.
For example, one pairing cites the Old Testament book of Hosea, in which God says:
"The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open."
The counterpoint is from Einstein:
"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty."
And Hepburn's quote, from a 1991 Ladies Home Journal article, says:
"I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other."
The counterpoint are the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke:
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple."
The ads then prompt viewers and readers to "consider humanism."
According to the AHA
, the goal of the campaign -- largely underwritten by a $150,000 grant from the foundation of Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical executive -- is to show "that secular humanist values are consistent with mainstream America and that fundamentalist religion has no right to claim the moral high ground."
Smaller campaigns by other secularist groups include bus ads by the United Coalition of Reason
, based in Washington, which read, "Don't Believe in God? Join the Club." And by Thanksgiving, the American Atheists
will put up a billboard above the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey heading into New York that features a picture of a nativity scene with the inscription, "You Know it's a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason."
The Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisc., is spending $55,000 on an "Out of the Closet Campaign" that features images
of mostly average folks proudly announcing their unbelief on 150 billboards in about a dozen cities. "I like baking, biking & sleeping in on Sundays," says 23-year-old Katie, who is pictured holding a plate of cookies and wearing a "Godless Goddess" T-shirt.
These public relations efforts are further evidence of a growing profile for nonbelievers (who can battle among themselves over whether they should be called atheists, nontheists, humanists, secularists or other variants). Since the success of bestselling atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins
and Christopher Hitchens
, they have emerged as confident opponents of religion and evangelizers of nonbelief.
In fact, this year's campaigns are more explicit in their aims of converting believers and rallying nonbelievers, or at least the growing number of Americans -- more than 15 percent of the adult population -- who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, or "Nones" in pollster parlance.
"We're going after that market share," David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, told The New York Times
While religious believers could quibble with the AHA quotes as the kind of cherry-picking proof-texting
that biblical literalists are often accused of doing, some are simply trying to fight fire with fire.
William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said his organization was countering the humanist efforts by mailing a Nativity scene
to each of the nation's 50 governors with a letter pressing them to display the crèche "in the Capitol Rotunda alongside secular symbols (e.g., a Christmas tree) this coming Christmas season."
In a press release
, Donohue said it was "a Christmas campaign that almost everyone will like, save for embittered atheists."
"So let the militant atheists do their thing, appealing to debased motives. We're taking the moral high road," he concluded.
Happy Holidays, everyone.