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Atheist Advertising -- or Evangelizing? The Holiday Ad Blitz Starts Early

3 years ago
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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.

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ibabini

QUITE TRUE THAT THE BIBLE IS FILLED WITH HATE AND INTOLERANCES, HOWEVER GOD IS NOT TO BE BLAMED FOR IT---THE BIBLE WAS WRITEN BY HUMAN BEINGS, REVISED OVER 22 TIMES BY THE CHURCES AUTHORITIES AND MUCH IOF WHAT IS WRITEN IN THE BOOK WAS MODIFYIED BY THE IGNORANCES OF THE CHURCHES AUTHORITIES...YES IT IS A ABSURD TO BELIEVE THAT WHAT IS IN THE BOOK ''ARE THE WORD OF GOD".....GOD IS NOT A HUMAN BEING FULL OF REVENGE,WRATH, JEALOUSIES, THESE ARE HUMAN EMOTIONS--YES THERE EXISTES A GOD- BUT TO UNDERSTAND IT WE MUST GO BEYOND OUR MINUTE SENSES THAT ARE EXTRICTLY MATERIAL, THEIR WERE GIVE TO US TO OPERATE IN A MATERIAL ENVIROMENT AND TO EVOLVE OUR PERSONALITIES AND THOUGHT PROCCESS. THE MIRACLE OF LIFE AS WE OBSERVE IT IN ALL THE EXISTENT KINGDOMS OF LIFE, IS NOT A MATERIAL CREATION. NEITHER IS THE EXISTENCE OF THE INFINITE COSMOS WITH ITS WONDERS..A MIND OR A DIVINE POWER MUST PRESENT FOR IT TO EXISTES--YES THERE IS A GOD.

November 12 2010 at 12:01 PM
ibabini

The problem of understanding GOD originates from the false conception that GOD HAS PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES AND THINK AND BEHAVE LIKE HUMAN BEINGS, OR THAT GOD HAS A BODY LIKE HUMAN BEINGS AND RULES HIS CREATION GIVING TO ONE PERSON AND NOT TO THE OTHER, AND HE IS FULL OF REVENGE AND JEALOUSIES......First of all, WRATH, JEALOUSY, HATE are human emotions that belongs to the imperffect humans...IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE to understand GOD using only our minute senses.. IT IS A TOTAL ABSURD TO BLAME GOD FOR THE DISTRESS MANKIND SUFFERS--GOD PUNISH NO ONE==we punish ourselfs--WE ARE BORN WITH A MIND AND AWERENESS OF THE WORLD OUTSIDE, WE ARE CAPABLE TO CREATE AND TO DESTROI--IN BOTH CASES HUMAN EXPERIENCES THE EFFECTS OF CAUSES THEMSELFS CREATE. GOD WILL NOT INTERFFERE IN FAVOR OF A PERSON OR OTHER PERSON, WE AS HUMAN BEINGS ARE EVOLVING OUR PERSONALITIES AND OUR THOUGH PROCCESS, AND TO UNDERSTAND AND EXPERIENCE THIS UNIVERSAL POWER, TOTALY IMATERIAL HUMANS MUST LEARN HOW TO USE AND DEVELOP THEIR INNER FACULTIES RESIDENT IN EACH OF US. RELIGION IN SPITE THEIR INTENTIONS ARE WORTHLESS TO BRING SOME LIGHT OF THE EXISTENCY OF A GOD--WE ARE USED TO LIVE TROUGHOUT OUR OWN MATERIAL UNDERSTAND AND TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS NOT MATERIAL, BECOMES A IMPOSSIBILITY BECAUSE OUR FINITE SENSES ARE TOO MINUTE TO REALIZE WHAT GOD IS.

November 12 2010 at 11:37 AM
espoclan1

The context of any quote is important. It is fundamental to understanding the author's intent. The Bible says in many places, "There is no God." (Ps 14 and 53.) If the Bible says it, I'm willing to beleive it. Close the book end of story. The words are there but they certainly do not convey the message of the Bible or the intent of the author if they are taken out of context. "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The context of the quote chosen by the humanist organization is simply ignored. A people with a covenant relationship with Jehovah, a contract, broke their end of the contract and decided that they no longer needed Jehovah. Jehovah warned them what was coming their way; a foreign nation was going to attack them and he was simply going to allow it. This was the consequence of rejecting him. They got what they wanted. They were on their own. They lost the protection of God. God allowed them to face the world on their terms, under the protection of impotent idols and the result was disastorous. He warned them, even telling them that if they would return he would make sure they would prosper per their contract but they refused. That's pretty much God's MO. He's there if you are willing to submit to him. If you refuse submission, you're free to get on in this life as best you can. As I read the paper, it's pretty clear that rejecting God just doesn't seem to be working out for most of us. Good luck. If that's all you have to rely on then I feel bad for you. I'll stick with a God that loves and and has done everything to allow me access to him and still respect my free will.

November 12 2010 at 11:29 AM
gosein

I am an Apathist: I don't care if there's a god or not. Anyone that needs to be scared into behaving properly by the threat of hell, or bribed into such behavior by the prospect of angelic frolicking and cavorting with seventy some virgins, is a sadly unevolved being.

November 12 2010 at 11:25 AM +2
quenemum

After 40 years of believing in fairy tales, I became an atheist 4 years ago and have never been happier! I am a good, productive, law abiding citizen. I have been happily married for 18 years and my husband and I donate a great deal of money and time to many charities. I don't need a fake God or anyone else to motivate me to be a good person. The bible is filled with hate and intolerance and the history of Christianity is filled with violence and intolerance. Sadly, so many of the conflicts taking place in the world are because of religion. Atheists have a right to advertise and I am glad that they are doing so. And Mr. Donohue, I think you are embittered but thank you for giving atheists another example of religious intolerance and hypocrisy.

November 12 2010 at 11:12 AM +3
Provoker87

To everyone who thinks modern atheism is "the belief that no gods exist": it helps if you actually read some books written by atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who were mentioned in this article. Neither of them have ever said there definitely is no God. What atheists are saying is simply this: "there is no evidence to support the conclusion that God exists". If you don't understand the difference between that and "there is no God", then you should not expect people to take your opinion on this subject seriously.

November 12 2010 at 10:54 AM +2
Ric

Atheists talk about morality. But where did morality, the knowledge of right or wrong human behavior, come from? Anything that seeks to balance the demand of the religious right I welcome. In my belief system of a personal relationship with Christ no one way is the only way. As scripture shows time and time again those that are his have no problem in guiding the lost to him without law, without threats.

November 12 2010 at 10:38 AM
tplapper

One of the great mysteries in life for me is how anyone cannot believe in God. Where in the hell did everything around us come from except by God?

November 12 2010 at 10:29 AM -2
2 replies to tplapper's comment
nonesuch41054

And for me the great mystery is how anyone can believe in God. I find it very hard to believe there is a being somewhere sitting around saying to him/herself, "Gee, what shall I create today? How about humans? And tomorrow I'll create poison ivy to make their lives miserable and if that isn't enough how about tiny insects to bite them and spread disease. Then again maybe I'll create mangoes instead." I'm sorry but the Big Bang theory and evolution makes a whole lot more sense to me.

November 12 2010 at 11:12 AM +4
benne841

You should really do a little reading on physics,astronomy and star formation and nuclear transmutation. "Where did everything around us come from" is answered and long proven by verified scientific evidence. In fact the very same process happens right here on Earth in breeder nuclear reactors operating all over the world. All the atoms in our body, all the atoms that make up everything on Earth as well as the Earth itself and all the other planets, moons, comets, asteroids in the entire Universe was created in the center of suns (stars) The only element that formed out of the Big Bang was hydrogen which eventually formed from subatomic particles out of cooling plasma created as space and time erupted into existence. What happened at that eruption of space and time is at this point still theoretical.

November 12 2010 at 12:05 PM
Linda

I'm your friendly neighborhood agnostic. I try to be rational and accept that there are some things that I will never know. Maybe there's a creator, maybe not ... but I do know in my heart that all those "holy" books written by delusional men in tents are nothing more than ancient fables. They are too full of contradictions, violence, and discrimination to be inspired by a perfect, omnipotent creator. I just try to be a decent human, not for the sake of being rewarded in another life, but because I have a conscience.

November 12 2010 at 9:45 AM
Boris Vian

It's always a farce to hear from a frustrated hatemonger Catholic like Bill Donohue yearning for "better" times when they could simply just burn anyone with differing opinion at the stake. He's taking the "moral high road" by trying to pressure all the nation's governors to display religious symbols as if they were never displayed anywhere before. Here's moral high road by an angry inquisitionist. Lighten up, Mr. Donohue, and try not to hate this season because it'd be ironic if you would loose sleep through the season due to some Atheist advertisements.

November 12 2010 at 7:57 AM +3

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