by Tim O'Donnell | December 2nd, 2010
The American Atheists have placed a billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel heading into Manhattan for the holiday season. I must admit; it’s not bad – kind of clever really. It has a silhouetted profile of the Nativity as well as a Star of David-like star hovering over the stable as the three wise men jockey their camel in for a better look.
Oh holy night? Not exactly, not according to this message.
The billboard doesn’t bash one over the head with a blatant attack. It’s meaning is clear but the tenor is subdued. The subtlety is refreshing compared to the derisive tone taken by many atheists today.
The editorial content of the board states simply and directly: “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!” No insults, ridicule or denigrating references to fairy-tales so commonly used in the atheist nomenclature of today. At the bottom it simply states the name of the organization – American Atheists, tenders a simple slogan – Reasonable since 1963 and pitches the website – atheists.org.
I may not agree with the atheist but I tip my hat to this organization for the non-hateful attitude of the message. I’m not insulted or offended – actually I applaud the civilized attitude of their holiday greeting.
I’ll wager the response from the faithful will be less so.
The site claims a threefold “purpose” of the billboard. The guess here is that they will achieve one of stated purposes.
The three as stated on atheists.org:
1. To encourage atheists who “go along to get along” to come out of their closets.
It is doubtful a “closet atheist” will find support in making public proclamations about his position because anything on this billboard. But, why would an atheist even be in the closet to begin with?
The worlds two largest belief systems are waging war against each other in one fashion or another around the globe and heck, they both theoretically worship the same God – imagine the scorn and contempt one might face if they publicly reject the entire idea of God. The fact that 91% of Americans claim belief in God coupled with the obnoxious way in which religion and politics have braided together in our culture – yes, I get it.
I never thought I’d say this but I sympathize with atheists – I sympathize with anyone who has legitimate reason to be afraid to speak on their beliefs if so inclined to do so. The voice of religion can be very shrill.
2. To attack the myth that Christianity owns the solstice season.
Most solstice celebrations are tied to one religious tradition or mythology or another so the debate that it might be Persian, Pagan, Hindu or Hopi really doesn’t belong in an argument supporting atheism anyway as the solstice has been linked to the divine for much longer than the Christmas story. The atheist pointing out that other traditions “own” or share the solstice seems to counter the rejection of the divine and singles out one religious tradition over all others.
The atheist, it seems should reject any and all celebrations of the solstice, not just the most popular one of the day. This stated objective clearly illustrates the contempt for Christianity this organization has and it’s intense bias against it confounds the atheist tenet that no God exists.
3. To raise awareness of the organization and the movement.
This purpose will be achieved. It is sure to create controversy and, in turn garner attention to the American Atheists. Cable news has been covering it, newspapers are giving it play, the networks will jump on the story and it will surely become great fodder for the blogosphere.
Almost every week there is a religion related topic in the news and this billboard and its message will be the next topic in an ongoing discussion this country is having about religion. (The “ground zero” mosque, Qur’an burning, presidential beliefs, creation without creator, who know the most about religion etc., etc.)
A Closer Look
A closer look at the American Atheist website begs the question: What exactly is this group attempting to articulate? The definition of atheism is “the belief that God does not exist” but there is a pronounced disconnect between this definition and the propaganda the site proffers. It focuses almost exclusively on the concept of religion and there is little mention of God.
The atheist treatise as relayed in this website is mostly political and concentrates on church and state issues, prayer in school etc. and does very little to present its beliefs about the entity at the center of religion as well as at the core of atheism – God.
Religion and God are not the same thing.
I can actually claim some common ground with the atheist – about religion. While doing the research for A View from the Back Pew I asked many of the same questions most atheists seem to ask. The inquiry usually begins at the level of religion because it is religion that causes the most immediate consternation to the rational mind. I came to many of the same conclusions the atheist does –about religion. I suspect most atheists would agree with much of my commentary and many of my criticisms – about religion. If you listen very closely, the atheist monologue seems to center on the rejection of formal religion and kind of sidesteps the discussion of God. Many atheists seem to leave a tiny opening about the possibility of a “something else out there”.
A couple of basic questions to atheists and believers alike. They are not intended to be flippant:
1. Are you sure you are an atheist? Is it the concept of God you deny or is it the institution of formal religion that you reject? It’s plain to see the stance taken against religion by nearly all self-professed atheists but also, except in the most ardent, the “no god exists” position seems a tad less strident. I would offer the American Atheist website as an example of atheism being preoccupied with religion –especially Christianity.
2. Why do you feel a need to evangelize about atheism? If you feel so strongly that formal beliefs systems are at fault for much of current and historical human strife, why do you spend energy, time and treasure to get your own word out? Why would you feel compelled to place a billboard in the first place?
The two largest religions in the world today have as part of their mission the call to the faithful to convert others. Isn’t this the precise cause of the historical strife you attack religion for? The beliefs humans hold about the divine are brittle and withstand little challenge before a seeming innate need to defend; isn’t the act of trying to win over believers to your way of thinking (or believing) just more of the same? (This is a sincere curiosity; I’m not being facetious.)
3. To Believers: Why is the position of the atheists so viscerally abhorrent to you? Intellectually, the position that there is no God is not unreasonable so why do you attach evil motives to it? (Satan?) Why is it that religious adherents feel threatened in any way by atheism? (This is also not a facetious question.)
4. To Believers and Atheists: Could you/would you believe in God if there was no formalized doctrine attached to it?