Monday, August 20, 2012

billboard wars

I recently saw news of yet another atheist billboard popping up in a major US city, this time Charlotte, NC.

If you missed this one, you can see a picture here. The billboard (with a sister ad which criticizes Mormonism, thereby attacking the faith of both the Republican and the Democratic presidential candidates) describes Christianity briefly: "Sadistic God; Useless Savior; 30,000 + Versions of 'Truth'; Promotes Hate, Calls it 'Love'."
Oh, and there's a picture of a piece of toast with Jesus' face on it.

I'm still not sure what the point of an advertisement like this is. It seems like there are only two things it might accomplish: 1) make Christians angry, or 2) make atheists feel smug and superior to their Christian neighbors. What I don't expect this billboard to accomplish is spur an intelligent and charitable debate about the place of religion in American politics, as seems to be the idea. If there's one thing our political system certainly does not need, it's more vitriol, more mudslinging--no matter how morally or intellectually superior to the opposition you may feel.

The only good that I think might come out of this latest childish display in the atheist billboard-attack on the religions of the world is for Christians to respond by putting up absolutely no billboards of their own. This is our opportunity to exercise turning the other cheek.

You see, I could make a billboard in response. It might say something about atheists lacking any meaningful basis for living an ethical life, or about how hopeless materialism is as a philosophy. Or maybe it might just say that all atheists are ugly booger-faces. (Underneath it could read: "Didn't my billboard make a good point?")
Maybe some Christians will start putting up such billboards--maybe they already have, and it's just not in the news, and I haven't heard about it.

Well, please don't.

Don't join the billboard wars. Let American Atheists (the actual organization sponsoring this and other ads) have a monopoly on the aggressive, simplistic, somewhat confusing (I'm still don't know what "Useless Savior" is supposed to mean--someone help me out here), and offensive billboards. As a follower of Jesus, I don't want any part of it. Frankly, it's too hateful and intellectually dishonest for me. And it's too alluring an opportunity to be sarcastic or just plain unkind.

Instead, let's use our resources--I could do a lot of good with the $15,000 this billboard cost for one month--and our energy to find aggressive and public ways to love the people who are so disgusted by us. Or not so public ways. Jesus' ministry doesn't exactly scream 'billboard' to me. Let's just love them, and bless them. It won't often make the news, but that's okay. It's what the life of faith looks like.

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." - Luke 6:27-28


Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Maybe a billboard that says "bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" - Jesus Christ ?

I really am a bit baffled by the aggression of atheist groups in recent years. There is obviously some spiritual reality underneath all this, but what? Do they feel they have "got religion on the run" and need to "turn up the heat" (with the subtext being they need to get rid of religion because they feel threatened by its existence)?

Or do they feel that religious people are taking over and squeezing them out of public discourse/society/etc and are pushing back against this perceived aggression?

Or has atheism as a philosophy changed somewhat so that assertive (we might even say "evangelical" - or "kakangelical"?) strains are more prominent? After all we surely had about as many atheists 10 or 15 years ago, but I don't recall all the signs. One would have expected a more "live and let live" attitude among atheists?

I recently read about a similar billboard campaign ("you know this God-stuff is all fake anyways" or something to that effect) targeting Orthodox Jewish areas of New York City.
I found that highly disturbing.

Of course atheism, by its very nature, is a negating philosophy. It has nothing positive to say, only something to contradict.

Christians put up billboards saying things like "I Love you. I miss you. -God" and atheists say "It's not true!" "There is no God" "Religion is bad/a lie" or whatever - it is all about negating someone else's claim or belief, it never has a positive content to convey.

This is why I believe it must, by its very nature, be spiritually unsatisfying to mankind.

Nance said...

The billboard campaign targeting Orthodox Jews (and a similar one targeting Muslims) was the work of the same organization.

I don't know why atheism has taken on such a public, militant character in the US in recent years, but I do recall hearing that for Richard Dawkins, personally, the catalyst for more intentionally anti-religious writing and speaking was September 11th. After that, as I understand it, he felt like he couldn't ignore the dangers religions pose for the world, and he felt compelled to speak up.