Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Next Atheist Billboard

Don't believe in good without god? That's prejudice.

See, Washington Post, Don't Believe in Good Without God? That's Prejudice.

This line was used as a headline to a Washington Post opinion piece written by Humanist Chaplain of Harvard University, Greg Epstein.

Given the current surge of bulletin boards that say things like, "Millions of people are good without god," I immediately thought of this as a good follow-up slogan. An advertising campaign requires a second advertisement to follow the first. It should be an advertisement that carries the message a little further, or portrays it at another angle.

This board is simple, can be easily linked to the current campaign, and says something that very much needs to be said. The statistics exist to show that anti-atheist bigotry is prevalent in the United States. It costs atheists a great deal, from the custody of their children in custody disputes to opportunities to serve in public office and positions of public trust. Anti-atheist bigotry is written into the national pledge of allegiance and the national motto.

A public sign condemning this bigotry would be a good first step to reversing this trend. People will at last start to see something that goes counter to the government-sponsored anti-atheist propaganda that is so prevalent in their lives, and may at last start to question some assumptions that should be questioned. It should create some cognitive dissonance between the government's message that trusting in God and supporting a nation under God are necessary to being a good American, weakening the bigotry that the government and many religious leaders are planting in people's heads.

One of the greatest effects of the current campaign has been the amount of press coverage that they have generated. There is . . . at least to a greater degree that there has been . . . a public discussion of the possibility of goodness without God. That is a good discussion to be having. It helps people to realize that they can give up their religion without giving up their self-respect.

Continuing the campaign with the message that those who do not accept the possibility of goodness without God are bigots pushes that message a little further. It tells people, "Not only is it possible for you to be good without God, but those who would denigrate you and hold you as a morally inferior being simply because of your lack of belief are the ones who lack morals."

I want to note here that the message is not that believing in God makes a person immoral. This is not a billboard that attacks belief in God. It is a billboard that attacks bigotry. A great many people can (and do) believe in a God and also believe that it is not belief in God that makes their neighbor a good person, but kindness, a willingness to give others a hand in times of need, and a willingness to work to protect others from harm.

The latter, by the way, being one area in which the materialist scientist excels, since their dramatically improved methods of explaining and predicting events in the real world have lead to dramatic improvements in our ability to protect ourselves and those we love from harm - from hurricanes, from tsunamis, from swine flu, and from criminals. It provides us with knowledge useful to help us create more food to eat, heat for our homes, and clean drinking water.

I would also like to note that I am pleased with the directions that these campaigns are going. When atheist organizations first started to put up messages some of the early favorites embraced bigotry and hate-mongering. I gave my objections to those signs at the time. The fact that those early options are not a part of the current campaign is a sign of progress.

Specifically, the "Imagine No Religion" campaign - particularly the version that blamed "religion", rather than specific religious extremists, for the 9/11 attacks, provided an excellent example of bigoted reasoning. It took the wrong committed by a subgroup of people and tried to paint the whole group with the same brush - the way some anti-atheist bigots try to tar all atheists with the evils of Stalin.

That is bigotry. That is a paradigm example of bigoted hate-mongering - taking an evil committed by somebody with a particular characteristic and using that against everybody with that characteristic - even those who would condemn the original evil. There is no moral merit to be found in two bigots shouting bigoted insults against each other. It would be better if those on at least one side of the debate would say, "I condemn bigotry itself, even if it comes from members of my own tribe."

That campaigns blaming 'religion' for the specific crimes of specific agents seem to have been put away is a good thing. I hope they have been put away for the right reasons, and I hope that people recognize the reasons why they should stay put away and not be brought back out in the future.

The current campaign simply invites those who are good without God together into a larger and stronger community - which is very much needed. It did not take a direct stand against bigotry - though it took an indirect stand by fighting the bigotry that worked to keep even that modest message out of the public eye.

There is merit to the idea of the next campaign taking an active stand against bigotry. It would be particularly bad if, instead of an anti-bigotry message, future campaigns should revert to actually being the examples of bigoted reasoning we have seen in the past.

Oh . . . and those who finance this billboard . . . should seek funding and support from not only atheists, but any organization dedicated to the fight against bigotry. Let them make a commitment to this cause since it is, as it were, right up their alley.


Rex said...

Spot on!!!

I was just commenting yesterday on Hemant's blog that the publicity that the recent ad campaigns have been generating are a very good thing as far as raising awareness goes. I even think that the billboard vandalism is a great demonstration of the thought provoking effect of the campaign.

I said that I thought that the next step should be a little more provocative, but I meant that in a thought provoking, squirm inducing way.

Your suggestion is EXACTLY what should be next. I think that a challenge to bigotry and negative stereotypes is the perfect next step.

LexAequitas said...

Trying to get branded as a militant? ;)

I'm willing to bet you'd get outrage at such a slogan, and accusations that you were demanding special privileges and oppressing the religious.

Not that I don't think the slogan's a good idea.