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According to The New York Times and CNN, national atheist and humanist groups are investing in major ad campaigns for the non-believers.

“The godless groups say they are mounting this surge because they are aware that they have a large, untapped army of potential troops. The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades.”

The billboards and posters, which haven’t been without controversy, aren’t completely new. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, for example, has been putting together marketing campaigns since 2007. However, this year four national groups are competing for believers, and the American Humanist Association is putting forth $200,000 into its “godless” campaign — thought to be the highest amount ever spent.

Consider Humanism

The Freedom From Religion Foundation designed a sign campaign for the sides of buses and highway billboards:
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Freedom From Religion Foundation

The organization American Atheist created this billboard campaign to target the Christmas season:
American Atheists

Watch for more of these ads coming to a cable television station, billboard, or bus near you.

In the top photo, the Greater St. Louis Coalition of Reason ran this billboard on roads in St. Louis, Missouri in September and October of this year. (courtesy of United Coalition of Reason)


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31 Comments

Giving non-believers the freedom to speak their beliefs! YAY!

Is this a backlash against the institutionalized scientophobia and denialism of the Bush era, which persists today in some circles?

I think you'll find that most atheists concerned with spreading their beliefs this way are just as opposed to mainstream religious belief as what you may consider "scientophobia" and denialism. They view belief in God as irrational and harmful.

If these organizations have some alternative to religious faith that they have shown based on fact to be produce better results, then they should spread the word. I'm not aware of such evidence. Unfortunately, such campaigns appear to be motivated more by frustration, ego, narrow-mindedness and/or shortsightedness than well established fact.

Wait, is religious faith results-based? What results do you feel justify someone personally forcing themselves to have faith (for if you don't decide to have faith, then who decides for you?). Do the ends justify the means, even if the means are based on falsehoods?

Also, do you really think that religion produces great results? With all the bloodshed, discrimination, hatred, division and ostracizing done in its name? I'm not going to deny that many if not most religious people are well-meaning and otherwise sane, but you have to admit that the majority of people throughout history who have started wars, killed indiscriminately, tortured their brethren, held slaves, valued money over human life, denied women full inclusion into society, inflicted horrors upon non-human animals ... were not (are not) most of them religious? What sort of results did their religion produce?

Atheists don't need to prove that nonbelief produces better results than belief. It's pretty obvious to any objective observer that belief (or more accurately, believers) has produced some rotten results.

"...well established fact."

Is religious outreach based on well-established fact? Faith is believing something even though there is an absence of evidence or fact to back up that belief. It's OK for religion to prey on people's emotional insecurities, but it's not OK for atheists to say, "Hey, just so you all know. We're here and we're not going away and we're not shutting up. In fact, we're going to get louder."

It seems to me that these campaigns owe their existence to the many religious people who believe, no matter who atheists are or what they do, that atheists are egotistical, narrow-minded and shortsighted. The messages may not reach you, Sanpete (and I'm sure that the crafters of these messages probably won't mind that they don't reach you), but they will reach a lot of nonbelievers who remain in the closet because of the negative social reactions they fear will come their way if they talk about their nonbelief.

Al, that's a lot of questions. I don't agree that it's obvious that nonbelief produces better results. Nothing could be less obvious than the overall effects of religion or the lack of it. There has been a fair amount of research about various aspects of the question, but it's a tricky subject to study, with lots of potential confounding variables. I don't know what the state of the research is now, but I recall this review study from a decade or so ago that found evidence of some benefits:

"Religious involvement, spirituality, and medicine: implications for clinical practice"
by Mueller PS, Plevak DJ, Rummans TA
Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., 55905, USA
http://www.mayoclinicproceedin...

There has been more than plenty of bloodshed, discrimination, hatred, division and ostracizing done in the name of all kinds of nonreligious causes, even in the name of science and reason (as with 20th Century Marxism, officially science-based and atheistic). Yes, most of the evils of history have been committed by religious people, but then most people have been religious, so not much follows from that.

I don't know why you ask about people forcing themselves to have faith. It comes naturally to most. Relatively few people would try to believe something they know to be false, and I doubt it would be a good idea.

If what you're wondering is whether results should affect what beliefs people try to spread around, I think it should. More particularly, I don't see a good reason to try to get people to be atheists unless there's some good reason to expect better results. Why else would you do that? I think it's foolish and dangerous to assume that what has been a part of humanity for as long as we know of can be cavalierly dismissed as though we can obviously do just fine without it. Some care is called for.

"It's OK for religion to prey on people's emotional insecurities"

Didn't say that, did I?

I have nothing against atheists providing support for each other and promoting positive messages.

By the way, I'm an atheist, not that it matters to what I've said.

That should have been Freedom FROM Religion.

Thank you for pointing that out! The typo has been fixed.

I think the answer is to NOT react out of fear. Avoid the knee jerk reaction and enter into a conversation. You never know, you might just learn something, and so might 'the other'. Weather your talking right vs. left, atheism vs. theism, fundamentalist vs. progressive, I think the true answer is conversation (and maybe 3 cups of tea). We have nothing to fear but fear itself. As I get older, my feathers get ruffled less and less by difference of viewpoint. Not that I don't have opinions. I just know more who I am and need less of a crowd to feel comfortable with that. I'm willing to have a conversation with anyone about my beliefs & how I got there. I'd encourrage discussion & dialogue all around.

I'm a non-believer, and though I can't help but be encouraged and excited by efforts to de-stigmatize non-belief and atheism, I also can't help feeling that these ads are a little weird. And it's not just the font on the FFRF banners. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I never stop hearing Christians yammering on about how they're being attacked an oppressed, and they'll be rending their garments about how the atheists are trying to destroy their beliefs with these ads. Talk to me about oppression when you can't be honest with your own family about your beliefs for fear of rejection and shunning.

I am and have always been an atheist and I find these adds offensive and pushy.

I am and have always been an atheist and I find American claims of persecution baseless and historically out of context.
I am and have always been an atheist and I find the "Attack Proselytizing" of "god-fearing good folk" to be offensive. I especially am offended by the way that your "belonging" to a particular church in the Deep South is essential, not simply for not being a social pariah, but in matters of employment. Yes it isn't legal to ask but has never been much of an obstacle for this sort of discrimination.

We (atheists) have freedom of speech and religious choice in this country, same as theists. Their right to shove their beliefs in our faces must be balanced by our right to remind them that their "moral superiority" has authorized millions of deaths and calls for the deaths of billions more.

Reality is real: they can deny someone else's gods all they want but they can not be allowed to deny reality.

I don't like this.
Let atheists promote the positive aspects of their beliefs (or unbelief), like the one ad about the forces of physics. But most of these ads are openly critical of religion and those who do believe. That's not freedom of religion, that's aggressive, intolerant, and uncivil. I am Christian, and I don't tell my Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist friends that their beliefs are a myth--imagine how you'd feel about that.

I am always a bit baffled about this kind of stuff - it's kind of like talking about whether or not you like the Designated Hitter rule in baseball. Why in the world does someone care about what I believe. The cynic in me drifts to thinking this, too, is about money.

Cheers everyone - and happy whatever floats your boat!

I only think 2 of the 5 are snide to believers ("you know it's a myth" & "what some believe").
Someone will have to explain to me why the other 3 are "aggressive, intolerant, and uncivil".

There's a joke among non-believers that you might be a "militant" atheist if you refuse to remain invisible.

I'm actually really troubled by ads that imply I can't be a humanist because I'm religious.

In our current world what we need more than anything is tolerance. These ads don't seem to offer that any more than religious evangelism, regardless of the brand. Too bad. If atheists want to promote rationality, one would think that'd be the place to start.

In our current world, we can no longer afford tolerance for beliefs based on faith unsubstantiated by evidence and held often in the face of contrary evidence.

If you act on beliefs that do not track reality and fail to act on those that do, catastrophe is the result. Whether it's the Roman Catholic Church sabotaging AIDS prevention campaigns in Africa by preaching against condom use, or government cutting funding to upgrade the levees in New Orleans pre-Katrina or denial of climate change or faith based bigotry leading to the mistreatment, unnecessary suffering and suicides of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgendered youth. Not to mention the faith based brutalizing and denigration of women.

It Has Got To Stop.

If the secularizing movements are to be faulted for anything, it's their rather belated, overly polite and tepid pushback against this incessant barrage of cretinous faith based ignominy.

Thanks to the enlightenment and the onset of science secular humanism and the rule of law we graduated from "you may believe what we tell you to or suffer torture or death" which held sway at the height of ecclesiastical power in Europe (and still does under Islam) to "you may believe what ever you wish".

If humanity is to progress we must now evolve to "The strength of your belief must vary with the likelihood of it being true and the quality of the evidence that supports it".

What superior alternative to faith-based morality do you have in mind, and what is your evidence that it's superior? Your own claims appear largely false, exaggerated and/or faith-based to me, but maybe you have evidence for them.

Quran 8:12: “Instill terror in the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads and cut off fingers and toes”

"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own hands" Leviticus 20:13

What ever mechanism (hopefully) triggered your rejection of the aforequoted specimens of faith-based morality, lets rely on it in the mean time, shall we?

That doesn't show at all that you have in mind any better alternative. I also reject moral conclusions reached on the basis of many other ways of doing morality, including perfectly secular ways. So?

You really shouldn't be attempting to change others' profound and important beliefs based on such a casual, superficial and wrongheaded analysis. You shouldn't be so confident that your views are better either.

"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own hands" Leviticus 20:13"

Oh gosh, darn, heck, geez with so “many other ways of doing morality” and with such “profound and important beliefs” soooo deeply held by others how dare anyone be confident that not putting gays to death is a better alternative?

My own personal view is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, with the possible exception of flyover fundies, most Christians, their faith-based homophobia notwithstanding, reject offing gays. In defiance of what their very own god dictates to their very own prophet as recorded in their very own holy book,

For those genuinely interested in a “better alternative” to the vile, unethical and criminal preachments peddled by faith based traditions I suspect the answer lies in unearthing the source of that defiance. It is what guides the religious when they cherry pick their holy books and ignore their popes and preachers. It is what leads most individuals regardless of religiousity independently to arrive at an equivalent of the golden rule. It is what neuroscientist Sam Harris explores in his new book “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.”

Snake, did you really think I referred to stuff like Leviticus 20:13 as profound and important beliefs? Belief in God can plainly be profound and important. Details of the Law of Moses that almost no one thinks apply, not so much. (You do know that Christians don't follow the Law of Moses, right?)

You're still suppressing the obvious rational objection to your argument. Again, every way of doing morality can lead to bad results. Therefore it's plainly a bad argument to infer from a few examples that you have shown one system is worse than another. Many experts understand Kant to imply that we should never lie even to save a life, which you might find stupid. Many experts interpret Mill to imply that it's OK to kill an innocent man to set an example, which is also generally frowned on. In practice, some of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century, quite possibly the worst of all time, were done in the name of reason and science, not theism, by perhaps the most advanced culture of reason and science at the time. Does any of that disqualify reason and science as bases for morality? As long as you ignore this basic flaw in your thinking, something you should have recognized without it being pointed out, you're suppressing reason to protect your preferred beliefs.

To work this out another step or two, you may want to argue that real or good or true reason and science don't lead to bad results. If so, then you need to allow that a similar principle may apply with religion, that real or good or true religion may not lead to bad results either--it may lead to the most wonderful results, as religion sometimes does. And regardless of how that works out, you would need to show that even if we can tell at the time what's real or good or true reason and science, which we obviously can't always do (look at the history), that even the best of it doesn't have a significant risk of leading to worse results over time. That isn't as obvious as you may imagine. (There's no reason to assume, except as a matter of faith, that reason, science and morality are ultimately happy partners--it could be quite plausibly be that the opposite is true in various ways.) And then you still need to show that in practice your alternative produces better results now, on the whole, all things considered.

If you can't do this--if you haven't already done it--then you have no rational ground to so confidently oppose religion. I'm pretty sure you haven't done it, because those are still unsettled issues among experts, and the evidence is hard to interpret. And that should matter to you. Religion has been a deep part of humanity for as long as we know of, and is of great value to many. It's foolish and arrogant to attempt to sweep it aside on the basis of such thin reasoning and evidence about the actual results. If you see some particular religious belief such as opposition to homosexuality as harmful, that can obviously be fought without trying to fight religion as a whole, and probably more effectively. Many religious people would join you, for religious reasons.

Speaking of thin reasoning and evidence, Sam Harris would do better to stick to neuroscience. Like other leading loudmouths of atheism, he really doesn't know what he's talking about when he strays into fields he wasn't trained in and has only studied from an ill-willed perspective.

You appear to vaguely appeal to conscience or some similar universal moral sense as part of your better alternative. As pointed out before, there isn't anything conscience can't be molded to approve of. History shows what we may regard as universal moral sense has been anything but. If you really think that's a better alternative somehow, you have a lot of work to do to make the idea even plausible, let alone to establish it to the point that it can be accepted with confidence.

A few random observations:

It strikes me that the idea that Christians are somehow under attack in the US is self serving and likely paranoid. Religion is far from under attack here. Our country makes numerous significant concessions to religion, not the least the tax breaks religion enjoys.

I'm not sure those billboards are taking the positive stance I'd like. A couple of them seem excessively confrontational. I wish that they would simply argue directly that atheism is no less valid a choice than theism. Despite the billboards' pushy nature I was pleased to see someone finally declaring publicly that atheism is a valid position.

I resent any group, Christian, Muslim, whatever etc., telling anyone else that they will go to hell if they don't believe in exactly the same way. The arrogance in that stance is amazing. Given the fact that, no matter what your persuasion (or lack of), hundreds of millions of people round the globe see things differently, wouldn't it be wise to allow a little bit of room for the chance you might be wrong? That maybe someone else has it right? I don't go around trying to "convert" innocent passersby to atheism or agnosticism, but I have had someone come up to me in public, in a restaurant no less, and had the nerve to ask me if I was "saved". At least the door to door proselytizers have always had the good grace to leave when I politely said I probably wasn't their target market. Please, other than in fora like this, where the discussion is best direct and frank, and where we have all "asked for it" by commenting, please don't go pushing your belief system, whatever it may be.

In the US, to be an atheist is to be something of a second class citizen. Try getting elected - even as dogcatcher - if one is openly atheist. While we as a nation make the argument that we have freedom of religion, the freedom is to either be Christian, or to keep your mouth closed, if you don't want to be seen as an unsavory type.

I disagree with the endlessly repeated comment that if one is atheist, one cannot have a moral base, that one is necessarily immoral, or amoral. I don't depend upon externals - a church or a priest, or a book or a doctrine - to tell me what's moral - I believe on my own without being told, that certain actions are wrong. What I don't understand is that many people would feel rudderless without someone or something else to tell them what's right and what's wrong. Do they not see immorality for what it is? It strikes me that if you haven't got your own moral compass, you stand to be at greater moral risk than someone who knows on their own what to do and not to do.

All the above being said, I don't hear any of that in Krista Tippett's remarks. Paradoxically, I find her shows to be one of the few places where intelligent commentary is aired at length on necessary and difficult topics. I listen to her shows whenever I get the chance. They are wonderful interesting discussions and I hope she keeps offering them for a long time.

"I believe on my own without being told, that certain actions are wrong. What I don't understand is that many people would feel rudderless without someone or something else to tell them what's right and what's wrong. Do they not see immorality for what it is? It strikes me that if you haven't got your own moral compass, you stand to be at greater moral risk than someone who knows on their own what to do and not to do."

Many who have religious faith or are concerned about atheist ethics think they're doing what you think you're doing, reaching some independent judgment about what's right and wrong. You suppose you can do that by consulting your own independent moral compass. Many others believe such a compass to be imperfect and not so independent and seek to supplement it by consulting a perfect and *truly* independent compass such as God would provide.

You of course would challenge the evidence for a divine source of moral guidance. I'd go further and challenge the basis for any claim of an independent moral compass that's objectively based or has been shown to be more reliable or less risky than a religiously based one. It's not even clear what it would mean for a moral compass to be reliable without either some overtly subjective or ultimately faith-based standard for it. Where do you find the objective standard?

And there's no evidence I'm aware of showing that individual conscience is less risky (whatever that might mean) than religiously mediated conscience. As John Stuart Mill remarked in arguing for a system of morals often turned to by atheists, utilitarianism, there is no behavior that conscience can't be molded to approve of, and the molding can just as well be done by oneself or other agencies (such as broad or specific cultures) as by religion. And as others pointed out after Mill, the foundation for his own system is ultimately subjective itself.

As I see it, there are good reasons to worry and not worry too much about the foundations of ethics regardless of their ostensible source. Religious foundations have their advantages and disadvantages, as do non-faith-based alternatives. I don't think atheists or secularists are in a position to feel more secure than others; quite possibly less so when it comes to providing a sense of a secure and great foundation for morality and meaning that ultimately reaches beyond our own subjective feelings and abilities.

Please don't misunderstand, I think many if not most fears about atheist ethics are exaggerated and ill-informed. But I feel the same way about the confidence many atheists have that they have a better alternative. It's possible it may not be as good in ways that do matter.

It might seem wiser to start off slow and easy just simply arguing directly “that atheism is no less valid a choice than theism”. However, since the atheist position by definition is wholly negating of the theist (not to be confused with deist) and vice versa, the limits of this tactic are apparent. Moreover, it is predicated on the assumption that theists might be amenable to reason. A very long shot indeed since the theist position is arrived at in the absence and maintained through the suppression of reason.

Most importantly, it’s simply not true. Atheism and theism (not to be confused with deism) are NOT equally valid choices. As little as, Astronomy and Astrology, Chemistry and Alchemy, Evolution and Creationism are equally valid choices.

The folly of compromising intellectual honesty for what can scantily be gained from tiptoeing around theists’ dearly held delusions has been borne out by history. It also has deadly consequences e.g. the Catholic Church’s undermining the fight against AIDS in Africa by condemning condom use.

"Moreover, it is predicated on the assumption that theists might be amenable to reason. A very long shot indeed since the theist position is arrived at in the absence and maintained through the suppression of reason."

A typical atheist myth. I know plenty of theists who are more reasonable than you're being. Quite a few theists do use reason to reach and/or refine their views. Faith and reason aren't incompatible.

You still need some evidence that your views are better. So far all you've done is say so and add what you seem to think are examples that settle the issue. They clearly don't. Examples of bad results can be given from every belief system, as should have occurred to you a long time ago. Are you suppressing reason?

It seems to me three of these ads will be almost ineffectual at best, and are more likely to be counterproductive.

I don’t think the first ad should offend anyone, but it seems very weak; a more positive message that actually says something would be more worthwhile.

The second ad strikes me as confrontational; it creates a black-and-white rift, and suggests that one must prepare to defend one’s beliefs. Many people seek harmony, not controversy.

I like the two FERF ads; they are positive and appealing.

The fifth ad will probably be offensive to many, partly because of the popular misconception of what the word “myth” means, and partly because of the arrogance of telling people what they “KNOW”. And there’s no Christmas spirit there at all - and by that I mean peace, love, and good will toward others.

FERF is cool, but the others should rethink their purpose, and look for ways to promote harmony and beauty in life.

It seems to me three of these ads will be almost ineffectual at best, and are more likely to be counterproductive.

I don’t think the first ad should offend anyone, but it seems very weak; a more positive message that actually says something would be more worthwhile.

The second ad strikes me as confrontational; it creates a black-and-white rift, and suggests that one must prepare to defend one’s beliefs. Many people seek harmony, not controversy.

I like the two FFRF ads; they are positive and appealing.

The fifth ad will probably be offensive to many, partly because of the popular misconception of what the word “myth” means, and partly because of the arrogance of telling people what they “KNOW”. And there’s no Christmas spirit there at all - and by that I mean peace, love, and good will toward others.

FFRF is cool, but the others should rethink their purpose, and look for ways to promote harmony and beauty in life.

A platter of scones tells me nothing about God or about atheism. That's the best they can come up with?

It seems to me that people tend to gravitate to and rely more on religion when they feel that they cannot rely on each other. Maybe if we made it a valuable thing to care for each other, and take care of the less fortunate, we wouldn't need a book or church doctrine to tell us that sh*tting on each other is wrong.

apples