The hostility that the atheist ad campaigns generate proves why we need them so badly.
By Greta Christina
March 28, 2011 |
"Are you good without God? Millions are."
"Imagine no religion."
"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Atheist ad campaigns are everywhere. Around the U.S. and around the world, atheist organizations have been buying space on billboards, buses, TV and more, with messages ranging from the mild-mannered "Don't believe in God? You are not alone" to the in-your-face "You know it's a myth." The current "Living Without Religion" campaign from the Center for Inquiry, letting the world know that "You don't need God -- to hope, to care, to love, to live" -- is only the latest in a series of advertising blitzes: from American Atheists, the Coalition of Reason, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and many other organizations. Even local student atheist groups have been getting into the act, using buses in their college towns to spread the good news about atheism.
And whenever they do, they are almost guaranteed to garner resistance. Conservative religionists often object vehemently to the very concept of atheist advertising: in many cases trying to get the ad campaigns stopped altogether, and frequently even vandalizing the billboards. (In what has to be the irony of the year, some bus companies have stopped accepting all religious-themed ads, simply so they don't have to accept ads from atheists.) And while moderate and progressive believers have never (to my knowledge) tried to stop these atheist ad campaigns from moving forward, many are still baffled and even offended by the ads. They see them as proselytizing, evangelical... and they don't understand why people who are opposed to religion would be proselytizing and evangelical.
So why do atheists do this?
Why do atheists spend substantial amounts of money and resources to let the world know we exist, and to get our ideas across?
The first thing you have to remember is this: Not all atheist ads campaigns are created equal. Different atheist organizations create different ad campaigns, with different goals, and different strategies for achieving those goals. So when you ask, "Why do atheists have to advertise?", the first question you have to answer is, "Which atheists?"
Some atheist ad campaigns, for instance, are purely about visibility. The sole message behind them: "Atheists exist." The folks behind these campaigns know that visibility is key to acceptance of atheists -- just like it's key to acceptance of LGBT people. Simply getting people familiar with atheists, and getting them comfortable with the concept of atheism, goes a long way to countering anti-atheist prejudice and hostility. What's more, the folks behind these campaigns know that plenty of non-believers feel isolated -- cut off from family and friends if they're open about their atheism, hiding in secrecy and silence if they're not -- and they want these people know they aren't alone. It's like the annual Coming Out Day campaign for LGBT people.
Other ad campaigns are about information. They're there to counter myths about atheists. They're not just telling you, "Atheists exist" -- they're telling you, "Atheists exist, and are good, happy people." Misinformation and bigotry against atheists abound, and many atheist ad campaigns -- including the current "Living Without Religion" one from the Center for Inquiry -- are aimed at countering this misinformation. They're aimed at letting the world know that, contrary to popular opinion, atheists have morality, meaning, joy, and hope in our lives... just as much as religious believers. It's like a public service information campaign, letting you know that, contrary to popular opinion, HIV is a treatable illness/Arab Americans are your peaceful hard-working neighbors/the library is open late on Thursdays.
Read the rest of this story at Alternet