Categories: FeaturedReligionSkepticism

Can We Ban Atheists From Billboards?

A blank billboard find in a suburban area with plenty of copy space. Includes the clipping path.

It’s not even the lack of design skills. One out of one-hundred of them usually comes out ok. It’s not even that I think censorship is a good idea. It’s not. It’s just that the majority (that 90 out of 100 ratio) of atheist billboards are so darn terrible that they make us all look like seething, holier-than-thou assholes to the rest of the world. Yep. Holier than thou, arrogant jerks that will never change someone’s mind.

Case in point from this article:

A group of atheists based in Northern Kentucky raised $10,000 for a billboard protesting the soon-to-open Ark Encounter amusement park, a place where Christian scripture is taken so literally that a Noah’s Ark replica is being built using ancient measurements called “cubits.”

But two billboard companies have rejected the Tri-State Freethinkers’ interpretation of the story of Noah’s Ark as one of “genocide and incest.”

The proposed billboard design shows a Noah’s Ark with people drowning around it and the words “Genocide and Incest Park: Celebrating 2,000 years of myths.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Think of how much good that organization could have done with ten thousand dollars. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and really focus on that thought.

They could shelter animals, help homeless, donate to a women’s shelter- help veterans or the elderly, start a soup kitchen or start a neighborhood beautification project removing graffiti. There are so many more options! But instead they would rather put all that money into pretending they are smarter than religious people while simultaneously being incredibly offensive in their message. Does anyone here really think that a family on their way to an ark amusement park hoping to see pairs of fake fuzzy animals is gonna slam on the brakes and turn around after seeing this:

Or will the average person be angry and more likely to dig deep into their prior held beliefs?

All one does with a message such as this is reconvince back-slapping high-fiving atheists that they are oh-so-much smarter and that the joke is on those others, the uninformed, less-than, religious people. Is that the goal? Atheist navel gazing and alienation of religious people so the movement has a very slow conversion rate and gathers only more angry already atheist folks? If so – job well done! Maybe you can slap that message up on some walls with some good glue. You guys obviously have the extra cash for it.

Thanks to my friends at MAL for the links and meme.

Amy Roth :Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

View Comments (24)

  • "They could shelter animals, help homeless, donate to a women’s shelter- help veterans or the elderly, start a soup kitchen or start a neighborhood beautification project removing graffiti. There are so many more options! But instead they would rather put all that money into pretending they are smarter than religious people while simultaneously being incredibly offensive in their message."

    I really couldn't disagree more. Sure, they could do other things with the money, but they're an atheist activist organization. Their goal is to show visible opposition to religious indoctrination, not to fund animal shelters. This kind of illogical argument can be applied to nearly any activity by any activist organization and it would be just as wrong.

    Also, just because you (quite correctly) see the billboard as useless, why do you feel the need to poison the well by insulting them and projecting motivations onto their actions? We don't accept straw man crap from the other side, we damn sure shouldn't accept it from skeptics.

    • "I really couldn’t disagree more. Sure, they could do other things with the money, but they’re an atheist activist organization. Their goal is to show visible opposition to religious indoctrination, not to fund animal shelters. This kind of illogical argument can be applied to nearly any activity by any activist organization and it would be just as wrong."

      One really good way of visibly opposing religious indoctrination is showing that being an atheist isn't a fundamentally immoral act. Supporting local charities is definitely a good way to go about sending that message, and, frankly, it's something we need to do more of in visible ways, because Christians (and likely other religious groups in countries where they're in the majority) are going to keep on asking, "huh, why don't you ever see atheists helping out in -----?" until half the people around them raise their eyebrows and point us out to them every time. That might be less satisfying than upsetting them and having them rant about context and respect for six hours, but it's got to be more effective.

      I do agree that most atheist groups wouldn't ever consider that, though - being effective, and useful, and winning allies is all well and good, but that's damned dirty SJW stuff, which isn't... like... rational... because... um......... FEMINAZIS!! AIIIEE!! (Or something. I have to admit, I have no idea what passes for justification of the depressingly common rejection among atheists and atheist groups of basic human decency. I've heard they're opposed to all those modern third wave feminists, like that awful Andrea Dworkin, who definitely said that all sex was rape and absolutely cannot easily* be found to be saying something subtly but significantly different about a highly specific state of affairs that, at the time was, but no longer is the case. I just wish they'd misattribute a suffragette quote to her, to get the stacking right.)

      *Ok, to be fair, it's not easy. Intercourse is a bloody dense read.

      • I love this argument (not really), because it always marks the author as someone who didn't even do a cursory bit of research before putting digital pen to digital paper. I can give a pass on that to someone just commenting on an article; if I had to research every comment I made on something posted on the Internet, I'd never get anything else done. I'm not giving that free pass to the original author of this post, though.

        For the record, all of that stuff you and the author of this post really, really, really wish the Tri-State Freethinkers would have done with that money... they already do. This is a group of socially-conscious people who are committed to making the world a better place for everyone, not just atheists, and they put their money and time where their mouth is. This group does, in fact, work at animal shelters, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and neighborhood cleanup projects.

        And, we'll go you one better: TSF also does more work for social justice causes than a lot of social justice-oriented groups (and certainly more than most social justice-oriented Internet slacktivists). They regularly volunteer for and support LGBT organizations. They show up for Black Lives Matter. They phone bank every week for Planned Parenthood. They attend school board meetings to fight abstinence-only education (successfully, I might add). They are THE reason CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) passed in Cincinnati, and they are one of the only groups continuing to hold the city's feet to the fire on implementing actual change on that issue.

        And all of that, by the way, doesn't even begin to address all of the activism they do that is more directly related to church/state separation and non-believers rights.

        For the record, I actually agree with the author on the ineffectiveness and offensiveness of this billboard campaign. I spoke up and made my feelings known when this billboard was being planned. I was outnumbered (though, far from alone). It upset me enough that I almost quit the organization, but I didn't. Instead, I quadrupled my yearly donation and re-committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with this group precisely because of the overwhelming amount of good they do in the community. I've never known a more active group, a more broadly socially conscious group, or a group more focused on making their community better, safer, and smarter.

        • How exactly does that all change the argument that this money could have been used for those things?

          Did she say that Tri-State Freethinkers didn't do those things? I didn't see it, maybe I missed it.

          I'm glad that Tri-State Freethinkers is doing good work (again, I don't think anyone insinuated otherwise) but it doesn't actually change whether this particular work is good.

          Keep up the good work, seriously, we need good people doing good things.

          • @Colette Lindemann
            On the off chance that you're suggesting that I insinuated that your group wasn't doing any of those things, I was insinuating no such thing - I was saying nothing at all about any one group in particular. I was just responding to the idea that opposition to religious indoctrination cannot or should not come in the form of being visibly decent while atheistic, and then commenting on how depressingly common it is for atheistic groups to be hostile to decency, visible or otherwise.

          • Because:

            A. Taking money from people for one thing, and then using it for another thing would be fraud.

            B. I disagree that nobody insinuated that the group wasn't already doing all those things.

  • "90 out of 100"

    I really feel like that needs a citation.

    Maybe you live somewhere that you're not constantly confronted by religion; I don't know. I live somewhere where I am. I was raised in it, to believe that atheists were evil, immoral people who were selfish, careless, and going to burn in hell. Imagine my surprise when as a young adult, I found myself questioning whether I believed in a god at all.

    As I was doubting myself, I remembered an article I had seen about a local billboard. It simply said "Godless in [location]? You're not alone." I googled the billboard, found the name of the freethought society that had put it up, and was able to connect with them on Facebook at a time when I desperately needed to meet people like me.

    So, please, please, please, PLEASE, don't ban atheists from putting up billboards. Not even facetiously. Not even when you're trying to create an attention-grabbing headline.

    Some of us need them.

  • On the other hand, if we're gonna agitate on money wasted for propaganda, let's take a nice deep look at the coming several billion dollars to be spent on Trump's and Clinton's presidential campaigns. It's going to waste so much resources, and involve so incredibly much specious argument that makes the advertiser look insane, that I don't think it's even literally possible to envision it all.

    A drop in the bucket compared to $10k on protesting an exhibit that represents a gross breach of the first amendment through taxpayer funding.

    Sure, their billboard is very poorly thought out. But money spent on agitating for political causes is an unfortunate reality of our day. But there's more to the protest than just contempt for Ken Ham.

    • Ham also brags about Biblical incest -- for fuck's sake, you can buy postcards in the giftshop that explain how it was OK for the people in the book of Genesis to breed brothers and sisters together.

      I think it's a fine idea for atheist organizations to put up billboards protesting the nonsense of Answers in Genesis. But they seriously have to think sensibly about their audience. Are they for patting fellow atheists on the back (waste of time), or are they for actually informing the public about the fallacies of AiG? If it's the latter, they have to empathize a little bit with those SUVs full of Christian families going to the Ark Park, and send a message that might actually make them think.

      • I think that's true; you could have your cake and eat it too. Christians love babies, why not a billboard showing a happy, innocent baby with the quote from Genesis:
        "The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time."

        Then a tag for free thinking group, whatnot, website.

        • Or better yet, to go with that baby picture how about Psalm 137:9

          "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

          • Well sure, but then you could really go for the heartstrings and put puppies and kittens on there as well.

            Hey, it works in those Sarah McLaughlin commercials.

          • Sure, but the other quote is from the Noah story. I was thinking more along the lines of "even the babies were evil enough to justify genocide".

      • Ham is one of those biblical literalists who, at the very least understands his own religion pretty well, and appreciates it for what it is. I'm not sure if I respect that more or less than the people who just don't know how crazy the bible gets.

  • I agree that this particular billboard is terrible in just about every way imaginable.

    But I have to say I don't think billboard campaigns in general are a bad idea or a waste of money.

    When I was growing up in the 70s there was an atheist from Chicago (whose name I can't even remember) who was often in the news because he was suing over "In God We Trust" on the money or "under God" in the pledge. He was a bit of a jackass.

    I remember learning from hearing about that man how obnoxious atheists could be and I wondered why he couldn't just let people be. But you know what else I learned from hearing about him? I learned that atheists are a thing, or rather that there was a name for them.

    Now, I doubt there are too many today who don't know that atheists exist but I wouldn't be surprised if there are areas with a church on every corner where doubting people might think they are nearly alone.

    I think you might be in a place of privilege to not need to hear about atheism, but then I bet you aren't surrounded by only church-goers, bible-thumpers, and neighbors whose first question to the new family is "So, which church do you go to?".

    So, yeah. Targeting those specifically headed to Ken Ham's Ark Park Lark with ham-fisted signs is indeed a fool's errand. But getting out the word that atheism is an actual choice is not harmful in the slightest, and hardly a waste of resources.

  • Or maybe it should read,

    "The Ark Park, for people with a limited knowledge of animals or really bad spacial reasoning"

    • Again, who's the billboard for? That's fine for atheists. Not so fine if you're trying to persuade creationists.

      • My initial thought (before seeing the incredibly ham-handed actual billboard) was that the message might be targeted at taxpayers. Do they actually want their tax dollars subsidizing a bunch of immoral assholes who bilk the state because they can't find enough like-minded assholes to actually keep their park afloat.

        Because that gets directly at the counterpoint to Ms. Roth's concern about mis-spending the $10K. If that $10K generates sufficient awareness that citizens lobby their representatives to eliminate the tax subsidies (which, last I knew, were at something like $400K per year), then that actually translates into $390K that could be spent on better things. But making fun of their intelligence and calling Russell Crowe a genocidal maniac is missing the point: telling people they're being fleeced by con men with their legislature's blessing is MUCH more effective messaging.

      • Why not just show Ken Ham's most incredible claims, with a local freethought URL?

        "Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark? Really?

        (Made-up link)

        C'mon, gang, the Word According to Ham (or maybe his epistles) must have plenty of inspirational verses.

  • "They could shelter animals, help homeless, donate to a women’s shelter- help veterans or the elderly, start a soup kitchen or start a neighborhood beautification project removing graffiti."

    Just so everyone knows... they already do this stuff and more.

  • What good does it do to put up a snotty billboard, showing one's contempt and hostility toward religion and religious people? Seriously, do you expect people to continue to listen and come to see things all your way when your whole organization, based on the tone of this billboard, is full of sneery and insulting people? For $10K, I could think of a few far more winning strategies.