In Colorado some Atheists buy billboards that read: ‘God is an imaginary friend’

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Boulder Atheists announced Monday that the group has purchased space on three billboards in Denver and Colorado Springs to post messages that read, "God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality, it will be better for all of us."

Boulder Atheists co-founder Marvin Straus said billboards have proven an effective way for the organization to communicate with the public. He said recruiting more atheists isn't the goal.

"It's not like we're evangelical atheists," Straus said. "We don't care whether people are believers or non-believers. Our main goal is separation of church and state. The goal of the billboard is to encourage a dialogue."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMediaReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsAtheism

15 Comments
Posted January 26, 2012 at 5:50 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Mark Baddeley wrote:

What a load of rubbish:

“It’s not like we’re evangelical atheists,” Straus said. “We don’t care whether people are believers or non-believers. Our main goal is separation of church and state. The goal of the billboard is to encourage a dialogue.”

I buy a billboard that says:

Buy the Brooklyn Bridge! Great Views!

And then claim that I was evangelising people for my attempt to sell ‘the Brooklyn Bridge’, and that I don’t care if they buy it or don’t. I was ‘just wanting to promote dialogue’, oh, and that ‘my main goal is the building of bridges by free enterprise’.

Is anyone going to take that as a straight answer as to what I was seeking to accomplish by buying the billboards?

Just have a smidgeon of courage and commitment to the truth and say, “Yeah, we want people to become atheists, because we think religious belief isn’t real and everyone’s better off when people believe what is real.”

Atheists, thy name is disingenuity.

January 26, 7:30 am | [comment link]
2. Mark Baddeley wrote:

sigh ‘was not evangelising people’

kinda important in that sentence

January 26, 7:33 am | [comment link]
3. Br. Michael wrote:

If this actually gets people to think about their worldview this can be used as a great evangelical tool.  Use their own reason against them.  Even natural materialism is founded upon assumptions that cannot be proven or disproven by the means that that worldview holds valid.

For example, as part of an atheistic worldview an atheist claims that there is no God. Fine.  Let them prove it.  They can’t.  They can assume it, but they can’t prove it.

January 26, 8:35 am | [comment link]
4. JuliaMarks wrote:

I guess that I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  Imagination, after all, is defined as the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality, or even creative ability.  God can be unseen, can’t he?  Whenever I hear someone say, I can’t believe in God because I can’t see him, I want to respond: well, I can’t see your thoughts or feelings either, does that mean that they are not real?  I can’t see theories, can I?  Does that mean that they are not real?  What about psychological constructs, such as the ego or dream interpretation, can we put up billboards about these also?

January 26, 10:13 am | [comment link]
5. Gnu Ordure wrote:

#1,

Atheists, thy name is disingenuity.

Mark, I think you’re misunderstanding him. I think he’s saying that he doesn’t expect a bill-board to convert anyone, and therefore that is not the purpose of the bill-board. The purpose is to stimulate dialogue - they are hoping that maybe Christian bloggers would pick up on the story and re-post it on their blogs so that people will talk about it. As we are doing! Mission accomplished.

You might of course ask, “what is the purpose of this ‘dialogue’ ?”, to which there are a number of possible answers. I personally post on a site such as this for various reasons, but trying to convert anyone to atheism isn’t one of them. There are more pressing social, political and educational issues which need discussing.

January 26, 1:35 pm | [comment link]
6. Mark Baddeley wrote:

Hi Gnu Ordure,

You could only be right, but I think it would only be the case if he was misquoted or extra things he said altered the meaning of what was quoted.

When someone says:

It’s not like we’re evangelical atheists,” Straus said. “We don’t care whether people are believers or non-believers.

They have made a negative statement - “we aren’t evangelical (i.e. prosletysing) atheists” - we aren’t seeking to make anyone an atheist.

They have also made a complementary positive statement - we don’t care whether people have religious beliefs or they definitely do not.

That’s set up as a very strong way of saying, “We didn’t do this to get anyone to be an atheist.”

So what was the reason for the billboard?

  Our main goal is separation of church and state. The goal of the billboard is to encourage a dialogue.

So the goal of the group (either generally or with this campaign) is to achieve a separation of church and state.

Let’s compare all that to the words of the billboard:

God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality, it will be better for all of us.

I don’t consider myself a bad reader. I have some relatively objective indicators to support that conception. If a student of mine submitted an essay where they deduced from that billboard that:

1) The writer wasn’t trying to persuade anyone to become an atheist.

2) The writer’s goal was to achieve a separation of church and state in 2012 in the U.S.A. (i.e. in light of that context for the words)

then I would have to fail them on basic comprehension.

*If* that was the goal, and if they *really* don’t care what people believe about God, then they were incompetent.

If they do care but they don’t expect a billboard to achieve that, then there are ways of saying that that don’t involve you saying, “We aren’t ‘evangelical’ atheists - we don’t care if you believe in God.” and “Our goal is the separation of church and state.”

I can accept that the reporter misrepresented him. But I can’t accept that his words as reported have the innocuous meaning you’re attributing. He either miscommunicated or was disingenuous.

January 26, 2:48 pm | [comment link]
7. Gnu Ordure wrote:

Mark, I think you’re over-analyzing his comments.

But you’re also missing the point that in this story the actual message on the billboard is irrelevant; the newsworthy fact is that an atheist message is being put on a billboard.

But even if this chap was being disingenuous, how is this significant? He isn’t an elected representative; he doesn’t speak for anyone except the members of his organization. He certainly doesn’t speak for me, I never heard of him before today.

So you’re not justified in generalizing that all atheists are disingenuous on the basis of one person’s words.

January 26, 6:35 pm | [comment link]
8. Teatime2 wrote:

#5—You’re right, we’re talking—about how pointless his billboard is. If he really cared about the separation of church and state then he would engage people in that particular discussion. He’d probably find that many people who believe in God support that separation even more ardently than he does.

No, this is a pathetic cry for attention, just as the “Good without god” signs on the buses were. It seems weird to me that when the atheists have money to spend and want to make their point, they buy advertising to do it for them. Um, wouldn’t using the money spent on bus signage to feed and clothe the less fortunate have made their point a lot more realistically? And if they’re so concerned about the separation of church and state, what exactly is a billboard in Colorado going to do about that? Nothing, except get a mention in a news cycle or two.

January 26, 7:47 pm | [comment link]
9. Teatime2 wrote:

Oops, one last thing. Nothing says “I don’t want dialogue” more than posting a controversial sign and walking away. So, the humanists don’t believe in God and they don’t believe that other people and their thoughts are worth their time, either? That means they only value themselves, hold their own ideas as the only truth, and will judge other people by their own, defined measures, which sounds an awful lot like they’ve made themselves ... you can fill in the blank. wink

January 26, 7:53 pm | [comment link]
10. Gnu Ordure wrote:

Teatime2:

If he really cared about the separation of church and state then he would engage people in that particular discussion.

The billboard was designed to stimulate discussion. It has.

It seems weird to me that when the atheists have money to spend and want to make their point, they buy advertising to do it for them. Um, wouldn’t using the money spent on bus signage to feed and clothe the less fortunate have made their point a lot more realistically? 

Churches provide charity, but they also advertise themselves. There are far more religious billboards than atheist ones. So you have no basis to criticize atheist advertising.

And if they’re so concerned about the separation of church and state, what exactly is a billboard in Colorado going to do about that?

It gets people thinking about the issue. And talking about it.

40% of Americans believe that the world is about 10,000 years old, based on the Bible. And some of them want that ‘fact’ taught to all children in science classes in State schools. Whether that happens ultimately depends on the separation of church and state.

Would you like to discuss that?

Nothing says “I don’t want dialogue” more than posting a controversial sign and walking away. 

Does that apply to Christian billboards as well? If not, why not?

But I’m not walking away, Teatime. If you want dialogue, we can do that…

January 26, 10:35 pm | [comment link]
11. Scatcatpdx wrote:

Trolls going to troll

January 26, 11:47 pm | [comment link]
12. Teatime2 wrote:

#10—Gnu, but has it stimulated discussion about his purported issue? No.

I don’t know of any Christian billboards that only offer a nasty and condescending message meant to deride others’ faith. If there are any, then those are pointless and ridiculous, too. And if there are any, I’m sure there would be an outcry to remove them.

Incidentally, if I had bucks and decided to put up some billboards that simply stated, “I believe that gay adoption isn’t optimal for children,” how long do you think they’d last before someone either tore them down or sued to have them taken down? And those billboards are simply an opinion and WOULD encourage discussion about the issue. They don’t reduce other people’s beliefs in derogatory terms.

In other words, the atheists are milking their “cool, secular” status but they’re behaving badly. And they’re being hypocrites.

I don’t know why you bring up the whole creationism thing. I’m not a Bibilical literalist and I’m not going to rally to their defense. But I will say that I live in the buckle of the Bible belt and creationism isn’t taught here. All of us who attended public schools have been taught the THEORY of evolution as if it is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s not and it should be but, if you do, your job may be threatened. Check out the documentary on that matter! Can’t remember the title but it’s on Netflix.

Finally, concerning Christian billboards and “walking away,” we Christians are available to engage with anyone at any time. We can be found in our churches, hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, shelters, everywhere. Visitors and seekers are always welcome. We’ve got phones, websites, and all sorts of open organizations. So where do we find the atheist organizations, soup kitchens, shelters, meeting halls, etc.? Gee, maybe if they actually had these things and knew that people could show up and tell them how insulting and poorly reasoned they are, they wouldn’t insult and hide.

January 27, 12:16 am | [comment link]
13. Gnu Ordure wrote:

Teatime:

I don’t know of any Christian billboards that only offer a nasty and condescending message meant to deride others’ faith.

I’m sorry you thought it was nasty. I don’t think it was meant to be offensive…

I don’t know why you bring up the whole creationism thing.

Because it’s a vital issue. It’s the main reason that atheists have become ‘active’ in the last decade. 

All of us who attended public schools have been taught the THEORY of evolution as if it is sacrosanct and shouldn’t be questioned.

Then you were taught badly. Nothing in science is sacrosanct, or sacred. Those are religious concepts, not scientific ones. Anybody is welcome to discover new things and overturn the old order, if they can. Fame and fortune awaits. The Theory of Evolution has been questioned constantly ever since Darwin proposed it in 1859. It has been refined, obviously, but still remains essentially intact.

It’s not and it should be but, if you do, your job may be threatened. Check out the documentary on that matter! Can’t remember the title but it’s on Netflix.

If you are referring to ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’, it’s nonsense.

We’ve got phones, websites, and all sorts of open organizations. So where do we find the atheist organizations, soup kitchens, shelters, meeting halls, etc.? Gee, maybe if they actually had these things

A friend of mine made a list of secular charities:

Accion, micro-lending
Action Aid
Afghan Children’s Fund National Geographic,  fund to educate Afghan children
Alternative Gifts International
American Civil Liberties Union
American Humanists
American Lung Association
American Red Cross
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Americares, delivering medicines, medical supplies and aid to people in crisis around the world.
Amnesty International
Atheist Centre of India runs 3 charities: disaster relief, women’s empowerment, criminal tribes
Atheist Volunteers
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, working to find a cure for spinal cord injuries.
Coalition to stop the use of child soldiers
Direct Relief International
Doctors Without Borders <== Haiti Earthquake Relief
Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest
FINCA International
Freedom From Religion Foundation
The Halo Trust, Princess Diana supported this land mine charity.
Fred Hollows Foundation, preventing blindness
Heifer Project International
Humane Society US
Humanist Charities, same as American Humanists
International Committee of the Red Cross
Kiva,  person-to-person micro-lending
Lions Club International
Meals On Wheels
Mercy Corps
Orbis, saving eyesight worldwide
Oxfam
Pathfinder International
Partners In Health
Peace Corps,  U.S. government org
Rotary International
Ryan’s Well Foundation,  digs wells in Africa
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Student Alliance,
The Smile Train, funds surgeries to correct children’s cleft palate
SOS Children’s Villages
TechnoServe
UNICEF

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s a start…

January 27, 1:31 am | [comment link]
14. Teatime2 wrote:

“God is an imaginary friend. Choose reality ...” isn’t nasty? Surely you’re not obtuse. The spiritual equivalent of that is telling people that they’ve chosen damnation if they don’t accept Jesus as their savior. And I don’t support that tactic, either. Of course the dude meant it to be insulting because, again, he wants attention, not dialogue.

I have a whole lot of experience with the applications of science and, yes, their pronouncements ARE treated as sacrosanct unless and until someone blows the prevailing research out of the water. (And sometimes they try to suppress contrary studies because they jeopardizes product sales and business deals.)  Go ahead—question or simply refuse to follow a doctor’s orders. You will be labeled as non-compliant and that can jeopardize your treatment and coverage. Object because of religious belief and you may have bigger problems on your hands. You could be labeled as mentally unstable, incompetent, and have your right to decide taken away.

Science is not conducted in a purist manner, particularly in this country where the aim is to create products and treatments to make money. If the research isn’t sponsored by a company with vested interests, it’s conducted by a university that is, again, seeking research money and corporate donors. They don’t make many like Jonas Salk anymore.

Lastly, your list confuses secular with atheist. Not being religious-affiliated is far different from being antagonistic toward spiritual/religious belief. You wouldn’t have much of a list if you simply included the charities that operate from and for Humanistic/Atheistic organizations and ideals. I know church people who have volunteered for some of the charities on your list. These are not Atheist/Humanist-run groups.  It’s one thing to operate a secular charity that embraces people of all backgrounds and faiths or none at all, which is what these do, and another to operate a charity that is dismissive of and/or antagonistic toward people who believe in God.

January 27, 3:22 am | [comment link]
15. The_Elves wrote:

We request that commenters try to remain on topic and avoid long off-topic rabbit trails and extreme prolixity - thanks - Elf

January 27, 1:05 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): (FT) Martin Wolf—The world’s hunger for public goods

Previous entry (below): Rick Warren and the church he serves tackle obesity

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)