Why So Negative?

The American Atheists are launching an advertising campaign in the heart of the Bible Belt. Like many such campaigns,this one is being described as “controversial” and “provocative” in the media. Here is one account in the Telegraph.

Atheist activists are taking their campaigns to the Bible Belt this Christmas with a provocative billboard campaign that is expected to stir controversy in America’s religious heartlands.

The giant advertising hoardings in the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Arkansas show a mischievous-looking young girl writing her letter to Father Christmas: “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales,” she writes.

The advertising campaign by the American Atheists group will run until Christmas Eve and is the first time the group has aimed its anti-God adverts directly at residential religious areas, having previously targeted urban audiences in big venues such as Times Square in New York.

“Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth,” said David Silverman, the group’s president, as he launched the campaign.

In a sign of the hostility the adverts are expected to generate, American Atheists said that it had failed secure a single billboard site in Jackson, Mississippi after leasing companies collectively refused to offer space, fearing a community backlash.

“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,” added Danielle Muscato, the group’s spokesperson.

And yet, somehow their idea of education and activism seems to be intent on driving people away by being as offensive as possible.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Don’t call me a fairy tale! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do many atheists seem to feel the need to deprecate the religious faith of others?  I think part of the reason lies in the nature of atheism. As atheism is the absence of belief in a deity, atheism is an inherently negative belief system. An atheist argues against  belief.

If I were to preach Christianity, I have a positive message to proclaim, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not need to disparage other religions as fairy tales. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his Mere Christianity,I do not even have to believe that all other religions are completely wrong. I can find truth and even virtue among people with very different beliefs and traditions from my own. I can praise the Muslim for his piety in praying five times every day or the Buddhist for his cultivation of compassion. I can find common ground with which to spread the message of Christ. Consider the way in which Paul spoke to the Athenian philosophers.

18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teachingis that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:18-31)

Notice that he did not tell the Athenians that they were superstitious idol-worshippers. He complimented them on being very religious and explained that he knew about the god they worshipped in ignorance. A Christians can conceivably approach the believer of any other faith in a similar fashion.

An Atheist really cannot. In order to be an atheist, a person has to believe that the follower of any religion, whatever its beliefs and practices, is a a deluded fool who believes in fairy tales. Even if an atheist concedes that a believer might be doing some good, feeding the hungry or caring for the sick, he has to believe that that the believer is likely doing good, not for the sake of goodness in itself but only to to please an imaginary deity. The Atheist cannot meet the believer halfway. He must believe that he is right and everyone he meets who happens to be a believer in any religion, in other words the majority of the people he comes into contact with, are simply wrong. This is not a belief that lends itself to feelings of charity and tolerance for the beliefs of others. In fact, that may be the source of much of emotional appeal of Atheism, the heady, gnostic feeling of possessing superior knowledge, of being in the know while others are so ignorant.

What ever the truth might be, this negativity is part of the reason I am not am Atheist. For myself, I prefer a positive to a negative and to build rather than tear down.


3 thoughts on “Why So Negative?”

  1. I truly do not understand why you feel this billboard is offensive. I’ve seen a number of Christian billboards that inform me that I’m going to burn in hell or that I will be lost if I don’t subscribe to their religion. I don’t find these billboards offensive. If the Atheist billboard says nothing except that we do not believe what you do…how is that offensive? It just a statement of fact that is placed in public to advertise a conference for others who feel the same.


    1. I personally do not feel offended by this billboard, but most people with deeply held and sincere religious beliefs do get upset when those beliefs are deprecated as “fairy tales”, and it is not really very nice to do so.
      What is the purpose of the Atheist billboard? The Christians want to save people, but what are the Atheists trying to accomplish? If they are seeking converts this seems a poor way to go about it. Very few people are going to question their beliefs upon being told such beliefs are fairy tales. It is more likely they will cling to their beliefs out of stubbornness. If they are trying to rally the (un)faithful, what does it say about them that they have to disparage others to do so?


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