A Provocative Critique of Religious Beliefs—from Believers

December 31, 2009

A billboard that pictures Joseph and Mary in bed, under the statements: "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow." Unforgiveable ridicule of religious dogma? Hate speech from atheists?

Hardly. The billboard in question was recently put up by a church in New Zealand.  The Washington Post quoted a representative of the church as stating that the church wanted a provocative message to draw attention to its position that "to find out about God and Jesus, you don't have to hang up your brain, you don't have to believe in supernatural things."

Not unexpectedly, some religious believers disagreed. Indeed, some believers characterized the billboard as that horrible, vile, and unspeakable thing -- you know, blasphemy.

But that did not bother the church. The church representative explained that it is important that people don't take themselves too seriously and place their beliefs beyond criticism.

My hat is off to this church. I don't share its view that belief in the supernatural is extraneous to religious beliefs, but that is beside the point. The church understood that to convey its message, a concise, pointed, somewhat humorous statement was both necessary and appropriate. If the statement was critical of traditional religious belief, so what?

As some may recall, CFI's own commemoration of Blasphemy Day was not greeted by all humanists with enthusiasm. Moreover, although some of the objections were responsible, and arguably made some valid points, some of the objections bordered on hysteria. Some humanists argued that in commemorating criticism of religious beliefs, CFI was emulating Nazis and encouraging hate speech. It is refreshing to see that some religious take a more reasonable and relaxed view of religious criticism.

And who says humanists have nothing to learn from the religious?