Without God There Is No Joy?

September 13, 2011

As many of you are aware, CFI is currently running an ad campaign in several cities (Grand Rapids, Niagara Falls, Durham, and Washington, D.C.). This is the second phase of the “Living without Religion” campaign we launched earlier this year. The reaction to this campaign, both pro and con, demonstrates why this campaign is needed.

Our ads, which display the message “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live,” have received a good deal of attention, and the reaction is varied, as you might expect. Many skeptics have expressed their gratitude for the campaign, with a typical comment being along the lines of “This campaign reminds me that I am not alone.” For more than a few, seeing our billboards was the first time they became aware there was an organization dedicated to the critical examination of religion and advocacy for nonbelievers.

There have also been some believers who claim to have been offended by the ad or otherwise object to it. (Of course, for some believers, the slightest whisper of a doubt about their dogma is offensive.) Some even expressly disagree that nonbelievers can lead meaningful, fulfilling lives.

Two billboards recently went up in the Niagara Falls area, near our headquarters. Yesterday evening, the local news channels aired stories about the billboards. One channel tendentiously described our message as being “anti-God.” But the most interesting and revealing comments came from a person interviewed for the report that aired on YNN, a local cable news channel. This person objected strongly to the billboard, stating, “I’ve never met a joy-filled person who says that ‘I don’t need God.’”

Wow. We have already received ample confirmation that our campaign has been a good investment. But this person’s statement brings home the necessity of the campaign. The statement is a stark reminder that atheists continue to be associated with negative stereotypes. If we’re not immoral and uncaring, we’re despairing and joyless.

The irony is that this person—unless she’s had a cloistered existence—has met nonbelievers, some of whom undoubtedly had joy in their lives. But she didn’t know it because they didn’t tell her, and one reason they may not have told her is because of the negative stereotypes associated with atheists. 

We have to show people how absurd these stereotypes are, but, of course, we can’t do that unless and until we let people know we’re here. We need to make some noise.

Let me mention one way we can do this (segue alert). I assume you’ve heard of the Reason Rally, but, if not check out the website, and then join us in Washington, D.C. on March 24. It promises to be the largest gathering of secular Americans ever. We’ll make some noise; we’ll have some fun. It will be a joy-filled celebration.