The Course of Reason

I’d rather be anti-religion than anti-breakfast

September 14, 2011

The Living Without Religion campaign is a coordinated effort created by the Center for Inquiry to promote the idea that people can live happy, full, and prolific lives without religion. To most of us, it sounds like a simple, concise message. Sometimes I even get close to thinking that maybe we don’t need to be (as an entire movement of secularists) putting so much time and money into these sorts of awareness campaigns.


...Then I hear the responses that we get to the Living Without Religion campaign, and I watch news stories about our efforts, and I read comments left on news sites. To say that we shouldn’t be doing this because people are becoming more accepting of atheism is wrong. I live in a bubble, I will admit, where most of the people that I see and talk to every day, and for many days and weeks in a row, are not the “average” citizen. People in my sphere tend to have more college education, are more liberal, are far less religious, have more progressive values, and are more open to having discussions without jumping to “being offended.” I realize that there is a self-selection process involved in being my friend (not that I want to exclude people with different views from my own—far from it, but sometimes it is hard to meet radically different people when the things that you do involve those who are similar to your self). Realizing that, I have to look to outside sources to see how being non-religious is really perceived and treated in everyday life. That’s where we get back to these billboards and their media coverage.

Take a look at the news video that just ran here in Western New York following the first day that our ad went up: WGRZ “Controversial Anti-Religion Billboards”

Really great reporting, there, WGRZ. You in no way did a piss-poor job of actually staying unbiased. Let’s go through the things in the video and consider why their claims (and the claims and conclusions of the random people they talked to) are wrong, or, at the very least, misguided.

The message is anti-religion.

Wrong. The message asks that all people acknowledge that someone can live without a belief in a god (written as “God,” many people assume that this means the Christian God, of course) and still be a “good” person who has a “good” life, ostensibly. Those are very general terms and that’s what this is trying to accomplish. The billboard wants only the absolute most basic understanding of that very simple idea that hope, love, life, and care can be experienced regardless of your belief/lack of belief in the supernatural.

This message is anti-god.

I’m not sure if it shows up on the article here, but the news story that ran later in the day, was prefaced by the anchors saying that these billboards are “anti-god and anti-religion,” so I thought I would consider both. How is this message not anti-god? It doesn’t say that there is no god. It doesn’t say that it’s not sure if there is a god. It doesn’t say that the popular god in this area doesn’t exist. It doesn’t say that the Bible is wrong. It doesn’t say that god is stupid, or a fairy-tale, or anything else. It just says that you don’t “need God to” live a good life. Same as above.

“Supports atheistic and agnostic views”

Well, you almost got that right, but not quite. It supports the idea that people don’t have to have a god or a religion to live a good life, but it also doesn’t say that those who choose to live their lives with dogmatic beliefs are wrong. Really, it supports atheistic and agnostic views without putting others down, so it seems to me that it supports your choice to choose to believe what you want.

“Is that really necessary?”

Hmm. Is it necessary? It is certainly important to many people who live in the US and feel like they can’t talk about being non-religious for fear of being treated like a second-class citizen. It is important to ask that people understand that their beliefs may be in the majority, but that it is harmful to demonize minorities because of their beliefs. It is necessary? Probably not, but neither is Tim Horton’s or hair gel or losel journalism, but I don’t see you asking New Yorkers if those things are necessary.

“Ironically, he grew up Catholic and wanted to be a priest.”

What is ironic about this? If you look at Pew Forum statistics regarding changes of religious affiliation and changes to “unaffiliated,” you will see that less than half of all Americans (47%) stay with the religion in which they were raised. Plus, Catholicism “has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious change,” according to the Pew Forum piece “Faith in Flux.” You think that it is ironic because you think that someone who at one time is religious will stay religious, or maybe you don’t know what ironic means, but you’re wrong.

“There’s no reason for them here. Take them to a place where atheism is very big. I think that’d be great. We don’t need that here.”

That’s an interesting opinion, random business-owner, but your statement seems to support the idea that nothing which is not in the majority should be represented in public. After all, if we can only profess our support for something “where it is big,” then I am sure it would be hard as hell to gain support, even if you are close to being in the majority, because your message should be stifled as to not upset the majority. First of all, that doesn’t sound very American, and second, no. You can’t make us. Free speech, for the win!

The message is a “diss [to] Christianity”

Hey, random bro on the street, how is this “dissing” Christianity? Does it say “Yer Christian God be a stupid lad, matey,” or does it say that some people are not religious and they can still be happy? Because I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. Let’s put this into simpler terms: If I said, “You don’t need milk to enjoy breakfast,” then should the dairy farmers of America be offended? Should they turn to the reporters and claim that I am anti-dairy? No. That’s just silly. Saying that multiple views can exist and all be happy is not anti-anything except anti-hegemony.

The message is “offensive”

You may be offended by the idea that other people do not all believe exactly the same thing as you do, but if you’re choosing to be offended by this notion, then I feel sorry for you. Plus, you don’t have the right to not be offended, especially if your standards for something to which you take offense are so low. I am sorry that you have such a fragile and insular worldview. See above.

The message is a “sad statement”

How is this statement sad? I truly don’t understand. People think that we must be these sad, gross blobs of hopelessness, anger and frustration, existing off the detritus of society, but we’re not. That’s what we’re trying to tell you. Hello? Is it me you’re looking for? Because I am just about the happiest, most productive, healthy, loving, positive person that I know, and I am as non-religious as they come. I absolutely have no belief in any god and that does not bother me one bit. People meet me and realize that I am a nice person, and nothing that I believe about what happens to me after I die can change that. Nothing about how I think the universe works changes the fact that I am loving and polite and generous. Nothing.

Me, really happy

“To denounce God? You don’t need to do that.”

Now I am just tired. I don’t think this person knows what denounce means. Literally, to denounce God would be to “publicly declare [him] to be wrong or evil” and to “inform against [him],” which is not the case. See the breakfast example.

Now, this may just be one news source that reports shoddily and asks a few people who they know have an opposing viewpoint and apparent ignorance of basic concepts of English semantics, but I would have to say, judging by the comments that we’ve been getting regarding the billboards, that we are “anti-god” is a popular view. Here are some of the best comments:

“Whether you believe in him or not, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is with you and he is watching.” (that one was my favorite)

“Terrible,,, everyone needs to belive in, something whom ever or what ever that may be”

“God that is the God of the Bible (the Triune God) Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will NOT be mocked. ...Yes, we all have a choice to believe in Him or not. Except or reject Him along with His ways. BUT.. and I say BUT as firmly as I can make it sound in a writing format…HE WILL NOT BE MOCKED!!! One day He WILL come to judge both the living and the dead and all who have chosen to reject Him will tremble at His sight, His voice. One day all you who mocked, teased, blashemed will no longer DARE to dismiss that fact that there is a REAL, LIVING GOD. Keep taking God out of everything in this world and watch how much worse everything in this world is going to become. You haven’t seen NOTHING yet.”

“sure is funny why all the atheist continue to spread thier Lies and b.s….they must have a fear..of all religions,,,,,Bet they wouldnt post anti islam signs in arab land or at a mosque… atheist if you are going to post anti religious ideals ,,,psot them to all religions…like buddha islam jewish etc ....are you fearful?”

“Most men & women who have taken the time to read and UNDERSTAND the Bible cannot prove it wrong. As the WORD OF GOD does NOT contradict itself.”

“Bet he [Ron] would be praying to God when the jihadists start sawing at his neck.”

“But I will always believe in God and your doubt will only make it stronger.”

Alright, well, that’s not nearly as cool as getting protested, or having people outside our building with gross pictures, but it’s a start. Realistically, there is nothing that the offended parties can do about a message on a billboard that is trying to promote acceptance of varying kinds of belief and non-belief, so just keep on bumpin’ that caps lock key and slamming your sweaty fists on the keyboard, I guess. We’re still going to be here, everywhere, openly or in secret, living our lives in ways that we think are just, moral, and fulfilling, regardless of what the popular religion is. I don’t know how much credence we should put into the claims that we are getting less religious as a nation, but maybe these upset people are so mad and offended because we’re winning, and because they read a message and were forced to think, just for a second, that they might be wrong about eternal life and fate and god’s plan and even heaven. This might be it…just this world. Beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable, natural this.

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About the Author: Dren Asselmeier

Dren Asselmeier's photo

Dren Asselmeier does student outreach as a campus organizer at the Center for Inquiry. She got her start as an organizer while interning at Center for Inquiry–Michigan in 2008. She stayed until 2010 as a volunteer campus coordinator, and was CFI–Michigan Freethinker of the Year in 2009, as well as president of Center for Inquiry–Grand Valley State University. Dren has a B.A. in English from Grand Valley State University. She is the president of Buffalo Area Non-Profit Professionals, an event volunteer at Buffalo Subversive Theatre, and a contributor to the Buffalo Storyteller Hour. 




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