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Activism, Christianity

More on Billboards


Predictably, PZ Myers is a fan of the new billboard.  He’s about as outspoken and in-your-face as atheists get, and by any standards I can think of, the billboard isn’t nearly as inflammatory as some of PZ’s stunts.

He has this to say:

Might it stir a little resentment, maybe even sting Christians a little bit because it reminds them that atheists exist and freakin’ disagree with them?

YES! And that is a good thing that does them no harm, and even does them considerable good. We’re here, we’re just as much a part of this society as they are, and we’re not going to sit silently any more.

If Christians resent that, well, they can just read Jezebel or a thousand other sites and discover the self-loathing atheists who consider the forthright expression of their ideas to be dickish and indecent, and restore their sense of smug superiority that way.

I can’t disagree with anything he’s saying.  I think he’s probably right.  It does sting a lot of theists to be confronted with non-belief.  It hurts them to think that they might have to accept non-believer holiday greetings as the norm.  They’d like to have it all for themselves.  We already know all that.

But I think we’ve won the battle over Christmas.  Holiday decorations and greetings begin before Thanksgiving here in the deep south, and I’ve already seen plenty and heard plenty.  And you know what I’m seeing?  Santa.  And reindeer.  And Christmas trees.  And garland.  Know what I’m hearing?  “Happy holidays.”

The retailers are not out there to sell Jesus.  They’re there to sell merchandise, and they don’t give a rat’s ass what it is as long as it sells for a profit.  And over the last several years, they’ve heard the message loud and clear.  It’s not just about Baby Jesus. There are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Wiccans, Pagans, and Zoroastrians out there, and they all have their own end-of-year holiday.  None of them like being told to celebrate another religion’s holiday.  We may be a primarily Christian nation, population-wise, but non-Christians make up a big spending block.

So everybody says happy holidays.  That’s a win for us.  No, it’s not ubiquitous, but it’s lots more common than twenty years ago, and nobody gets strung up in the media for saying Happy Holidays.  Except on the O’Reilly Factor.  And it’s his right to rant.

When I opined on the sign a couple of weeks ago, I suggested that a better way to celebrate the season is to do good works as open atheists.  I still think this is a good idea, and I still think it’s a better use of time and money than putting up a billboard preaching the same message the retailers have already heard.

To be clear, I don’t think PZ’s wrong.  We need to continue to be unapologetic and open about our atheism.  We don’t owe any theists a right to comfort or insulation from ideas outside of their churches.  The U.S. is still dominated by social and legislative Christianity.  There’s a long, long way to go, and it’s going to be ugly from time to time.  I’m down with that plan.  (I certainly hope nobody would accuse me of being a passive or self-loathing atheist.)

But I think there’s another side to this, and it might be time to show it.  Yes, we want equality as atheists.  But we keep talking about how much more moral atheists are, how much more we care about our fellow humans, and how much more life matters when we only get one shot.  The holiday season is the perfect time to put our feet and our money in the lead.  This is when we ought to be organizing food drives, blood drives, and any other kind of drives we can think of.  This is when we can start building our own holiday traditions around genuinely good values from humanist thought.

We could start saying, “Happy Holidays” and really mean it.  Even if we were saying it to theists.  Because that’s what we want, right?  Everyone to celebrate the way they see fit?



9 thoughts on “More on Billboards

  1. Agreed.

    I’m not even against saying “Merry Christmas,” just as I’m not against saying, “Have fun on Thursday,” even though I don’t believe in Thor. (Though I do believe the word “merry” is a bit archaic.)

    I think the billboards are not a bad idea. First, they generate publicity. Second, they do make me feel as if I’m not alone, a feeling that is hard to shake. And finally, while doing good works is a very good idea in general, it’s not quite the same doing a good work in the name of a lack of a god. There’s a certain context missing.

    I think signs like this help provide that social context.

    Not that I think atheists need some sort of brand campaign. Or maybe I do. I’m not sure.

    Posted by nigelTheBold | November 30, 2010, 4:26 pm
  2. I think its tacky. When someone pays for Billboard space, It is for only one of 3 reasons:

    1) To sell a product
    2) To sell a political agenda
    3) To sell a religious agenda

    In the short and long term, PZ Meyers hurts the atheist cause. His militant ways continue to set back Atheism for years.

    BTW, The first response by Theists is that a lot of asshole atheists are now trying to ruin Christmas for the rest of society.

    Yeah, that is great PR for Atheists. Keep up the good work PZ..


    Posted by PG | November 30, 2010, 4:28 pm
  3. LOL Nigel. Thank you for your definite maybe in support or opposition to something or other. 🙂

    But I get what you’re saying. I don’t disagree with the billboard either. I think it’s fine. And I think it does what you say, too.

    I’m just not sure it’s the *best* thing we can be doing. And I’m all in favor of improving things, even when they’re good.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 30, 2010, 4:31 pm
  4. Oh, and Nigel, as far as things like food drives, it’s simple. “Such and So-Forth Atheist Group is doing a food drive. Because People Are Hungry and Need Food.”

    That’s really as much motivation as we need, right?

    Posted by hambydammit | November 30, 2010, 4:32 pm
  5. I’m with you, Hamby. I appreciate the billboards, but I can’t bring myself to contribute to their costs. To me, development charities are a far higher priority.

    Posted by Joel Justiss | November 30, 2010, 9:20 pm
  6. I’ve always thought that billboards and promotional campaigns are the best way to advertise how stupid you are.

    But that’s beside the point and I use it to illustrate that actions speak louder than billboards.

    but then again if actions speak louder than words, then why is the pen mightier than the sword?

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 1, 2010, 12:27 am
  7. Alison, that’s the most philosophical I think I’ve ever seen you. Becoming a stoic in your old age?

    Posted by hambydammit | December 1, 2010, 1:20 am
  8. Becoming a stoic

    I’m rather apathetic to Stoicism to be honest.

    Posted by cptpineapple | December 1, 2010, 3:19 am
  9. Hamby, I agree with your earlier post – why use antagonism? Perhaps the intent was to target those non-believers who celebrate anyway, but the billboard doesn’t make that clear. It comes across as an in-your-face smirk to believers, IMO.

    Why not just celebrate the solstice instead? Provide an alternative for those non-believers. It really comes down to the vinegar vs. honey approach. I don’t think this billboard will win any converts to atheism.

    Posted by Susan Walsh | December 1, 2010, 10:33 am

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