Is Atheism Really Threatening?by Brad Warbiany
These signs have been popping up lately in the Denver area…
…and some folks are none too happy about it.
The hate mail and nasty, threatening phone messages began almost immediately.
John Matson, of Denver, was so mad after seeing the Santa Fe Drive sign that he dashed off an angry letter to the billboard’s owner.
“It is a despicable act to allow that sign,” the 60-year-old man said in an interview, “and for just a few pieces of silver.”
He went on COCORE’s Web site, and it made him even angrier, John Matson said. It is trying to gather, he said, “a constituency of what I call mob rule.”
“I know they’re atheists, and my opinion is they want others to believe the same thing. The billboard misrepresents their purpose,” he said. “Their agenda is wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political. Why don’t they just say it.”
Yes, he is a Christian, John Matson said.
Perhaps it’s simply that I’m a godless heathen myself, but I have yet to see any way that these billboards, as some of their detractors have claimed, “denigrate Christians”. As far as I can tell, this is simply an advertising campaign for their group. Given the number of billboards I’ve seen throughout my life advertising for various churches, I don’t quite understand why this would create such an uproar. I’m not surprised, mind you, but I don’t understand.
While I don’t necessarily agree with Matson’s statement that “they want others to believe the same thing” — not that I’d find anything wrong with that — this is clearly an advertising campaign. In many ways, being an atheist is very similar to being a libertarian: nobody understands you, you’re often finding yourself unable to admit your beliefs in public, and thus you have a very difficult time finding others like yourself. While church members have a natural venue to meet like-minded folks, the very lack of belief makes it very difficult for atheists to do the same. Thus, it can be a lonely existence, and the knowledge that there are others who at least share your belief is a small comfort.
Matson, of course, does have a point. A group like COCORE may, through campaigns like this, slowly legitimize atheism in the general public. That will allow people of weak faith who might naturally tend towards atheism make the complete leap. But such at attitude by Christians would only make clear that they are against one of those central tenets of Christianity, the idea that accepting Christ is a choice to be made freely and with all the information laid out.
Instead of knee-jerk reaction, perhaps those who believe would do better if they spent their time working towards conversion based upon the positive aspects of their faith, not by trying to silence their opposition. To do such a thing would be respectful of freedom, and would earn my respect*. It may not spur me to believe, but it would certainly temper my disgust at some of the behavior of the more vocal and least-tolerant believers.
* I am fully aware that many — I’d even say most — Christians are very good people, and are interested in honest conversion of their opposition rather than trying to silence such. I am not trying to impugn Christianity based upon their least-tolerant members. Just as not every atheist is filing silly lawsuits to remove “under God” from the pledge, not every Christian is an intolerant bigot. But the simple fact is that we are not a threat to Christians of strong faith, and never will be. Atheism, like libertarianism, has a very strong “live and let live” ethos** that most of the world’s religions could learn from.
** The “live and let live” ethos is an inaccurately-worded shorthand. I explain why down in the comments here.