I really don't know where to begin with this whole mess (hat tip to Rick at SFDB). Here's the basics of the story--a Florida atheist group paid for a couple of billboards. This billboard in particular has stirred up some controversy.
Here's where the fail starts to pile up.
The members of the community cite two main problems: born-again Christians own the business right next to the sign, and the billboard is located right in the middle of an African-American community.The first part actually starts to make a little sense once you read the next couple of paragraphs--local businesses are being blamed--unfairly, of course--for the billboard's content, and they say it's hurting their business. Even if that's more perception than reality, that's at least a legitimate concern.
But what does the fact that the billboard is in an African-American community have to do with anything? Is that a suggestion that African-Americans would never be atheists? Or is atheism supposed to be somehow racist and so putting a billboard promoting it is a particular thumb in the eye to the African-American community? I'm not sure, and the article never explains it either. What's really happening is that the religious community in the area doesn't like the billboard, and it's a black neighborhood, so that's where the protests are coming from. But the skin color of the people in the neighborhood is pretty irrelevant to the discussion, so far as I can tell.
But it's not just the reporting that's full of fail. First, from one of the activists looking to get rid of the billboard:
After seeing the billboard, Team of Life community activist Essie "Big Mama" Reed brought her students out to protest it Wednesday afternoon. "Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus," Big Mama chanted, as she led her students in protest.Look, neither belief or non-belief in God is going to do much to stop crime or drug use. And obviously, God isn't going to personally jump in and do anything about it, because He's had plenty of chances to intervene thus far and we're still dealing with crime, poverty, drug abuse and tons of other social ills. Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of examples of people who've had problems with addiction and the idea of submitting to a higher power has helped them to control that addiction. But so have a lot of other treatments, and there are plenty of violent people as well as drug abusers who confess a deep and abiding faith. It's not a magic bullet.
She said the sign affects something much deeper than business. "I don't know the reason for putting this sign up," said Big Mama. "It says 'Do not believe in God.' How are we going to make it? Look at our schools, everyday. Everyday there's something going on. Kids are out here killing each other, kids are here using drugs. Who else are they going to believe in?"
But this response from the president of FLASH, the organization that paid for the billboards, isn't very good either.
The billboard sponsors said they would like the community to show them the same tolerance they fought for during the civil rights era. "The women and blacks in this neighborhood, they've been discriminated before, in the recent past, as early as 30, 40 years ago," Loukinen said, "and yet, they have no problem discriminating against another group, whether it be gays or atheists."Dude, no, no, no, no, no. This isn't the Oppression Olympics, and even if it were, we atheists are the equivalent of the Iranian Bobsled team. Even today, women and people of color face more unconscious discrimination than most atheists can even begin to imagine. We get irritated by stuff--we don't have cabs drive past because the cabbies don't like our views on secular humanism; we don't make significantly less money over the course of our lives because we dismiss the divinity of Jesus; we don't go to jail at higher rates than believers when convicted of the same crimes. Let's have a little perspective here.
But even more so, let's not play into the stereotype of African-Americans as being gay-haters. Homosexuality wasn't even a part of this conversation until Loukinen made it one, and there was absolutely no call for it.
I like the idea of the billboards and I like the idea of atheists being more open about their lack of belief. Were that billboard in my neighborhood and the local churches protesting it, I'd counter-protest, because I believe it's important to put a human face on atheism. The message isn't very controversial--you don't have to believe in God to be a good person is so self-evident as to be banal--and I hope to see more of them. Just be careful about how much you try to claim the movements of other groups to bolster your own.