We sent out a press release this morning about the billboard, and by the afternoon we’d had coverage on some local websites and by tonight we’d had interviews on local TV.
The comments on the news sites have been pretty negative, but the people actually contacting us have been very positive and grateful. I’ve collected some of the angry comments from our e-mail and the news sites to share with you. Everything is copy & pasted with no editing for grammar, spelling, or logic.
We are hoping to do dramatic readings of some of these. I’ve numbered them so that you can easily comment on which ones are your favorites.
1. “To all atheists: If as a Christian I’m right …. then you lose. If you’re right … then you still lose. Good luck with those odds.”
2. “I would much rather live my life believing that there is one true God and find out later that there isn’t, than to live my life as if there isn’t, only to find out later that there is! I guess we’ll all find out for ourselves on judgement day. As for me, I know in my heart that Jesus died for my salvation and for the salvation of all sinners, and that one day I’ll join Him in heaven with the rest of the believers. Heaven or Hell is your choice… I’ll take the high road, thank you…”
ATHEISTS ARE ALONE
3. “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.” Unless you look at the really big picture and realize you are. Completely. Alone.”
4. “No, if you do not believe in God you are not alone. But you soon will be.”
5. “You’re not alone” are the atheists suicidal? depressed? I’m sure they are, i would be too if i were an atheist. let’s pray that they open their hearts and minds to God
6. “That true God. I was surprise why to say can’t believe God?! They people already know God is true in the Heaven. I believe GOD in Heaven! I never say that unbeliever God before. Should to be change post Believe God, and not say Godless period!”
7. “Madalyn Murray O’Hair, killed by one of her own followers and employees was the most widely known and hated of all Atheists. She, one of her sons, and grand-daughter were killed in a robbery gone bad committed by one whom she trusted. Her surviving son William J. Murray is the chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., active on issues related to aiding Christians in Islamic and Communist nations. She felt so strongly about his becoming a Christian she had this to say about him. “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess, I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. He is beyond human forgiveness.” WOW! What a way for a mother to treat her own child over a difference of religious opinion in a country where we have a right to practice or not practice our religion freely. Way to go Atheists!”
8. What does the year 2011 mean?….. It means the age of JESUS. And he is coming back. Believe it or not.
YOU RUIN CHRISTMAS
9. “My question to the atheists and agnostics, what is the real purpose of the billboards during one of the most holiest times for Christian and Jews? Where were you in June?”
10. “”We’re your friends…” really? Friends don’t slam your beliefs during your holiest of months. If you’re our friends why not put the billboard up in June? The answer is because you enjoy slamming Christians. Give me a break. You have the right to do whatever you want, but have some class and put your signs up during another time.”
YOU GO TO HELL, YOU GOT TO HELL AND YOU DIE
11. “I THINK WE SHOULD PUT UP A SIGN RIGHT NEXT TO THAT ONE THAT SAYS “GOING TO ****? YOU ARE NOT ALONE” I WOULD DONATE. THE ONLY REASON US CHRISTIANS “PUSH” OUR BELIEFS ON ANYONE IS BECAUSE WE READ IN OUR BIBLES THAT JESUS CHRIST COMMANDS WE SHARE THE NEWS “SO THAT NONE MAY PERISH”. I SHARE JESUS BECAUSE I GENUINELY FEEL SORRY FOR THOSE THAT DO NOT KNOW HIM. TO KNOW JESUS IS TO KNOW PEACE”
12. “They might as well spend all their money on silly billboards…they can take it (to ****) with them…”
13. “The time will come when we can so OH WE TOLD YOU SO!! You say non Christians maybe be sitting by us in church-nah I don’t think so”
14. “**** is getting HOTTER as we speak! For those who don’t want to believe, that is your choice, but don’t beg for mercy on your day of Judgement!”
15. “People of all religious beliefs and backgrounds, remember one thing please. When it’s all over and you find that you were wrong, it’s TOO late then to make a change. So, be sure that what or who you believe in or don’t believe in is the right way to go, cause you only get one shot. I know where I’m going. Maybe I’ll see you there. If not, say hello to Hitler and Bin Laden for me, OK!”
16. “WIS/TV… Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason, said “Such non-theists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them.” //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// In a related story—it’s reasonable to say that what the Coalition doesn’t know, as well Is…if they stay their course—they’ll find their community—a very hot place known as…**** !!!”
17. “Atheists cease to exist once they die. They then become believers. Dont believe in God? I’m sure your boss will let you work for Christmas.”
18. “why don’t they do this campaign in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia, i bet those atheists feel even more lonely! American Christians don’t force their religion on people,they, just like the CoR, like to get The Word out, but what you do with it, its up to the individual. The USA still has religious freedom last i checked.”
20. “I believe in Him and I also believe I’ll boycott any advertisers that use Lamar billboards.”
21. “stupid tards why would you be sitting next to us in church if your not a believer ? i think you plan backfired instead of spreading your non existent belief in god anyone who quiestions gods existence will inevitably come to the conclusion there is a god.not offended, all things work to the glory of god.”
22. “This article made me sick and so do half of you posters. That’s what is wrong with the world today. You should be ashamed. I choose to praise God and if you choose not to, then that is your problem”
23. Its funny these people don’t believe in God but they use the money that says “In God We Trust”. Since you don’t believe in God try living without the money that has His name on it.
24. GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY!!! MAKE THEM TAKE THEM DOWN!!! SOMEONE CLIMB UP AND PAINT OVER THE DON’T! THEN IT WILL BE A GREAT SIGN!!
25. For those who dont believe will be the ones who when the time comes will be demanding to be let into the Ark when the world does come to an end. For the way of life is through Jesus Christ and for the way to Death is those who choose not to believe.
26. do believe in God: so people need to watch out what the put on a sign. boy if my sister get hold of this she will be calling on God to take it down:
27. Why is it important that you tell the world you don’t believe? This is the work of Satan, you better believe it. I am sadden by this display.
28. I just want to let you know I am very offended about your billboards. Why can you all put this up and we cannot have billboards with God’s name in it for the good? I really feel this is not fair. Just remember God is watching you.
Just read on your home page in which you wrote “people who don’t believe in a god or gods can be decent citizens…” Gods? Most people (around here) believe in just one God. I think when you wrote “gods” you were being patronizing, no?
I used to be agnostic, so I understand where you are coming from. But I was a little offended by the “gods” reference. You are making fun! Look, Christians and religious folk used to really annoy the crap out of me, especially being the pragmatist that I am. But I think in the end I was more jealous that people could “let go” and accept something that was contrary to rational thought. They were more open-minded than I was and that really got under my skin. So I would make snyde comments like “do you believe in fairies too!” But really, I was just jealous that others could accept something that I could not.
I’m not going to preach. But from one former atheist/agnostic to another, I’d like you to consider one question. This is the question that ultimately helped me to become more open minded in my search for “what is?” No laughing, this is serious stuff and I want you to do your research and really, really ponder it…like for a year or more. Here goes: Why do atoms attract? (and, no, the answer is not “because God tells them to”, lol….or IS it) Remember: question everything, and let your intelligence set you free.
I can assure you that we are not making fun of religious people, nor do we intend to seem patronizing. The simple fact of the matter is that there are, in fact, people in this very community who believe in multiple gods. Both Wiccans and Hindus live in the greater Columbia area. We apologize if you felt offended.
As for your question, atoms are attracted to each other through Van Der Waal’s forces, electronegativity, and ionic or covalent bonding. As an archaeologist, I cannot speak definitively on inter-atomic forces and subatomic particle interaction, but there are plenty of physicists among us who would be happy to discuss the finer points of the theoretical physics should you ever feel inclined to attend a meeting or event advertised on our home page.
I thank you for taking the time to write and express your concerns to us directly, and I hope that my answer has proven satisfactory.
Really? Hindus have multiple gods? They seem so nice, but that’s just crazy.
And thanks for the invite to your activities, but I’ve spent many hours participating in these types of discussions and the answers are always the same. But Justin, in your search for reason and understanding I don’t want you to forget about gravity. Its a big deal. That two objects are pulled together without a single physical, detectable thing binding them is quite the conundrum. Many physicist and scientist believe that there must be something there pulling these particles and objects together. However, this missing something is not detectable on our level or by our limited senses. Many believe it exists on a different plane or dimension all together. But it must exist. Otherwise, these objects are being pulled together by magic, and that’s not reasonable. Nonetheless, these things or invisible “forces” are well beyond our scope and certainly beyond our natural senses.
In reality, we are limited to only what we can see, hear, feel, touch and smell. To me, its incomprehensible to imagine what lies out there that we have no ability to know about or even comprehend because of our physical and sensual limitations. Science and reason are not equipped to tell us. Nor are they equipped to tell us they “don’t know” as that kind of defeats their purpose. Yet, the more we uncover, the more lucid it becomes that there is much more out there that we do not understand, including those things that we are unable to perceive. It could be anything. There is no denying this, it is simply a reasonable conclusion. Of course, what you do with that conclusion is up to you.
30. “I am a Christian; I belive in God and the bible, grew up in Church etc. I am not perfect and I do sin quite frequently. We as Christians believe we are forgiven and are entitled to believe what we choose just as everyone else is; there is freedom of religion and freedom of speech in place to protect everyone and their beliefs.”
Day one here
Friday, in the wee hours of the morning, right after I’d gotten to sleep, there was some sort of major commotion on the 8th floor of the Hyatt, very near to my room. I’m not sure what it was, but I was told hotel security was called and I definitely heard a man who’d been woken up scream, “Shut the Fuck Up!” I would have applauded, but I wasn’t so much for moving.
So, I was very tired when 7:30AM came around. And then breakfast was disappointing. How hard is it to have toast or oatmeal or something other than a very sketchy bready fruity thing? Everything was cooked fruit. How gross. (Note: I’m far too picky for people to take my food opinions seriously.)
We, the godless horde, strode over to the Capitol to meet with some staffers. Herb, Sharon and I first met with Tara O’Neill, who is a Legislative Aide (or LA in Hill Parlance) for Tim Scott. Tara, a Clemson grad, was very nice and polite and listened to all we had to say about HR 1179 2011 (patient rights) and Humanist Military Chaplains. But I’d like to give you some background on Tim Scott, so that you can understand exactly the lion’s den we three atheists were stepping into.
Tim Scott is one of the mythological Black Republicans, and he’s Southern, so he’s about as common as a unicorn. When he was on City Council he erected the 10 Commandments in the Council Office and the AU and ACLU proceeded to sue him to take them down. He campaigned on bringing Christian Values to Washington, and was endorsed by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. He opposes gay marriage, and probably doesn’t believe in atheists in foxholes.
He took $117,000 in campaign ads from an anti-union group and then proceeded to sponsor legislation that would deny FOOD STAMPS to anyone who had a family member on strike. HR 1135 2011. It’s very clever, Sheriff of Nottingham level villainy going on. “I want this brigand found. Starve them out, slaughter their… No, take their live stock. I want Locksley’s own people fighting to bring his head in.”
But enough about the life and legislation of Tim Scott, the staff was very nice — Tara and the UCSD student who greeted us and the gentleman in charge, who understood immediately what the SCA was doing. We were done there by 9:30 and then headed over to meet with Lindsey Graham’s staffer Jason Brown, who is now my favorite person in DC. On the way we walked past an armed guard who had an AK-47 — it didn’t look real, they should really make them look less like toys.
Our appointment wasn’t until 11, so we went down into the cool/creepy tunnels that run under the capitol, and went to a little coffee shop below ground. Then we went back up to meet with Jason Brown. The Senate offices are much, much nicer than the House offices. Graham’s office was decorated with a bunch of pictures and paintings of and by South Carolinians.
Jason Brown is a lawyer working as a Legislative Aide for Lindsey Graham and he took us to a relatively swank conference room and we talked primarily about the issue of Humanist Military Chaplains. He asked us some questions that implied an interest and definite understanding of why it was important to us. That was reassuring. Graham is an interesting character in terms of willingness to not toe the Republican Party Line at all times, and as someone on the Committee on Armed Services, he’s a good person to have on your side in this issue.
After that meeting, I went to Union Station, which is apparently just a large mall without a candy store, and met some others for lunch at Pizzeria Uno. At 2, the panel discussion were set to begin. Fred Edwords, who shall be Fredwords henceforth, the head of COR was the first to arrive. He is working with some people in Columbia to get some buildboards here as well as some media training for locals, so it was nice to see a face I’ve seen a lot of e-mails from of late.
The panel was filled out by David Silverman (American Atheists), Jesse Galef (SSA), and Sally Quinn (editor of On Faith, Washington Post). They spent some time talking about the rapture, which was supposed to happen Saturday, and how good it has been for the cause of Atheism. David Silverman had been on CNN several times, and Herb Silverman was fielding media phone calls all day.
Sally Quinn then spoke for a while, and she was interesting, though I’m not sure I agree with her or where she’s coming from — it could be a generational thing. She had some good zingers though.
You all look like you’re going to hell to me. Tomorrow.
The world is not going to end tomorrow, keep on flossing.
Not one person in this room will be elected president of the United States. There will be a woman, gay, and muslim president before there is an atheist president.
Effective media strategy is based on knowing more about faith than the other guy. This is what makes Hitchens so good, he makes them just give up. PEW says atheists are more knowledgeable about religion than the faithful.
Now, I have a little bit of a problem with the defeatist attitude towards the possibility of an atheist president. There are, of course, quite a few who argue that we currently have one. But an openly atheist president within my lifetime doesn’t seem like an impossibility to me. Maybe I’ll run in however many years til I’m 35.
Then they got into a discussion of when anger was appropriate, and the consensus was it was good when other people also got angry, like when children died of neglect because their family refused medical care because of their religious beliefs. Atheists should try to get in the news for doing community service and nice things, to help dispel the myth that Atheists are immoral or unfeeling. Fredwords echoed things I’ve heard PZ say, which is that you need the firebrands to get attention and the nice people to negotiate change.
And then this is where Sally Quinn really went off the rails for me (and Jennifer Michael Hecht), when she started talking about what the stereotypical view of an atheist is. Apparently Quinn thinks that the image people have in mind when they hear “atheist” is Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was fat, ugly, crazy and had a mustache and that what atheism really lacks is an ATTRACTIVE public representative. Now, I don’t think that our current representatives like Dawkins, Faircloth, Harris, and Hitch are unattractive, I’d be more likely to put them in the generally attractive categories, so I’m just not sure if she means there are no attractive female public personalities or that no one has overcome the O’Hair legacy.
The first doesn’t resonate with me because I’ve seen plenty of attractive women at atheist events. The second doesn’t resonate with me because neither I nor Omar knew what O’Hair looked like. So maybe this is an old-people-who-think-atheism-is-communism-because-they’re-old-and-stupid problem, because no one I know, and we’re people who are like into atheism so we know stuff about atheism, has any idea why anyone would care about O’Hair. Everything I knew about her before Quinn’s comment is that she was killed before I was old enough to know anything and she was also an atheist.
Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re going to change the hearts and minds of Glenn Beck’s 70 year old audience, we just have to let them die. Does anyone under the age of forty think that all atheist ladies have mustaches? If so, I would like to disabuse you of this notion. Many of us also have horns.
Then there was a lot more discussion about tone and tactics, which basically covered all the same ground over and over again, with various protests of various sorts from the panelist and audience members. The most interesting discussion was about whether to participate in interfaith groups, which were exclusive of atheists by name and nature.
The next panel was a team of legal experts, David Niose, Amanda Knief, and Mark Dunn. Their discussion really reflected the rest of the thrust of the meeting in that it was calling for more personal stories rather than more theoretical problems. To this end, they wanted to bring cases based on civil rights and equal protection, not on the Establishment Clause.
What it boils down to is this: when we make Tim Scott take down the 10 Commandments, we are absolutely right, but it makes us seem like assholes, but when we call someone out for violating civil liberties, like firing someone for being an atheist or refusing to allow them to form school groups or parents are denied custody because they aren’t religious, we seem like people who are just fighting to be treated equally. And we get to tell personal stories of how the religious bias has hurt us, and people respond more to that.
And then we got a two-hour break, which I filled with caffeine, and then it was time for the reception/dinner that evening.
Paul Provenza opened with a comedic talk which was very similar to his talk at TAM. He did have a good line, “Today we lobbied, or as I like to call it, fucked shit up.” After dinner, JMH introduced Sean Faircloth, and she reiterated the broad theme (poetic atheism) of needing to tell human stories, we may be rational, but people need emotional connection.
And then Sean Faircloth spoke, and it was very State of the Union. Lots of clapping, lots of broad, hear-hear sort of statements. Spontaneous standing O at the end. He thinks that Secular Americans are the next moral majority, a sleeping giant waiting to be motivated. Then he gave a list of ten goals:
- Our military will serve all Americans, with no fundamentalism or religious bias or conversion
- Any federal/state funded program will be based on science, not belief
- Healthcare providers have a responsibility to their medical duties over their religious beliefs
- The legislature will represent the non religious
- There will be one consistent health standard for children, no religious exception
- Medical and scientific progress shall not be impeded by religious bias ever
- Discrimination based on religion will not happen
- Marriage can be defined by an individual religion however it wants, but the government cannot use religion for its definition
- Government zoning laws will respect all faiths and non-faiths equally
- Youth won’t be subjected to religious bias in schools.
Then, we were kicked out of the room because it was 9 and that was as late as they’d booked it. I proceeded to join JMH and her husband and a few others at the bar, where she ordered a margarita, but couldn’t remember the word for salt. This was immensely amusing. Then there was a party in a room, and we went there. There were all sorts of illicit activities going on (clothes all remained on) and I shan’t be more specific, but it was really fun.
JMH then did a poetry reading for the party, which was quite entertaining. Because her poems are good, people were drinking, and it was so weird that someone would read poetry at a party in the first place. I felt like a Beatnik, but cleaner.
And then, 2000 words later, I went to bed.