Nearly a month ago, I introduced you to the Columbia Coalition of Reason, which had put up a billboard inviting local non-theists to contact us. The reaction from Christians was predominantly negative, but we also received a lot of very positive responses from both non-believers and believers.
This week, a local church decided to put up a billboard in the same location in the digital rotation along with our billboard as a direct rebuttal.
This is fantastic. One, it means we’re in the news again, and two, it means we’ve opened a dialogue with local people of faith.
Dustin Tucker, the guy who has coordinated the billboard effort, was interviewed by local TV station WLTX and spoke to how great it was that the opposing view was speaking up and expressed hope that the atheists would be able to do some sort of joint charity effort with Park Street Baptist Church, something that’s already in the works.
Unlike the responses to the previous news stories, the ones to this seem much more level and reasonable. Here are my two favorites:
Wow…if the billboards can co-exist..perhaps the believers and non-believers will find a way to co-exist as well.
If one wants to see God look into the eyes of a child and you will see Innocent little angels. Those who choose not to believe live very empty lives.
I love kids, don’t get me wrong, but they are definitely demons.
If you’d like to know more about the billboards you can go over to Friendly Atheist, where the president of the Pastafarians at USC has done a nice write up, go listen to the podcast I did at A Matter of Doubt, or:
TUNE IN TONIGHT! (Sunday, 12/18) at 8PM EST to Reason Podcast where someone from the group will be chatting about it live!
A local very cool podcast about atheism and all things philosophy had me on to talk about atheist activism and the SC billboard campaign. It’s got my deconversion story, horror of childhood religion, and limited occurrences of me going “um, like”. If you’re into podcasts, you should give it a listen! I have my super sexy horrible cold voice and everything.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share some of the thankful e-mails and comments we’ve gotten on the billboard. I’ll be honest, more than one of them made me tear up. There really are people out there who think their non-belief means that they have to be isolated. And now they don’t.
1. “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.”
2. “As a believer, I’ve got no problem with this sign; would be a fitting message to have on a church sign. One of our greatest responsibilities is to reach out to non-believers “where they live” and to welcome them to God’s love. IMHO, believers that have a problem with this perhaps need to (1) make sure their own faith is sound and (2) make sure they are loving their neighbors as themselves”
3. The South can be a pretty tough place for anyone struggling with or thinking through their beliefs. And for the record, the Pastafarians I’ve got to know are some really kind and enjoyable people. — a believer in Jesus
4. I am a conservative Christian and I have no problem with it. Don’t even see it as a story worth writing about in the newspaper. If they want to spend their money on billboards, that’s perfectly fine even if I personally think it’s a poor use of their money when it could be used for additional charity donations. But that’s up to them.5. I am a christian and I do respect anyones right to believe what ever they choose. I do not try to push anything on anyone nor do I judge anyone for their beliefs. This country is in a real mess and it’s going to take ALL of us to get it back on the right track. Let’s start thinking about how we can work together, put the right people in the right places, get the job market back, the wellfare line down and get this country back to being the greatest place in the world to live.
6. I believe in God also but I believe in their right to keep that sign up. This is still America despite what you think. I wish I could afford to help them put up a sign across from your house LOL
THANK YOUS/WE GET ITS
7. “It’s amazing to see the “peace-loving” Christians get so upset about this. It’s not an attack on you… I don’t see how you can reasonably think it is. The message is not even directed at you, so why do you care? Do you get upset at messages offering support to people with mental illnesses too, even if the message doesn’t apply to you? What’s so wrong with atheists reaching out to each other for support? What’s really sad is that such support is even necessary. If Christians respected others’ beliefs the way they expect theirs to be respected, it wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, when atheists admit their non-belief it is often met with personal attacks and sometimes ostracization from friends and families. It’s a horrible way to treat people. Why can’t we all just get along? If the billboard directly attacked you or your belief, then you’d have every right to be outraged… but read it again… it’s NOT attacking you.”
8. I don’t see how this is such a big deal. The reality is that there are people who believe what you might, and there are others who don’t. The sign is intentionally unoffensive. It doesn’t say, “There is no God”. Nor does it insult my belief in Jesus. It just says, ” [hey,] don’t believe in God? [Well we’re here if you want to talk about it]”. And thats fine with me.
9. Thank you for being there. I have suffered the consequences of being an Atheist in South Carolina, including unlawful discrimination more than once.
10. Very happy to see these bill boards up in Cola! It is about time someone stood up for reason! To the people who say, “What does it hurt to believe if it keeps you from burning in ****?” or words to that effect: What if you are believing in the wrong god, or what if you belief about the god you believe in is the wrong one? How do you know that you won’t be the one burning in ****? To the people who say, “Why do you have to push your belief on us?” I say: We aren’t pushing anything. We are letting other unbelievers know that we are here and that it is OK to be non-theist, even in the South. To those who say, “Why do atheists care about something they don’t believe in?” I say: Because we are ridiculed for not believing, we fear for our jobs if it becomes known that we don’t believe, we see the wrongs that have been done in the name of religion in the past and in this day and age.
11. Even if there’s no God, humans are pretty awesome, in general. I’d rather see us united by our common morals than divided by our personal religions.
12. The vast majority of atheists (such as myself) were christians, muslims, jews, hindus, or in some way religious before. Because of the incredible stigma of losing friends, families, and relationships as an atheist, many people go along with it for a period of time, even indefinitely.Many of my fellow skeptics have been ejected from their homes and families; my own parents fear for my eternal safety and point this out.
The parallel is similar to coming out as gay. People have incredibly unreasonable prejudices in the US, and especially here in the south, about what being atheistic is. It causes irrational reactions in the vast majority of cases, since religion is principally an irrational belief: when confronted with the possibility of being wrong, people react. Hence people may need a ‘nudge’ to come out about it, as well as to realize they are not alone in this; that there is support.
13. Interesting… The message is no more threatening than if the Orthodox Jews put up a sign saying “Don’t believe in Jesus of Nazareth as your savior” “your not alone”…. Yet THIS provokes ugly comments from “loving Christians” ??? Maybe it is time to go back and read your bible a bit more in-depth…. There is room for “Non-Theists” just as much as there is room for Buddhists, Baha’i, Muslim, Wiccan, etc… theologies. Put your “Christian” beliefs into practice… “Love Thy Neighbor” doesn’t mean exclusively those who think just like you.
14. The point is…we are reaching out to those who do not believe. If you believe that is fine, we are not looking to hurt your feelings, nor are we trying to “recruit” you. If you want the fundamental rights of this country to be upheld you must allow a voice to all. To tell someone they have no right to voice their opinion you are denying them their right to free speech. You do not see profanity or derogatory language on this billboard, but in the minds of some they see a little spark of truth. Perhaps this is what bothers you about this ad.
15. I can’t belie this is up in SC? I don’t see it being up long due to complaints
I am an atheist so its nice to see. But a lot of people don’t seem to understand how some don’t believe in “god”
16. Great finally something good comes to Columbia! love it!
17. I just wanted to send a quick note and say Thank You for posting the billboard in Columbia. I have been a Columbia resident for the past 7 years and this is the first billboard of this kind I have seen. It’s nice to see there are others of like-mind in our city. I can’t imagine the backlash the billboard will receive but hopefully it will be allowed to remain up for as long as designated. Nice to know that I am not alone in my beliefs in Columbia SC
Telling people your a non-thiest is a little like coming out of the closet, the response seems to be the same!? This billboard gives me hope!
Thanks you soooooooooooooo much.
How can I get more information on this organization?
19. I just wanted to write and say thank you for the billboards placed in Columbia. I have long felt “alone” in my beliefs, and it is nice to know there is a community of like-minded thinkers here. It seems religious zealots are increasingly “in your face” with their “message”, so I’m so happy to have an organization like yours unabashedly putting an alternative view out there for all to see. Please sign me up if you have a newsletter, and again, thank you, thank you, thank you!
20. I truly appreciate what you guys are doing with the billboards across Columbia. What I find most commendable is that the message comes across as compassionate. Unfortunately, many of the people in this state react in such an emotional way that they cannot see the TRUE message from you. For many years, I was involved very deeply in church. I had so many questions about things said in the bible that were very confusing or contradictory that no one was willing or able to answer. I did what any intellectually inquisitive person would do. I researched and read beyond the bible. I no longer attend church but I have not yet expressed to my extended family my new beliefs (or lack of). So, I appreciate your message and courage. I found during my time in church that most of those on the pews used god to cover up their ugly natures and to justify their judgmental attitudes and manipulative personalities.
All I can say is don’t dwell on the negativity, continue to focus on the support of like minded people who feel ostracized by the many hypocritical and judgmental people of our state.
21. I live in Greenville, SC. Unfortunately, I also work in the shadow of Bob Jones University. I’ve had my Darwin fish and car vandalised so often I no longer boast my proud atheism on my car. (Just my reddit sticker.) I’m glad to see that in this sea of delusion that is SC, there are a few that fight the good fight.Keep up the good work!
Also, if you get bored, head over to r/atheists on reddit. Great stuff, to keep us from losing hope in humanity. We’ve been having a pledge drive for Doctors without Borders. So far we’ve raised over $66,000 and our goal is $75,000 by the end of the year.
22. Just a quick thank you for investing in these billboards. I deeply appreciate it.
23. I know you guys have been getting a lot of flak for the billboard that you just put up- I just finished reading some of the hate mail you received, and it’s pretty disturbing stuff. I thought I’d break the trend, though, and thank you all for doing the right thing and standing up for what you believe in. It takes a bit of nerve to put up a billboard like that in South Carolina (Columbia, of all places), but I’m glad you did. We definitely aren’t alone out there, and it’s heartening to see somebody making that fact known.
24. I’m not from your area, but I saw pictures of your billboards online recently. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for braving the inevitable wave of hate mail and insults and death threats to reassure people like me that we’re not alone in a country that, at times, seems like it thinks we aren’t even people. While I’ve discovered resources on my own, I realize in many areas they aren’t very obvious or necessarily available for people that are too afraid to talk about their views. I’ve spent most of my life in rural, socially conservative areas where most everyone is a devout Christian. It’s scary sometimes to think about how people would react if you told them that you simply don’t believe in a god. Sometimes even being told right to your face things like “Atheists have no morals and shouldn’t be allowed in this country.”
So once again, thank you for what you are doing, and don’t stop fighting the stereotypes and misconceptions.
A LITTLE SNARK
25. In the name of god, please have someone translate what in the world you are saying. god does not hate periods or halfway readable English.