‘Tis the Season …for Atheist Ads?

At first glance, the billboard above a New Jersey highway appears to be celebrating the Christmas season, with the iconic images of the Nativity; the manger, the three wise men and the Star of Bethlehem.

To view dictionary popup window put your cursor on the blue words

Hated for His Name’s Sake

“Marvel not, my brethren, if the worldStrongs 2889: kosmos, kos´-mos; probably from the base of 2865; orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration; by implication, the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively (morally)): — adorning, world. hate you.”
—1 John 3:13

But this holiday offering is from American Atheists, and it also features the words:

“You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason.”

American Atheists are trying to reach out to what they say are millions of closeted non-believers who are just going through the motions of religious observance during this holiday season.

“What we’re trying to do,” says Dave Silverman, the group’s president, “is break that cycle, get atheists out of the closet so they can say, ‘Hey, I’m the person that you already know. I’m the nice person, the wonderful person who gives to charity, who pays his taxes, who’s part of our family, who’s close to your circle of friends, who is an atheist, I’m going to break this chain. I am going to be the first person that is an out atheist.”

Other atheist groups are also stepping up their campaigns. The Freedom From Religion Foundation features a stained glass-like billboard in North Carolina that touts Reason over Faith.

“Much of the campaign is positive; we’re not defining ourselves by negativity,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, the group’s president.

And the American Humanist Association has launched a television and print ad campaign, quoting the Bible and the Koran, to show how religion is the root of personal and worldly conflict.

Atheists are boldly acting off recent polls that show 15 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation … and that the number is growing.

But some scholars say those numbers don’t show the whole picture.

“One mistake that is commonly made in interpreting some of these trends is assuming that the 15 to 20 percent of Americans who now say they have no religion are in fact atheists in the strong sense of that word,” says Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University.

“Only a minority of them are outright atheists,” he says.

The fact is that America remains one of the most religious nations in the Western world … with some of the highest rates of religious attendance and participation.

The same scholars also say that many of the atheists’ claims about religious texts have been widely disputed.

For example, the humanists quote a verse in the Koran that has been used by Islamic extremists to justify terrorism against the West:

“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every finger.”

But Dr. Juhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which seeks to draw a line between mosque and state and has been waging a political battle with followers of political Islam, says, “It’s key to separate history from religion.”

The verse the Humanists use, he says, refers to a battle in 632 A.D.

“Yes, maybe God said that,” Jasser says, but “terror is better translated as fear.”

“Clearly Islam is not a passive religion,” Jasser says, but he adds that “humanists are exploiting religious scripture that looks at a 7th century just war, and [trying] to use it to portray all religions as bad.”

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, says, “I don’t think there’s a single quote out of context. They certainly do mean what they mean.”

But best-selling Christian author and pastor Dr. Timothy Keller says modern people should exercise a little “cultural humility” when reading the Bible and all ancient texts. He says people need to understand that there are words, idioms, metaphors and cultural norms in the ancient world that offend many people today, and that many of our modes of language today would be difficult to comprehend centuries from now.

“If I write a letter to a friend,” he says, “and compliment them on their work but then say about some other point that I was so mad ‘I could’ve killed you,’ 600 years from now that figure of speech may be totally banished and it looks like Tim Keller is going to kill his friend.”

Keller also points out that there’s a difference in the Bible between what is descriptive and what is proscriptive, meaning what the Bible describes as happening, did happen, could happen or will happen is different from what God is actually condoning or commanding.

As an example, he says, polygamy was widely practiced in the ancient world, but nowhere does God praise it. And in every instance, the Bible narrative shows how it only brings dysfunction and misery.

Whether the atheists’ campaign will have any effect remains to be seen. Roughly 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God or some kind of higher power. Ironically, Chaves says, America’s religious tolerance has made people more accepting of others whose religion is different from their own — even those with no religion.

  1. Ernest, 29 November, 2010

    Why do Athiests spend so much time and money railing against something they say does not exist?

    Down deep~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~they really know the answer!

  2. paul bauer, 02 December, 2010

    Athiest are people of faith. They have a strong faith there is no God. God calls them fools.

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