American Atheists’ Christmas Billboard: A Below the Belt Crusade

The national organization American Atheists spent $22,000 for a billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel that shows the wise men approaching Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s famous manger, and the words, “You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason.” That’s an entirely unreasonable, inflammatory approach.

American Atheists' Christmas Billboard: A Below the Belt Crusade

According to the group’s president, David Silverman, they simply want to encourage atheists to “come out” to declare their belief — or lack thereof — and the group’s site insists, “Millions of atheists are closeted, choosing to go along to get along, and feigning religion to their friends, family, and coworkers. American Atheists understands the pressure to fit in, but we maintain that for people to love you, they must know the real you.”

The sign’s only the latest in a series of Atheist-centric ads to hit the Big Apple, including a bus-based campaign out last year that reminded pedestrians, “You don’t have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person,” and another insisting, “A Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God. Are You?”

American Atheists’ billboard, located on the Tunnel’s New Jersey side, counts as the most overtly antagonistic and aggressive, and Silverman explained that his group’s giving Christian opponents what they want. “If the religious right wants a war on Christmas, we’re going to make sure they know what one looks like,” he said, and later elaborated, “We haven’t started this war. We’ve been fighting this war for decades.”

Now, I’m all about atheists speaking their minds, particularly to help balance out our nation’s often not-so-subtle religiousness, like the fact that we expect political candidates to spell out their belief system, a tendency on full, overblown display in the ongoing debate over President Obama’s alleged “Muslim ways.” To come out directly and insult people’s beliefs, however, crosses the line.

As with someone’s name, it’s pretty damn rude to attack someone’s religion. While aspects of religious leaders’ faith can and should be countered — such as “Biblical” arguments against gay sex — this latest campaign basically says Christians are a bunch of senseless twits. That’s no way to build good will, something in which everyone, even Atheists, should believe.

Further, by Silverman’s own admission, they’re attacking Christmas, a holiday that, to most reasonable people, is about more than Jesus or gifts, but general joy and brotherhood. While the constant “Merry Christmas” crying can get offensive for some of us, as Silverman points out, one wins more friends with honey than piss and vinegar.

The worst part of this whole thing is that the billboard provides the Christian right with more ammunition to decry the nation’s moral decay and the necessity of their place in the political and social corridors of power. And that last thing Evangelicals need is another reason to get on their pulpit and wag their finger at the rest of us.

Thanks a lot, American Atheists, you not only fan the flames of politicized religion, you make everyone believe that those who don’t believe are just plain jerks.