As you venture out and about for the holiday season, you may notice more and more advertisements promoting what the New York Times describes as the "joy and wisdom of atheism." According to a Times report, four separate and competing national atheist organizations will soon be launching their own advertising campaigns on "billboards, buses and trains, and in newspapers and magazines," welcoming people to their side of the theological divide.
The godless groups say they are mounting this surge because they are aware that they have a large, untapped army of potential troops. The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and released in 2008. But the ranks of the various atheist organizations number only in the tens of thousands.
That is one reason for the multiple campaigns: the groups are competing with one another to gain market share, said Mark Silk, founding director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, which is also at Trinity College.
“There’s a competitive environment for ‘no religion,’ and they’re grabbing for all the constituents they can get,” Mr. Silk said.
According to the Times, these groups have been able to mount large recruitment campaigns thanks to the generosity of a few wealthy atheists. In addition, the electoral surge of many religious conservatives makes the groups' leaders think they will be able to attract "liberal believers who might be alarmed about the breaches in thew all of separation between church and state."
A number of the planned advertisements pluck scripture passages out of the Old Testament in an attempt to frighten impressionable women and homosexuals. The American Humanist Association is pushing this message in one of its ads:
“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (from Hosea 13:16, New International Version).
Another ad quotes famed relativity theorist Albert Einstein saying that he “cannot imagine” God.
The campaigns range from friendly to confrontational. On the confrontational end of the spectrum, American Atheists, which was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, will just before Thanksgiving put a billboard on the busy approach to the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey heading into New York.
It features a Nativity scene, and the words: “You Know it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.”
The Washington-based United Community of Reason is sponsoring billboards and ads on bus shelters in about 15 cities that say, “Don’t Believe In God? Join the Club.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's ads feature individuals proudly declaring their lack of belief in God as a "recovering Catholic" and asserting one's affinity for "sleeping in on Sundays."
Some famous faces are being used to promote the campaigns. One ad running throughout the South shows Butterfly McQueen, the late actress who played Scarlett O’Hara’s maid in “Gone With the Wind.” The billboard says, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.”
While the vast majority of ads seem to target Christianity over all other religions and the timely surge comes amidst one of Christianity's most important seasons of faith, the American Humanist Association is also working to steer worshipers away from Islam with one billboard: