According to the group’s president, Ronald Lindsay, the campaign targets what he claims are a few myths about people who deny God’s existence. “One common myth is that the non-religious lead empty, meaningless, selfish, self-centered lives,” he said. “This is not only false, it’s ridiculous. Unfortunately, all too many people accept this myth because that’s what they hear about non-believers.”
Another "myth" that drives atheists like Lindsay to distraction is the notion that godless individuals lead immoral lives that are devoid of any goodness. “One reason this myth persists is many religious believers see their god or their faith as the basis for emotions such as hope, caring, and love,” Lindsay said. “We don’t deny that the religious may find inspiration in their beliefs, but our religious friends should not presume that accepting their beliefs is necessary for a fulfilling life.”
In Indianapolis, the Center for Inquiry’s executive director, Reba Boyd Wooden, insisted that her group is not trying to get people to give up their religion. “We’re just saying that there’s a misunderstanding that some people think if you’re not religious, you can’t even be a good person,” she said. “I think this is a great message. I don’t see anything wrong with it. If it had been something really disparaging someone’s religion, I don’t like that.”
While it is certain that atheists can be decent people who lead fulfilling — even good — lives, Dr. Craig Hazen, a Christian apologetics professor at Biola University in Southern California, told the Christian Post that the differences between Christians and atheists go far beyond actions. “You are talking about joy, and pleasure, and goodness and so on,” he said. “If you’re employing words like that and you have no objective basis for the reality of those words ... in other words, if you don’t believe in a moral law giver who actually gives meaning to the words good and evil, you can ... put up billboards all day long and they mean nothing.” Noting the atheists’ own worldview, Hazen challenged, “What does it mean to do good in a world that’s really just a gigantic accident of matter and energy?”
According to the Christian Post, the Bible professor said that “he has yet to hear a decent argument from an atheist or naturalist ‘as to what grounds their real objective morality.’ The only way to know good, joy, and love or even pain is if there is a moral law giver who can actually communicate those things, he maintained,” adding that “if it’s a person created in God’s image and there’ s a moral law giver, then you have a real concept of morality and you can live a good life or you can live a bad life and you can know such a thing.”
The Center for Inquiry’s ad blitz follows a more in-your-face campaign waged in early January by the group American Atheists. That organization’s lone billboard, displayed in Huntsville, Alabama, to advertise a regional atheist conference scheduled for later that month, sported such religious symbols as a cross, a star of David, and Islam’s crescent moon, and bore the terse slogan, “You Know They’re All Scams.”
While the group’s communications director, Blair Scott, agreed that the sign would likely make a lot of Alabamans — especially the Christians who make up a majority in the Bible belt community — upset, he assured the Huntsville Times that “our target is not the Christians, but all the atheists and agnostics still in the closet who are still pretending, still playing the game, still putting up a facade.”
The group's website defines a “scam” as a “ploy by a shyster to raise money,” a “fraudulent business scheme,” or a con meant to “intentionally mislead” or victimize the unwary. Of course, the campaign is meant to point the finger at religion — especially Christianity — which the group parodies as follows:
Let’s face it: religion tells a good story. All you need to do is follow the preacher and good things will happen. You will never really die, and due to your involvement in (insert religion here) you will benefit for eternity. Yes, it pleases the invisible man-in-the-sky that you follow your preacher — just ask your preacher and he will tell you.
The point of the parody? “American Atheists doesn’t think religion deserves respect for lying or scamming people,” the anti-God marketing piece challenges. “Religion is a major conduit of wealth and power in this country, and this all comes at the expense of well-meaning intelligent victims of the greatest con-job ever. We urge you to get off your knees, keep your money, and regain your dignity.”
While atheist groups have spent millions of dollars on such anti-God media projects, their campaigns have actually borne some wholesome fruit they never intended. Last December, a group in Dallas calling itself the Metroplex Atheists paid to have signs placed on the sides of Dallas-area busses, declaring, “Millions of people are good without God.” The goal of the ad campaign, the group’s spokesman told the New York Times, was to assure all the nameless and faceless people who don’t believe in God that “they are not alone. People don’t realize there are other atheists. All you hear around here is, ‘Where do you go to church?’”
But as the busses rolled around town with their anti-faith message, a Dallas-areas businessman, Heath Hill, came up with an inspiring counter message to assure the reader of God’s love. Hill decked out one of his company’s large panel trucks with a sign on both sides reading, “2.1 Million People Are Good With God,” along with a message underneath showing a globe in a pair of hands, along with the phrase, “I still love you — God.” Hill then had a driver follow busses with the atheists’ ad, thus tag-teaming the godless message with one declaring divine hope and promise.
Explained Hill, “We just wanted to reach out to them and let them know about God’s love. We have gotten some pretty nasty e-mails and phone calls from atheists. But it’s really just about the love of God.”