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So Much For Religious Freedom

by @ 12:29 pm on December 2, 2008. Filed under Freedom of Religion, Individual Liberty, Religion

Apparently, some billboards paid for by a Colorado atheist are causing a controversy:

ftabillboard6jThe message is but eight words divided into two short sentences set against puffy white clouds on a blue and black background.

One of the men behind the billboard message says his life has been threatened because of it, which seems an odd thing since those doing the threatening all profess to be Christians.

Just eight words:

“Don’t believe in God?” the upper left of the billboard reads. “You are not alone,” the lower right says.


The billboard is one of 11 in Denver and Colorado Springs paid for by a group that calls itself the Colorado Coalition of Reason, a self-described coalition of “freethinker, atheist and humanist” groups.

The sole purpose of the ads, the group maintains, is what it says: to let other freethinkers, atheists and humanists know there is a group out there for them.

But, apparently, some people took offense:

The hate mail and nasty, threatening phone messages began almost immediately.


“We are not out to anger people,” Joel Guttormson said. “I don’t know why people think that. So much of it says we are evil and that we hate everybody.

“Have you seen the billboard? Tell me where any of them mentions evil or hate. Why is everyone so mad?”

John Matson, of Denver, was so mad after seeing the Santa Fe Drive sign that he dashed off an angry letter to the billboard’s owner.

“It is a despicable act to allow that sign,” the 60-year-old man said in an interview, “and for just a few pieces of silver.”

He went on COCORE’s Web site, and it made him even angrier, John Matson said. It is trying to gather, he said, “a constituency of what I call mob rule.”

“I know they’re atheists, and my opinion is they want others to believe the same thing. The billboard misrepresents their purpose,” he said. “Their agenda is wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political. Why don’t they just say it.”

Yes, he is a Christian, John Matson said.

It would be easy to dismiss Matson as a lone-nut who doesn’t represent Christians as a whole, except for the fact that the exact same thing happened when a similar billboard was erected in California.

Why the vehement reaction against a billboard ?

Brad Warbiany has a theory:

Matson, of course, does have a point. A group like COCORE may, through campaigns like this, slowly legitimize atheism in the general public. That will allow people of weak faith who might naturally tend towards atheism make the complete leap. But such at attitude by Christians would only make clear that they are against one of those central tenets of Christianity, the idea that accepting Christ is a choice to be made freely and with all the information laid out.

Instead of knee-jerk reaction, perhaps those who believe would do better if they spent their time working towards conversion based upon the positive aspects of their faith, not by trying to silence their opposition. To do such a thing would be respectful of freedom, and would earn my respect*. It may not spur me to believe, but it would certainly temper my disgust at some of the behavior of the more vocal and least-tolerant believers.

Whether it comes to matters of religion or politics, I have always failed to see how allowing someone to proclaim their beliefs somehow “denigrates” yours. If CoCore can raise the money for the billboards, let them do it.

Who, exactly, are the harming ?

2 Responses to “So Much For Religious Freedom”

  1. Amerist says:

    I have to agree that these are not denigrating. The core tenet of what atheism is disbelief. “Don’t believe in God?” Got it met right there — does it really denigrate anyone not to believe in the Loch Ness Monster and want to get together with others who also don’t?

    Religiosity is simply too tightly held to the breast for many people, they are bosom sentimental about their pet philosophies of the universe; so much so that they think anyone who doesn’t agree must be pettish and stabbing at them.

    That sign doesn’t say: You’re stupid for believing in God. It’s simply seeking out disbelievers.

    Skepticism is due an organized recognition; it certainly has the numbers.

  2. tfr says:

    My wife and I had this discussion a few days ago. We concluded that the only reason someone would react so violently is that they are not particularly firm in their beliefs, but their dogmatic life requires them to be. Anything that might disturb their little notion of the universe is perceived as a threat, because they would have to question their own methods of living, which they can’t do. Therefore they must seek to control, both themselves and others who are perceived threats. This describes any type of fundamentalism, Islamic, Christian, whatever.
    Those who have accepted their beliefs and live their life accordingly don’t have any need to change the minds of others who may disagree.

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