Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Don't Believe in God?

Seems like we’ve been here before right? Well, technically we haven’t since, the last time we talked about this it had to do with an advertising bus campaign in the UK. So, maybe it’s the same story in a different location. Any way, I was struck by this for a number of reasons. Sometime last year there was much written about the “revival” sweeping Lakeland, FL, and people were arriving in droves from around the world (thanks to the publicity on GodTV), to participate in what God was doing, that is until it was revealed that the revivalist was leaving his wife and had been having the proverbial affair with his secretary. I imagine it must have left a sour taste in the collective mouths of the Lakeland community. I imagine the Lakeland Christian community might have felt that they’d been left with egg on their faces. I imagine the Atheist community thought Lakeland must be ripe for the picking, and would be open to a different message, having met with such disappointment from the Christian “revival” message. And why not? After all it is a free country and we’re all free to spread the message that we believe will positively impact people’s lives. So the Atheists of Florida got together and sponsored a billboard in Lakeland. It reads, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

Rob Curry, president of Atheists of Florida, stated “The main goal (of the billboard campaign) is to increase awareness of the secular group.” He further opined, “We want other people in the secular community who are non-religious to become aware of us.” Not surprisingly the Christian reaction was predictable to say the least: "“You shouldn’t raise your children that way… not to believe in God,” said Carolyn Brown. “I think it should be removed now.”" So will it surprise you to hear that, while I agree that it’s better not to raise your children "That way," I don’t think the billboard should be removed? I mean, I know how effective billboard advertising can be. I even used it when we were launching The Well, and ran a very successful campaign that created a real buzz in the community. If it’s good for Christians, then it must be good for anyone who believes differently from us, right? I can see I’m going to have to work harder to convince you. Well, the larger picture here is not about a billboard but about the effectiveness of our Christian witness. Do we honestly believe for one moment that a billboard can change people’s belief in the existence of a loving God, if we as the Church continued to live the way we should? I don’t think so. It’s hard to convince the people of Rwanda that God isn’t real, after they've experienced the love of God through the Global Church, following the genocide of the nineteen-nineties that impoverished their nation.

Lakeland wasn’t the first Florida city to host this billboard campaign. In Fort Lauderdale the billboard read, “Being a good person doesn’t require God. Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” As always though, God has the last laugh. In the UK campaign the slogan ended up preaching the message of the Scriptures as it declared “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” a clear and direct exhortation from Luke 12: 25 and Philippians 4: 6. In the Florida campaign, Daniel Florien, writing about the Fort Lauderdale billboard declared, “On the first one we accidentally capitalized God.” Apparently that same 'accident' continues to perpetuate itself on all their subsequent billboards. Their unspoken dilemma: If they don’t "capitalize God" then even Christians would agree that we didn't believe in a 'god' (small 'g') since we believe in The God with a capital G. If they do capitalize God, they are unwittingly acknowledging the existence of the Supreme Christian God while running a campaign trying to disavow His existence. Hmmm, I wonder if… nah, God couldn’t have anything to do with that could He?


Hope R. Clark said...

Ahhhh ha ha ha ha... oh, that's so funny!

I mean, ahem... Oh dear, what a deliemma.

Joseph said...

Hope, you're bad. You should conduct yourself properly being a Christian and all!!! :)

Rob said...

Rob Curry here. I'd like to take a moment to clarify one point with some inside information:

We did not take any religious community issues into account in choosing where to place a billboard ad. The reason we choose Lakeland is because that is where our most recent new chapter opened a little earlier this year. This is likely to happen in other towns and cities where new chapters of Atheists of Florida are formed.

I actually heard about the incident you describe for the very first time right AFTER paying for the board to go up.

My reaction? No, I didn't jump up and down with glee to think of a division in this particular religious community, if that's what you're imagining. I merely shrugged my shoulders and went on to other things. It's not like this kind of event is so unusual, and as I see it, the people involved are all adults who will find their way through an unfortunate situation as best they can.

Here's the main point:

We did NOT put up the billboard to change anyone's faith or beliefs. We put it up to find other atheists. (With greater than anticipated success, I might add.)

Please do not automatically assume the entire world shares your own evangelical outlook. Some of us are content to live and let live. If you want to know more, please ask us. As you may guess, we're not exactly hesitant to say what we honestly think.

By the way, I appreciate your mature support for freedom of speech and against the knee-jerk impulse towards censorship. You may rest assured that Atheists of Florida likewise supports the freedom of all Floridians, religious and nonreligious alike, to express their views.

Joseph said...

Rob, thanks for joining the conversation. I had a feeling that I'd like you if I ever got to meet you, and your comment here justifies my feeling. It's true that you and I believe differently, but I'm convinced that that doesn't make us antagonists.

I appreciate you're clarifying the reasons for which you put up your billboard in Lakeland, but my larger point still stands: It's the perfect community to preach a different message after the incident following the "revival" that took place in that community a few short months ago, even if that wasn't your motivating factor. Note my continued use of the phrase, "I imagine" which suggests that I have no empirical data to back up my claim, but am merely expressing my opinion which is the right of every blogger. :)

As to living and let live, I completely concur and believe that my desire to "evangelize" is not borne out of a need to "convert" the world, but a desire to share a treasure I believe will be of benefit to anyone who cares to find out more. I appreciate the offer to contact you if I need clarification on a point and I'll be sure to take you up on your offer in the future. Thanka again for joining the conversation.

Rob said...

I understand what you're saying, Joseph, about it being "the perfect community to preach a different message" for anyone who wants to target these religious folks in Lakeland. You're undoubtedly right. Many people must feel betrayed and confused after their faith in a leader is shaken.

However, it's important (for anyone who wants to understand us in turn) to realize that while some individual atheists may enjoy an argument or even consider religion an evil force in society, that's not a universal feeling. More to the point, the message of Atheists of Florida is NOT directed at any religious group, except to the extent that we:

1. Fully support their freedom of religion, and

2. Want the government to remain neutral, favoring no religion over any other, nor religion over irreligion.

Simply put, Atheists of Florida is not preaching a different message, because "preaching" (any message at all!) is not a part of our group's mandate. Our members just want to prevent the entanglement of religion with government, and beyond that to be treated with the same courtesy, human decency and respect that we offer to others.

Joseph said...

Touche, Rob, touche!!!

Joseph said...

Rob, just a thought: I live in Lake Mary (a northern suburb of Orlando) and I'd love to invite you to join me for lunch one of these days if you're at all inclined. If you're willing, just send me an e-mail at and I'd be delighted to get a hold of you and set up a mutually convenient time.

Hope R. Clark said...

I've loved reading this dialogue between Joseph and Rob. It's refreshingly open and honest, and very informative.