Signs From God (And His Atheist Buddies) September 05, 2012 21:35 3 Comments
I will never understand eighty percent of the billboard advertising I see. I live in Las Vegas, so a portion of the highway-adjacent advertising I’m forced to gaze upon each day is devoted to the hotel-casino industry. This falls into that eighty percent. The only time I’ve ever found these images and words even the slightest bit engaging is when they inform me that, oh, say, Jerry Seinfeld is back at the Caesars Palace Coliseum next month for a two-night engagement. That kind of time-sensitive information is useful on a billboard (unless it's an infuriating digital billboard). Everything else? Telling me The Orleans has looser slots? An ad about the Stratosphere’s luxurious rooms? This is information better disseminated through television or in-flight magazine, or at least far out of town, on the highways into Vegas, where the laziest of tourists have yet to make a decision on where to stay. These ads show up on our local highways and byways. It’s weird. The only other billboard images I find useful when you’re driving cross-country and are notified about something-that-shouldn’t-exist-but-does-and-now-you-have-to-visit-it.
But the billboards telling me when Family Guy airs in syndication on a local cable channel, when Shrek 6 comes out, or telling me that, since Kermit the Frog doesn’t do drugs, I shouldn’t either – we can agree on their uselessness, right?
Forbes did its own report late last year with some very interesting numbers (interesting to billboard salespeople and enthusiasts, I guess), and it looks like people are indeed influenced to visit stores or attend events based on what they learn from billboard advertising. Good for them. But enough of my lengthy and winding introduction. You’re visitng TheProudAtheist blog – you’re wondering where they godlessness kicks in. Here you go:
The ones that drive me up metaphorically furthest up the nonexistent wall are the most useless, ineffectual, bland messages, and Las Vegas, the city of sin, is dotted with them; disgusting moths blotting out the otherwise bright, friendly, prostitute-illuminating light of our city:
My "favorites:" the ones that just say “GOD” or “Jesus” or “3:14” or worse, like this lovable chestnut that will be maddeningly familiar to anyone that daily cruises the I-15: Infuriatingly, I cannot find a picture of it, but all it says, in huge letters, is “Hi! – your BFF, GOD.” “Hi!” is in huge letters, and then there’s the little indication that this is a quote from “GOD.” And then, in red ink, is “Your BFF.” Like he forgot to mention it before he had the billboard design commissioned. Garbage. Pointless.
Now, I do not want to anyone to get the right idea: I am in no way advocating that these billboards (these stupid, pointless billboards) MUST come down because they are in some way discriminatory or exclusionist to people of other faiths or those without faith. Put up whatever the hell you want, you know? Unless your billboard says “Hi, it’s your BFF, God, here – if you could just start murdering all of the non-believing infidels down there and salting the earth where they stand so that nothing can grow there again, you know, like I told you IN THE BIBLE, that’d be great,” I really can’t demand it come down. I can, however, point out how empirically USELESS they are, right? I mean… who is that for? What real-life Ned Flanders is getting a warm and fuzzy pick-me-up from this bland messaging during their morning commute? It’s more than likely not getting any Easter-and-Christmas-only asses in pews, and certainly isn’t a compelling enough argument (which it isn’t, it’s not an argument, it's big dumb words) to convince ANYONE in with the least bit conviction in what they currently believe to convert. And convert to what? Which “god” is this that is supposedly my BFF? Is Protestant GOD my BFF, but Anglican GOD kind of lost track of his friends after college, and now getting coffee would be more awkward than fun? And when did he start communicating with me like he’s the friend from high school writing a hasty message in my yearbook before he spent the summer at tennis camp? I don’t want a deity that lets me know he’s thinking of me via Las Vegas billboard. And, what, he’s EVERYONE’s BFF? I thought we had something special, God. What about that time we hit that hobo with your stepdad’s Jetta, and we both handled it like adults and never talked about it again but it bonded us for life and now we’ll have each other’s backs for like, ever, man? Do you just have that with EVERYONE?
So, I think those words in that order up there has made a compelling case for the uselessness of religious billboards. At least, the boring, “JESUS” ones. The ones that are super-specific, like Harold Camping’s hilarious May 21st rapture billboards, I am all for. Anything that gives us a specific date in which people will be proven wrong (and which, coincidentally, spurs the creation of a number of bitchin’ parties) knock yourselves out. But the blade cuts both ways: atheists have been using the ancient and mystical art of elevated cardboard to promote their unique message or organization of quite a while:
Again, I have no problem with these particular examples. They’re stating a message about themselves simply and honestly. But there are others, and recent events have made them worth talking about at length: I’m sure you were aware of this, but about two weeks ago (which goes to show how long I’ve been sitting on this article as we’ve waited for our blog page to be more kickass), this happened. That’s a news report from August 13th about the billboards put up by American Atheists in Charlotte, North Carolina ahead of the Democratic National Convention. There are two different designs, one targeting Christianity and the other Mormonism: the Christian billboard has an image of Jesus appearing on some toast, as he is oft-want to do ever since the invention of cameras, with statements like “Sadistic God, Useless Savior” and “Promotes Hate; Calls it Love.” The Mormon version has some sort glowing guy leaping for joy – Oh! I just got it! He’s in his magic under”garments,” and it says “God is a Space Alien,” and “Baptizes Dead People.” Now, you and I know that these are pretty accurate, if a little blunt, descriptions of some of the problems with these faiths: the LDS church has some nutty beliefs and even nuttier practices, and the most well-read of us could probably recite Dawkins’ summation of the god of the Christian bible from “The God Delusion” from memory. You know, the bit about him being a jealous, malicious prick.
These billboards were put up by American Atheists in a valiant effort to show that both of the candidates for the upcoming Presidential election use part of their brains to worship and obey their imaginary friends, and on paper that’s a great idea (the exposing of the beliefs, not that the potential leaders of the free world follow ancient mystic texts). But is it the right tact for this message? The billboard? Again, just like the pointless “What happens in Vegas, IS PAID FOR WITH AN ETERNITY IN HELL” crap I can see on my freeways, the usefulness of this sort of advertising is questionable at best. These billboards aren’t letting readers know about a new sale at Macy’s or Engelbert Humperdink’s 2-night engagement at the airport Hilton lounge: they’re trying to attack firmly held beliefs on both sides. Most atheists who have had the joyous feeling of converting a religious friend to a humanist and freethinking view of life will probably agree that it is a hard road – there are hours to be spent providing convincing arguments, presenting empirical evidence, and pointing out misconceptions and fallacies. If the goal of these billboards was conversion, I was one-hundred-percent convinced they would fail out of hand. In the same way that I’m not going to be convinced that “god is my best friend forever” because of a billboard, no Mormon is going to read these and think, “you know what? Baptizing dead people is a bit sketchy. In fact, now that I take a second to think about it, the whole mess seems far-fetched! Thanks, American Atheists!” The signs are too mean-spirited, too blunt and harsh. The believer must be coddled, softly rocked back and forth until they are fully awake. Plunging the believer head first in the icy water of truth will only cause him or her to jump back out that much faster – it’s got to be slow. It’s very much like The Matrix. It seems like these billboards are more about making a fuss and getting an atheist presence seen at the conferences: a noble idea, but there are better ways. I wish I could talk about this for the entire post, and I had planned on it, had even newer news not reared its ugly, free-speech-shitting-upon head (or, more accurately, if it’s shitting upon things, anus).
I’m sure we all saw this coming – the billboards? The dumb ones I’m not really in favor of because their message seems more cruel than helpful? Yeah, they’ve been yanked, days before the conference. How utterly shocking and completely out of left-field.
The billboards, which had been scheduled to remain up through the DNC and then removed September 6th were taken down August 23rd after, you guessed it, violent threats were issued against the company that put them up. American Atheists and Adams Outdoor Advertising company both received VIOLENT THREATS after (SURPRISE) a story about the billboards appeared on the (HERE COMES MORE OF THAT SURPRISE I JUST MENTIONED) Fox News website.
Yep. Regular readers of Fox News saw the story, and the first thought that appeared in their turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others Christian Jesus Lamb Of God minds was to threaten two groups of people with violence. Imagine a little scenario: instead of Christian and Mormon, as our current candidates are, let’s say the very improbable happened and we had a Jewish candidate running against a Hindu candidate. If American Atheists put up one billboard mocking eight days of magic oil and other hullabaloo from the Old Testament, and the other about elephant-headed gods and a magic wheel of reincarnation, would there be violent threats demanding that the ads in question be removed? Let’s go even further, to a future that probably won’t exist for decades: it’s two atheist opponents! And some Christian fringe organization puts up billboards mocking our belief in the Big Bang and Evolution, in morals without a God. Would you see a massive influx of angry letters from atheists vowing violent retribution for being treated in such a manner? Would we see that free speech applies to the majority only, and if it’s used to present opposing ideas, all you have to do is bellow loudly enough to shut it down completely?! I don’t picture the same vitriol coming from Judaism or Hinduism (and certainly not humanists, agnostics, and atheists) the way we see daily, in and out, like the coming and going of the tides, from Christians. Where does this rampant hate come from? The most enthusiastic and optimistic atheist might claim it is the spastic flailing of the dying – they might hope that these are the last acts of an opponent on the ropes, desperately swiping at any potential threat before it collapses, beaten. I, sadly, can’t agree. I don’t know where it comes from, but it certainly isn’t from ethics or morality. It's from exclusivity and segregation, a hatred of the differing and differed. The only solace, and it’s meager, it is half-a-bean’s solace to a hungry, hungry hobo, is that at least the billboard eliciting these violent threats is an actual attack on Christianity. It doesn’t get more blatant than calling your God sadistic. But how is it that these people, whom I’m sure have stable lives, with steady jobs, with the skills required to drive cars and book travel on faulty and inconsistent websites, are unable to see the difference between an attack on an idea (an incorporeal thing that only exists in the minds that allow it the luxury) and actual people? There must be something inherent in these indoctrinated beliefs that makes rational people, who wait patiently in checkout lines and no longer discipline their children physically, make this leap to the threat of physical violence. One could hope that the threats were not in earnest – that it was just a scare tactic, and if they had not worked, there would indeed be zero violence over a couple of billboards, but one never knows. And how long until its perceived attacks on Christianity – not real criticisms like the billboards, but the absurdities of the “War on Christmas” and the like – receive the same response? It’s harrowing to think that if such behavior continues, there may be a new definition for “Christian fundamentalist,” one closer in line with its Islamic lexicographical brother.
One thing’s for sure, though. Billboards suck.