JT Eberhard's contributor, Christina, wrote today of an article regarding atheist billboards in Colorado and the reaction of a "research fellow" from Focus on the Family named Glenn Stanton. He calls the billboards "bad manners" because they mock the beliefs of no less than 70% of Americans. The billboards read as follows:
God is an imaginary friend; Choose reality, it will be better for all of us.
Bad manners? Not in my opinion, but I'd be willing to bet that Stanton would have no issue whatsoever with a billboard decrying belief in Sasquatch or alien abductions. Hell, maybe even Santa Claus. Stanton is up in arms not because the billboards are in poor taste (because they're really not -- more on that later), but because they specifically address his belief in something untestable, unprovable, and unfalsifiable. Change the word "God" to "Allah" and I'm sure Stanton would never have opened his gob to have been cited in the article in question.
Stanton says that the billboard is insulting people who hold belief in the supernatural because, "this atheist group equates that very widely-held belief to a small child having an imaginary friend to play with." And why not? God is invisible, intangible, ill-defined, and in constant competition with other deities even within Christian sects! People use god as a cop-out and a poor excuse to hold terrible views like Stanton's and those of Focus on the Family regarding atheists, people of other faith, LGBT folk, women, and Democrats, to name a few. They can't back up their reasons for believing in god with anything more than personal anecdote, gut feelings, and faith. That being the case, why should we place god in a category any more important than Santa Claus, leprechauns, or the abominable snowman?
And what, exactly, does an unsubstantiated belief being "widely held" have to do with its truth value? A ton of people still believe that Obama wasn't born in Hawaii and that there was a massive conspiracy to forge his birth certificate and kill his grandma. That doesn't make it true. It also doesn't make it not crazy, given the evidence presented to the contrary. If we were to apply an automatic level of respect to beliefs just because a certain number (and I'd be curious to know what this arbitrary number is, in Stanton's mind) of people hold them, then Islam would have more respect and mainstream Protestant Christians wouldn't laugh at Mormons. Yet, that still happens.
The question of whether the billboards are "bad manners" comes down to whether or not specific claims are being made about a person or group of people that are intended to offend. I don't see how that's the case here. The claim is that god is imaginary. The evidence is that nobody to date has been able to produce any credible evidence of his existence, coupled with the fact that god -- if he does exist -- has consistently refused to show himself (much like Sasquatch). If god has the same properties of ghosts, goblins, aliens, and childhood imaginary friends then how is it insulting to lump him right in with the rest of them? And if the billboards aren't addressing the believers, but rather the belief then how is it insulting the believers?
Furthermore, the claim that "it will be better for all of us" can easily be substantiated by reflecting on the harm religion has historically done humanity. Sam Harris has often related something to the point that, "Nobody has ever slaughtered people, started a war, or blown themselves up because they were being too rational." He's right. When people exercise judgment based on real, tangible, rational facts they rarely discriminate against other people, withhold other people's rights, sanction wars, or justify murder based on the mandate of an invisible being. Is it bad manners to claim that we'd all be better served by embracing reality? Absolutely not, and it would be a huge stretch of the imagination to suggest otherwise.
As is usually the case, Focus on the Family and everyone associated with this Christian hate group (my personal assessment) has misinterpreted the issue at hand and jumped to conclusions based on emotion and gut feelings. I'd be interested to see Stanton, or anybody else, justify the claim that these billboards are "bad manners," any more than billboards I've seen that insinuate that everybody reading them needs to "come to repentance" and "accept Jesus." Perhaps instead of just ignoring these billboards as the silliness they are I should start getting myself quoted in religious articles about how they upset my fragile feelings.
Boo-freaking-hoo, Stanton. Put your big boy pants on.