If you knew that your point of view was widely unpopular, how much sense does it make trying to argue that stance in the most antagonizing way imaginable?
Earlier this month, the groups AmericanAtheists.org and PAnonbelievers.org put up a controversial billboard in a racially diverse neighborhood that practically begged for its subsequent removal the very day after it went up. The billboard in question featured the image of a shackled African slave captioned with a Biblical quote, “Slaves, obey your masters.” The quote comes from Colossians 3:22 and was placed in a racially diverse neighborhood. Their intent was to protest state House Resolution 535, which designated 2012 as “The Year of the Bible.”
To the group’s credit, select members of the Pennsylvania legislator did admit they should’ve paid more attention to what they were voting for, and asked the state House of Representatives to reconsider its adoption of the resolution. Still, their presentation was off. Clearly not picking up on the notion that invoking slavery to make a political point is not an effective sales tool, the group behind it has already promised that more ads are on the way.
If previous methodology is any indication, they’ll likely stick to shock and awe type spectacle. That’s a shame given any legitimate point they might have had about the separation of church and state will fall on deaf ears as a result. Much of that can be attributed to a constant among many atheists: they lack empathy for the people they’re trying to reach.
It’s obvious that the slavery references were intended to reach African Americans. I’m sure a few members of each group caught on to the newfound attention to Black atheists from the likes of the New York Times. True enough, there are several instances in the Bible where the darkest facets of society – slavery, racism, sexism, and overall patriarchy – are advocated. But pointing them out in that fashion won’t change anyone’s minds. Nor should it really. It’s offensive and akin to past efforts by other groups, namely PETA who once foolishly tried to compare animal cruelty to the Atlantic slave trade, the oppression of women and child labor law violations. Such advertisements failed to garner much in the ways of support, too, for good reason.
I am not an atheist nor am I agnostic (there just has to be some grand entity behind such marvels like the stars, Crawfish étouffée and Beyoncé), but over time I did grow up to challenge many of the views instilled in me growing up in the Catholic Church. It’s created confusion and in some cases division among certain members of my family. Nevertheless, whenever I tried to explain how I came to define my own sense of spirituality, I did not offer any explanation that might seem offensive towards those who continue to maintain a more traditional aspect to faith. That’s just common decency. Besides, condescension doesn’t spur compassion.
And that is why these atheist groups and their more famous brethren i.e. Bill Maher continue to fail in their attempts to influence anyone that wasn’t already questioning their faith to begin with. They don’t portray atheism and other forms of spiritual beliefs (or none at all) as a positive point of view, but as something that reads as reactive and angry.
It would be nice if those of both extremes could speak to each other civilly for the greater good, because in the end, no government entity should be openly championing any religion. Unfortunately, that the only people who thought to mount a true challenge to it did so in this manner. It’s for the best that the billboard is down, but really, even if the groups had left it up more than likely its intended audience would’ve been blind to it.