Thursday, June 17, 2010

Atheist Bus Ads in Chicago are an Opportunity, Not a Threat

The Freedom From Religion Foundation plastered more signs on 75 Chicago buses this week encouraging Chicagoans to skip church and sleep in on Sundays. But that's just the beginning.

Riders also will see 200 interior bus signs with quotations from five famous freethinkers or skeptics, including author Mark Twain, attorney Clarence Darrow, poets Carl Sandburg and Emily Dickinson; and actresses Butterfly McQueen and Katharine Hepburn.The interior ads also will feature a provocative quote from Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."

"Obviously, there are many reasons to reject religion, most of them intellectual," said Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. "But face it -- one of the immediate benefits of quitting church, besides getting a 10 percent raise because you can stop tithing, is getting to sleep in on Sundays! What the world really needs is a good night's sleep."
I saw this at The Deacon's Bench where the first thing I thought was, "Really? That's the best they could do? Promise more sleep?"

Upon reading the excerpt it turns out that even so-called atheists are not immune to pressure from outside. Of course, that is only possible if they are treating their disbelief as a religion and trying to coax others into seeing what it's all about. Which is sad. Seriously. Give me a good, solid atheist like my Mom used to be. She cared not about what anyone believed as long as they treated others decently because to her all religion was hoo-haw.

Anyway, back to the business at hand. Let's get real. These bus signs are actually more of an acknowledgment of the way things really work. People profess faith but don't examine their profession and all too often do not live it.

Those bus ads are a talking point, a conversation starter for us to be able to talk about what we know and love about our faith. To talk about why we would rather go worship than sleep late on Sunday. We can use this to express our joy and peace in having a person-to-person relationship with God.

If we can't have that discussion honestly, then the ads are a good jump start for self examination of what we do believe, why we do not have the relationship we'd like, and what we might be missing by sleeping late on Sunday.


  1. This is absolutely absurd. If sleeping in on Sunday is really a good enough reason to skip out on Mass then I don't know what I think about the world anymore. Yikes.

  2. I can't imagine NOT going to church on Sunday. Just reading this makes me laugh and want to go more! Ha! Way to go! Way to encourage the faithful to pray for you... God works in mysterious ways and even Atheists are a part of the plan, whether they like it or not!! :)~

  3. "That's the best they could do? Promise more sleep?"
    Best we could do for what?

    "Of course, that is only possible if they are treating their disbelief as a religion and trying to coax others into seeing what it's all about. "
    Why does something have to be a religion for people to want to expose other people to it?


  4. "People profess faith but don't examine their profession and all too often do not live it."

    Yes, Julie, so true. This is a good way to put a positive twist on the bus posters.

  5. I go to Mass every Sunday, give tithes, serve the community as a Knight of Columbus and I still get a good night's sleep!

    Is that all there is to atheism? Ever heard of sleeping pills or warm milk? Duh!

  6. No, all there is to atheism is the belief that there are no such things as deities.


  7. Good point (I almost typed "God point") about Atheism thinking about itself as a religion. You're absolutely right - it's a belief system. I've even seen blog posts about "If so-and-so became a Christian, could they ever have really been an atheist?"

    It's gotten to the point where one atheist site is organizing what can only be called "street pseudo-evangelism teams". But when the remarkable resemblance of their mindset to fundamentalist religion is brought to their attention, they deny the parallels.

    The New Atheists believe they're right; so did your mother. Throwing their hands up in a live-and-let-live attitude, however, has been presented to them by Hitchens and the like as weakness.

    There's a major difference between evangelism and the atheists' proselytizing, though -- in the absence of a universally-applicable ethic or piece of good news that they think it's important for others to learn, their emphasis on persuasion must stem from one of two things: either (1) they want the ego boost of other people acknowledging that they're right and they got there first, or (2) they're saying, "We're right, we resent other people believing differently, and we want to grow our numbers so we have more power."


  8. 5:00 mass.

    There! I've run circles around you logically!

  9. Rose: 5:00 P.M. ... indeed you have. Or throw in the Saturday vigil Mass. Etc. :-)

    DW ... my comment about the "sleep" thing is that it is a very weak sound byte. Very. On several levels.

    If trying to be clever, well most people sleep in on Sunday if they want to already. Those who don't are getting up because there is something more interesting than sleep that they want. Modern society no worried about whether people go to church to fit in. So it fails to appeal to those who you might want to reach on the basis of being able to "do their own thing."

    If all you are trying to do is say "we're here! pay attention!" I suppose it does accomplish that. But in today's world, again, we already know it. This would have been outrageous in the 1950s but we're way past that. We're in the Brave New World of arguing whether you should be allowed to experiment with combining animal genes with human genes. Atheism is not shocking and is old hat compared to that. It might make some Christians squawk in protest but that is really too easy. There are always some squawkers in every crowd.

    They'd have been much better off on all fronts from going with the pushy Dawkins thing. That at least had the virtue of saying up front what the belief system boils down to.

    Again, it wouldn't engage real believers but you would get attention from the squawkers and then you'd possibly get some interest from those undecided. If nothing else it was more clever.

    No hard feelings. Just as an advertising person and a Christian ... well, it fell short.

  10. @Roz: Atheists, by definition, do not think of themselves as a religion. Further, atheism isn't a "belief system;" it's a single belief: that there are no such things as deities.

    @Julie: Point taken; I appreciate your perspective. I do think the sleep comment is funny, but then, I do have an odd sense of humor.


  11. DW ... I hear ya. :-)

    The conversation between you and Roz about belief systems made me curious about how that term is actually defined. So I went to look it up (admittedly on the internet, etc.). I was interested to see this on Wikipedia:

    A belief system can refer to
    * a life stance
    * a religion
    * a world view
    * a philosophy; see also List of philosophies
    * an ideology

    Now I know that what we are all talking about is really "religion" ... this left me wondering further so I went to Merriam-Webster:

    Main Entry: re·li·gion
    Pronunciation: \ri-ˈli-jən\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at rely
    Date: 13th century

    1 a : the state of a religious (a nun in her 20th year of religion) b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
    2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
    3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
    4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

    I think that based on both the belief system Wikipedia idea and the dictionary we can see where including atheism as "religion" or "belief system" holds true. Of course, you are talking about not believing in a deity and others are not. However, it does seem to fall within the philosophy, set of beliefs, life stance, worldview areas.

    Regardless, I never would have looked those up otherwise ... thanks for the push. :-)

  12. I don't see how atheism conforms to anything in the definitions you've quoted. It is one, single belief: that there are no such things as deities. As such, it isn't a world view, a philosophy, an ideology or a life stance. It's not a religion because it's a single belief, not a system of beliefs (among other reasons).

    Now, the single belief that defines atheism does INFORM one's world view, just as all of a person's beliefs do. But it is not a world view or philosophy in and of itself.


  13. Well, I didn't look up all those things specifically so you have sent me to Merriam Webster again. What does seem to apply from:

    Philosophy: b : a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought
    4 a : the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group

    Ideology: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture

    From the Free Dictionary:
    world·view (wûrldvy)
    n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
    1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

    From the religion definition ...
    4:a cause, principle, ... held to with ardor and faith

  14. Really? They care about this enough to pay for ads? Well, the taxpayers of Chicago are laughing their way to the bank.

    And yes. What Rose said. Saturday evening mass.

  15. I know I'm late to the party, but I wanted to point out that founder of FFRF is a former evangelical preacher. His philosophy has changed, but his MO hasn't: in-your-face preaching and keep-the-taxfree-contributions-coming campaigns.

    I'm not too fond of the group, myself. Their campaigns in the Detroit Metro area (evidentally they have a very cranky member in Warren) have annoyed believers and nonbelievers alike. Why ban a support group for the unemployed from city property just because it's run by a church? Why look down on referrals to church shelters and religious charities? ANY port in a storm, and Detroit's been taking on water for a long time now.

    On a funny note, the FFRF's campaign against the Mother Teresa postage stamp blew up in their faces. Now you can get all manner of religious-themed stamps, including Muslim holidays.

  16. @Julie: I would concede that atheism fits that definition of philosophy, but only if one assumes the lack of belief in deities to underlie the rest of one's beliefs. I'm not sure most atheists would agree with that, however.

    It does fit that definition of ideology. However, it is important to realize that the single belief (there are no deities) is the only commonality among the people in the group in question.

    Atheism is not an "overall perspective" but a single belief, so it does not fit the worldview definition.

    Atheism is certainly not a religion, since it does not involve faith.


  17. Hey DW, I do understand. Completely.

    I find it interesting that there are so many shades of meaning in the different words by which we define ourselves though. For instance, if you look at the "religion" 4b definition above, you will note that the only mention of faith is that with which the person holds their belief.

    Even when I was an agnostic, not sure what was true and what wasn't, I knew there was no way I could ever prove that there was not a God. If one cannot prove something, which would be needing observable phenomena in order to bear out the hypothesis, then it would be holding to my belief in no God through no evidence. Which I knew wasn't enough. That is why I kept wondering.

    So, I have been on both sides. On the nonbeliever's side there is no evidence. Likewise, on the believer's side there is usually internal evidence. However, having been on both sides, I am grateful that I made the step out there and asked for evidence ... even if it was internal.

    This is not necessarily important to you, I realize. Just thinking aloud about the line that exists between the two sides ... that invisible line. And grateful for the fact that I've been on both sides so I do understand. :-)

  18. I think you have a great point about lack of evidence not being proof, in and of itself. However, the logic you're using there can also apply to unicorns; there's no evidence they don't exist, so should I believe in them. The position of most atheists is that the burden of proof is on the party making the positive claim; i.e. theists.

    I would also question the idea of "internal" evidence. By nature, evidence is something that can be presented (as evidence in court, for example). One's own personal experiences, however, compelling to that person, cannot qualify as evidence if it cannot be shown to someone else.

  19. I thought that Triceratops bones were thought to be unicorn horns ... and were proven to be dino bones. :-)

    Yes, you are right about being careful about internal evidence. However, at some point in our lives we must trust it. When we know we are in love, we often have little evidence that anyone else would understand. When we find "The One" (to steal Jack from Third Rock's "special name" ha! for his beloved). The way we feel about our children, etc., etc. All those corny examples are cliched because they are true. Even down to trusting that sinking feeling in your stomach when you just somehow know you'd better not take a job that is being offered (been there, learned to trust that the hard way).

    So you can't discount it.

    And, if you look at the fact that what Christians are talking about is actually a love affair with a person (yes, God, but He's a person), then it all would make a bit more sense.

    I don't expect you to agree with me, because as I say I've been there myself. I get it.

    It was when I threw that question out there into space and waited for an answer (for a very long time) and then decided to go ahead because there was not any evidence that there was NOT a God ... that I received an answer. My mother called it coincidence. I understand that too. However, when you get a letter from someone that is in code, so to speak, and it is a code only you will understand (such as that special wink from your honey across a crowded room) ... then it falls into place.

    I hope that will happen to you someday, just as I hope my single friends will find their special soulmates ... because I'm so happily married. :-)

  20. I would never discount "internal" evidence when it comes to things that only I could experience; love is a good example of this. However, I could not share that evidence with others. So while I may be in love to feel connected to God or whatever, it is still isn't evidence in the sense that it can be used to convince others.

    Deciding that there's a God because there's no evidence against the idea probably isn't going to happen to me. I just don't work that way.

  21. DW, we are surely talking at cross purposes. I am not trying to convince you or anyone. I was just recounting my own experience. Period.

    For that very reason I encourage each person to at least ask the question ... say the prayer ... issue the challenge ... (whatever one wants to call it) to God on a personal basis. And then to go from there.

    I'm about looking for truth. Each person comes to that in their own way.

  22. Aren't you trying to convince me, though? Not that that's a bad thing; I don't mind your suggesting that I pray to God. The problem is that would require me to believe in him first.

  23. I am not personally trying to convince you. I know that I cannot. I can convince you, perhaps, that I exist. But you must meet God yourself in order to believe in Him ... and I can't set up that meeting. You've got to do that for yourself. Again, I think, we are running into different interpretations of the same word ... or situation?

    I encourage each person to not stop asking for truth. Which would be to at least toss the question out there. If you have already asked and dealt with it, then ok. If not, then you are not doing proper scientific experimentation, I would say.

    Do you require that you know who will answer if you hope for love? Or do you allow yourself to hope that the right person is out there and that you will meet him or her?

    What about the attitude from The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester ... be like Gully Foyle. Have faith in that it is necessary to believe that "somewhere there's something worthy of belief."

    I was curious to see if someone would answer me (He did). John C. Wright threw that question out there as a defiant act to prove that no one was there (that backfired on him).

    If you want to ask the question then you should. For whatever reason. You strike me as someone who would do it as an experiment ... which is for me to say that you would be open minded enough to evaluate a response should you receive one.

    If you don't want to ask, then ok. Asking only works if you will open your eyes to see if there is an answer. The search for truth should never end in any of us. I would trust that in being true to yourself then you would continue asking other questions ... whatever those might be.

  24. You are one of the more thought-provoking Christian writers with whom I carry on conversations; I appreciate that.

    I suppose it would be possible to set up an experiment to test whether praying to God yielded results, but my current empirical observation suggests that it would not. I'd be curious as to how you would design such an experiment, if that were something you were interesting in discussing.

    As for finding love, you'll be happy to know that I have already done so; my partner and I are quite happy and very much in love. However, I cannot credit God for that. Instead, I credit the dating website that I joined, and my partner for reaching out to me in that forum.

  25. Thank you! I regard that as a great compliment. I think that my own experience contributes greatly to the fact that I don't want to shove around people who are already truth seekers. :-)

    I am very happy to know that you have found love. Though, being a Christian and having had experience with these things (yes, internal, but what am I gonna do?) ... I tend to look at coincidence as God's way of being obvious. So God may or may not deserve credit for the impulses that led both of you to use that same service at that same time in that same way.

    However, I also know that sounds like voodoo. Been there. So I will just make that observation and move on.

    The short answer on the experiment is: just ask God to show you that He's there in a way you can't miss.

    Then leave it on Him and see what happens. It may be big or small, but it will be out of the ordinary and something that, to you, is unmistakable. (You know, just like that wink your partner gives you across the crowded room.) You will recognize that something happened.

    That's what I did.

    My conversion story has the bare bones account of my own experiment which I mentally termed a "bet." I put a provable condition on my bet but you can leave it wide open if you like. It took a year for an answer and I didn't spend much (if any) time thinking about that bet. If it crossed my mind, I just thought, "Nothing yet. We'll see..." I'm not usually patient but in this case I was just waiting to see.

    My answer, when it came, was unmistakable. Even to my husband who I hadn't mentioned my "bet" to ...

  26. I appreciate the experiment suggestion, but I'd probably want to do it in a more scientific way: form a hypothesis, design an experiment to test it, then assess the results. Something like what you're describing happening once can be coincidence; I'd need it to happen consistently to believe it.

  27. What is stopping you from doing that very thing?

    If you read my conversion story then you will know I wanted a new house and I dared God to deliver it as proof.

    So come up with some proof you would like to see, repeatedly, and measuringly ... and deliver the dare. Easy peasy ...

    If one wants to know if someone is home, one knocks upon the door to see if one answers. Just how many times you want the person to open the door to prove they are home, I am not sure. But that is between you and the person in the home.

    So go knock! :-)

  28. I appreciate the encouragement.