A Response to the Kentucky Atheist Billboard August 26, 2010

A Response to the Kentucky Atheist Billboard

A few weeks ago, the Louisville Coalition of Reason put up an atheist billboard in Kentucky.

Why is it a useful, needed ad? Because in the South, people don’t always know that atheists exist. A sign like this can function as a welcoming message for other non-theists, directing them to a website listing various local freethought groups.

But somehow, that harmless sign always seems to make Christians upset…

Louisville Bible College is now responding with an ad of their own — less than a mile away from the atheists’ billboard.

Talk about missing the point… as if anyone needed that reminder?

No Christian driving past that billboard is looking up and saying, “There are CHRISTIANS around me?! I never knew!”

It’s a waste of money, but at least it’s their money.

I can’t wait to see the next billboard in Kentucky: “Are you white? So are we!”

While we’re talking about the state, the Kentucky Secular Society got some nice press just for manning a booth at the State Fair!

The booth, located in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center, was adorned with busts of famous atheists, deists and other “freethinkers” who rejected belief in a God that reveals guidance to humans or is involved in human events. It also included posters and a video slideshow of such people, along with some of their quotations against religion. They included evolution pioneer Charles Darwin, author Mark Twain, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and women’s rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Observers of the booth said they found it intriguing.

“It certainly has got a lot of people talking about their faith,” Linda Scherer said after greeting those at the booth. “That’s a good thing. Know why you believe what you believe.”

I love when the media covers atheists for just “being there.” But a positive presence is always helpful to get our message out.

(Thanks to Laura for the link!)

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  • Jamie

    As a Kentucky resident, I’m glad to see that the response is at least a legal one.

  • I second Jamie. The response is silly, but thankfully legal. I’ll take them squandering resources over vandalism any day.

    Nice coverage of the state fair booth. Very encouraging of an “out” lifestyle. If even die-hard Christians can walk away from an encounter with atheists and say “they seem like nice people,” we’re on the right path to de-stigmatizing atheists as human beings. Takes a massive amount of gumption to set up a booth in decidedly unfriendly territory and politely talk with anyone who wants to listen.

  • Cathy Fiorello

    I’m impressed–they didn’t vandalize ours, just put up their own!

  • The State Fair booth is a fantastic idea!

    Hopefully other groups take note and make a habit of tabling at fairs and other public events.

  • William

    Tit for tat, isn’t that what Jesus said? Was that before of after he said that whole thing about turning the other cheek?

  • April

    YAY! There are atheists in Louisville!! We are a military family considering retiring there (we lived there for three years and loved the area); it’s certainly a nice incentive to know we may find some people with similar values.

  • Will

    …and I’m moving there in a few years. I’m leaving Oklahoma (what some call the buckle of the bible belt) to move to an equally religious state. It’s like trading STDs.

  • dr death

    OK, so you totally missed the point of the christian billboard. It is actually much more clever than you give it credit for. You probably don’t understand the metaphor because you are a godless heathen.

    The message of the christian billboard is that you are not alone because Jesus is always with you. Get it? When you delude yourself into believing in “Jesus Christ” you are not alone because you have an imaginary friend to keep you company. See, it is actually a very good advertisement, especially in context with the competing billboard.


  • Heard from one of the folks in the booth that one woman came up and was all shouty and mean about it, and then came back later to apologize, because she didn’t notice the question mark in “Don’t believe in God?”, and thought the sign was telling everyone to convert to atheism.

  • Carrie

    Yay, they put up their own sign instead of vandalized. What progress.

    I’m from that area (about 45 minutes south of Louisville). Glad I’m not there now, but happy to see some positive and civilized responses.

  • Deiloh

    No vandalism? Wow, Kentucky, your awesome!

  • Nora

    I support their response, even if I absolutely don’t agree with it. One huge step forward in actually remaining legal.

    I like that they added the “definitely.” It just makes it seem so much more part of the “in crowd.” Like, yeah, there might be a few of those pesky atheists about, but aren’t you glad that YOU are the one with religious privilege? Gag.

  • Alt+3

    What does it say about the state of atheism when it’s cause for celebration (or at least a few yay’s) when an atheist billboard DOESN’T get vandalized? It’s like a black couple moving to a town and remarking that they haven’t had a single cross burned on their lawn.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this means we’re making progress, however slight, I just think it’s sad that we take notice that things are the way they ought to be.

    By the way, I live in Canada, so I don’t get a lot of religious flak. Which is all well and good; I’m the kind of person to intentionally antagonize religious people to make a point.

  • I just love how childish the Christian billboard seems.

    “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.”
    “Believe in Jesus Christ? You’re DEFINITELY not alone. So THERE.”

  • yoshi

    The response to the billboard is perfectly reasonable. And much saner than the idiotic responses that these billboards have elicited in other states.

  • It’s great that it’s a legal and basically appropriate response, but jeez. These people must be really insecure. And about eight years old.

    “Oh yeah? Well, there are more of us, so nyah nyah!”

  • Silent Service

    I see why many people think the Christian billboard is childish, but by that concept, so is ours. Like Pinocchio saying, “But I am a real boy!” It’s all cool to me though, because we should be able to express ourselves and so should they. I think it’s more than just a small step forward. It is acknowledgement that they are not 100% of the population, and they know it. They’ve had to admit that we exist, and that we have a right to exist. That’s a huge step forward to me.

  • Jason Orlando Hawk

    Boo, Hemant.

    “They’re religious, so they must be racist too!”

    Blanket statements about groups of people are totally acceptable as long as you disagree with them, & don’t live close to them.

    What I’m really trying to decide though: are you trying to say that it’s a miracle for a religious person to be well behaved? Or, are you saying that Kentuckians are an effectively hopeless lot of people?

    You’ve managed to make giant assumptions about two groups of people, & as such, I’m not sure which part of me should be annoyed.

    I really expected you to be better than that.

  • Rich Wilson

    I like the new sign. I think it actually emphasizes the point of the original sign. Anyone who sees it is going to think about the original. Christians may get a sense of smug superiority in larger numbers, but that’s fine. It is true that a majority of Kentuckians believe in Jesus. But it’s not 100%. I think even Hindus can be assured by this sign. You may be a minority, but you’re not alone.

  • blueridgelady

    i c wut you did there.

  • Nicole

    Excellent! Good to see a mature, responsible response for once. And I agree with as stated above the idea that the “definitely” is possibly pointing to the fact that you aren’t alone because Christ is with you. Or that’s how I read it anyway. Which is quite clever.

  • freddy

    Saw a bumper sticker this morning that said, “God doesn’t believe in atheists.” There’s so much wrong with that, I don’t know where to start.

  • @Nicole – I agree that the “definitely” refers to Christ.

  • MaryD

    Yes, I think the christians won that one but most people here and the OP are too dumb to see.

    Perhaps if their priorities were being friendly and atheist rather than homosexual loving, muslim tolerating and christian hating it might open their bigotted minds?

  • Just Some Guy

    Perhaps if their priorities were being friendly and atheist rather than homosexual loving, muslim tolerating and christian hating it might open their bigotted minds?

    Obvious troll is obvious.

  • Awesome! I love the booth at the fair idea. We all need to be doing that!

  • Serenity

    eh… louisville isn’t THAT far south. I got a chuckle from someone from Alabama when I said Kentucky was in the South… then again a dude I talked to on the metro in NYC thought I was from Alabama.. so whatever.. Though not really atheist myself I enjoy the blog and I am very glad for the billboard and the response billboard made me giggle (kind of bitterly) and think to myself “no shit.”

    Just a hint for any atheists or other non-christians in kentucky: go to lexington or louisville because for the most part people don’t really care what you believe.

    Also, I work in Indiana and on my way there I swear me and boyfriend see SO many anti-abortion/christian billboards its ridiculous. So, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that if I don’t want people telling me at some point that they think I will be going to hell then I’m just going to stay away from the rural areas (and my house… -_-). Which works for me because I’m a city girl at heart. 🙂

    I’d also like the add that I thought it was funny that I haven’t even heard of the Louisville Bible College.

  • littlejohn

    This is an absolute win for everyone, especially the atheists. The xians felt sufficiently insecure to answer the atheists, at what I hope was considerable expense. It’s the Jeffersonian marketplace of ideas. Dueling billboards are far better than holy wars.

  • Hazor

    No Christian driving past that billboard is looking up and saying, “There are CHRISTIANS around me?! I never knew!”

    Perhaps not those words exactly, but I will mention that even in a 5000~ member mega church in Tennessee that I attended as a teenager, we were taught that Christians were the minority. …and persecuted and other nonsense, but when I was in my teens I seriously believed that all the people around me outside of church were mostly atheists or malcontents, and that they wanted naught but to eliminate Christianity. I’ll point out again that this was in Tennessee.

  • miss_ellie

    i saw them when i was at the fair. unfortunately, my mother was with me and she doesnt really know about my disbelief. i was rather disappointed in her, because she is generally rather open minded, and she called them crazy people. so i didnt get to visit their booth. but i was almost giddy when i saw it!

  • Heard from one of the folks in the booth that one woman came up and was all shouty and mean about it, and then came back later to apologize, because she didn’t notice the question mark in “Don’t believe in God?”, and thought the sign was telling everyone to convert to atheism.

    That “one of the folks in the booth” was me, btw 🙂 I wrote more about that incident here: http://kysecularsociety.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/reactions-to-our-godless-state-fair-booth/

  • Jasper

    It would be awesome to see an atheist billboard in eastern Kentucky, say somewhere around Harlan County in the Appalachian Mountains. Won’t happen anytime soon though. I’m definitely alone here.

  • Alexis

    Hazor brings back memories of my childhood. I am from the near Pittsburgh, Pa. Pennsylvania, they say, is Philadelphia on the east, Pittsburgh on the west, and Alabama in the middle. After our fire and brimstone C&MA minister had railed on about the papist anti-christ, I got to fearing all of the catholics who would bring about the destruction of the world. Then I found out that over half of the kids in my school classroom were catholic, including some of the nicest ones I knew!

  • ckitching

    Well, it is probably the least offensive and least condescending Christian sign I’ve seen in a while.

  • Boo, Hemant.

    “They’re religious, so they must be racist too!”

    @Jason — I wasn’t talking about racism. I was talking about demographics. When I first read the Christian billboard, I thought they were referring to their large numbers. That could apply to white people as well there.

    Though, if other peoples’ interpretation are correct, the billboard is referencing people “definitely” having an imaginary friend.

  • Robert Tobin

    Preaching to the brain dead sheeple of the Bible Belt of the United Christian States of America. They believe the World was ‘created’ by a non-exisant “god” in 4004 BCE in October 3rd. at 9:00am and that the “Sermon on the Mmount” was preached not by Jesus but by Rev. Billy Graham.

    And the perpetrator of that “Creation Nusuem” Kent Hovind is now doing 15 years in a Federal Slammer for tax evasion. Have pity on the other inmates there with all his prostelyzing from the “Holy” Book of Bullshit.

  • Dan W

    Fundies sure are good at completely missing the point. At least they’re responding by wasting their money on stupid billboards instead of vandalism, though.

  • Citizen Z

    From a marketing standpoint, this shows how very effective the atheist billboard campaign has been. To respond directly to a competitor’s ad shows a sign of weakness, or more accurately perceived weakness.

    Not only does this billboard just point attention towards the original, it doesn’t do anything to rebut its message. In fact it may unwittingly support its message. If you take it to mean, as many people here did, that there are simply a whole lot of Christians, that means there are atheists out there. Enough that they feel the need to respond to.

  • muggle

    Rich Wilson and Citizen Z beat me to it. I read that and chuckled and thought way to make sure the Atheist billboard message is spread. Thank you.

    Look, this is great. And more than acceptable. We exercised our free speech and they exercised theirs. This is why I love America. I just love seeing side by side polar opposites existing in (more or less) harmony. That’s the America I love. Not the ugliness going on in NYC right now. And I may point out that free speech means you are open to critique for what you speak about. To get upset about the Christian billboard is as ridiculous as getting all caught up in the Pepsi-Coke wars regardless of which one you like better.

    And the booth at the State fair is great. Party on, America.

  • Sally

    This is beyond nice for me to see. We are Kentucky residents, and delighted that other atheists in the state are speaking out. Sometimes, we do feel alone…

  • JustSayin’

    It would be awesome to see an atheist billboard in eastern Kentucky, say somewhere around Harlan County in the Appalachian Mountains. Won’t happen anytime soon though. I’m definitely alone here.

    I grew up not terribly far from your area, Jasper, in the southern part of West Virginia (Mingo County, to be exact). I moved away to North Carolina (right outside of Charlotte) over seven years ago, and I have to tell ya–in some ways it’s like I never even left. Even though this area is much more financially prosperous and commercially developed, sometimes I think the Jesus freaks make up 99.9% of my neighbors–and are far more vocal than in WV. Add to that the fact that NC has an overwhelming historic record of Rebublicanism and, well, you can guess the rest.

    I presume it’s primarily because the population density is so much greater here, but some days it seems as if every other vehicle on the road (and that includes commercial trucks) has plastered on it an ichthus or a preachy bumper sticker or, as some have taken to doing of late, a prominent magnetized bible verse along with a charming “REPENT OR BE DAMNED” message.
    And that’s not to mention the billboards! My unscientific estimate is that two out of every five of those is for some wannabe megachurch that’s just getting started by renting out a PUBLIC school auditorium for Sunday services. (Yes, they do that, and I’ve oftened wondered what the reaction would be if one were request to rent said space with the express purpose of setting up, say, a mosque or even a Buddhist meditation center, but I digress.) Then once they’re established with their own facility, they begin to replicate along the lines of bacteria or viruses by setting up satellite churches in other parts of town and the surrounding areas–actually calling them CAMPUSES, as if what they’re doing is on par with higher education. That’s a far cry from the humble little Baptist church of my WV youth.

    One would think that with all of this godly instruction coming from these various houses of worship that are often no more than a few hundred feet apart, shouldn’t we be living in a near-heaven on earth down here? Yet the poverty level and rates of crime and drug use remain steady–if they’re not climbing–in these shitty economic times.

    So my plea to you, Jasper, is that you not let it get you down too much. I’ve been there, and now that I’m here, I can see that the fact of the matter is it’s pretty much one and the same in terms of the fundamentalist stranglehold. But have no doubt, there ARE others like yourself out there locally. They’ve just built up a quite necessary self-protective wall. And although they’re admittedly few and far between, you have resources at our disposal to connect with them, resources that I didn’t even have when I was there, what with no computer of my own. The internet is a–if you’ll pardon the pun,–godsend for finding like-minded folks, regardless of geographic or sociocultural circumstances.

    And finally, in regard to your dream of an atheist–or even agnostic–billboard in Harlan County? Well, I have no doubt whatsoever that if such an “abomination” were ever to appear on the hills that are so abundant in Mingo or Logan Counties, there would be more than mere vandalism going on. I’m thinking arson or worse. And THAT would be at the hands of law enforcement! (Yes, that’s hyberbole…I hope.)

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