The Brazilian Atheist Billboards… in English August 10, 2011

The Brazilian Atheist Billboards… in English

Reader Paul liked those Brazilian atheist billboards so much that he went ahead and Anglicized them for all of us:

Hats off to the Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos (Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics) for going bold and direct with their message!

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  • Daniel H.

    Can I give a Christian perspective on these billboards?

    They are stupid. The first one corresponds to nothing in my experience, and “faith” is way too vague anyway. Faith in what? The FSM? Maybe some churches discourage questions, but certainly not all. I’m not sure anyone said “faith” gives answers anyway. That doesn’t even make sense. “Faith” is a disposition which is rather meaningless until it’s given specific content.

    The second one is dumb. It makes no sense. I realize it’s a quote from Christopher Hitchens… but it still doesn’t make sense. First, it’s simply false because if the God who exists is the God of the Bible, plenty of stuff is not permitted. Second, because what? If there is no God, suddenly some things aren’t permitted that otherwise would be? If there’s no God, what’s permitted is whatever gets the most votes or whoever has the biggest guns.

    The third one is just fluff. “Believing in God” and “religion” are too vague and general to be helpful.

    And the last one… ok. Witty maybe, but so what?

  • Rhys

    I’m just going to focus on the second billboard because I
    find this quote (which is the reversal of an older quote that never
    actually existed) the strongest disagreement I have with all religion.

    I think you answered your question yourself (If there is no God,
    suddenly some things aren’t permitted that otherwise would be?).
    The flaw with all religions is that everything beyond what
    science has discovered is taken on faith. If this is the case, god’s word is merely hearsay, and as many many humans in the past have known to be
    corrupt, preaching to the masses the apparent ‘words of their god’, this can be anything they require it to be.

    In this sense, if god is *believed to* exist, everything is permitted,
    killing the innocent and prejudice against others for example, because
    god is faith-based, and the corrupt of the world will always manipulate
    others with what they proclaim to be god’s orders.

  • Here, I will helpfully explain:

    #1. Faith = believing something without, or in the face of contradictory, evidence. That is what gives no answers. Questioning faith, in my experience, usually ends with “well, that’s where you just have to believe,” or “god is mysterious.”

    #2. It makes perfect sense. You can justify anything using religion. Don’t want to kill: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Want to Kill: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.#3. Means that calling yourself a Christian/Muslim/whatever does not automatically make you a good person. #4. Means that an atheist would apply the same reasons for disbelieving in Thor to disbelieving in any other gods. Yet for some reason, many people stop with one last god chair still on the dance floor. We atheists find that interesting. Sorry if you don”t, but there it is.

  • Anonymous

    The second one is dumb. It makes no sense. I realize it’s a quote from Christopher Hitchens… but it still doesn’t make sense.

    Not at all.  It’s a reversal of a quote found in The Brothers Karamazov, ‘If there is no God, everything is permitted.”  This old saying is based in the idea that God defines good and evil and without believing in him, you will lack any and all moral judgment.  This particular phrase has been pawned off as deep wisdom from more pulpits than you’d ever care to imagine.

  • normally, i’m not a krista tippett fan. but i did her say something that resonated with me as an “atheist”: (i paraphrase) [she’s] not interested what atheists are against, what are they FOR?
    as an atheist, i do feel we are a put upon on by believers, but i think we might do better to fight FOR some things: rationality, humanism, compassion, freedom of thought, etc. rather than waste time, energy and, certainly, any measure of good will from believers by always railing against their beliefs. why bother with that? it’s NEVER going to change their minds, anyway. if it was a case of rational argument, there would be no argument. so why not just stick with some things we MIGHT come together (with at least SOME of them) on? thus the billboards are counterproductive.

  • Daniel H.

    Oh, well then that’s the source. I have heard Hitchens use it though.

    “you will lack any and all moral judgment.”

    I don’t think that’s the argument or the point. It’s not that without God you “lack moral judgment,” it’s that in a materialist/naturalist universe there’s no real moral standard, it’s just what you or the majority happen to like.

    The statement still doesn’t make sense. Which God are we talking about? Surely not the God Christians believe in. There is a ton he doesn’t permit.

  • Andrew

    As an atheist, I rather like these. However, I doubt they speak to the theistic, since they’re entrenched in that mindset.

  • Daniel H.

    “Faith = believing something without, or in the face of contradictory, evidence.”

    Ok… I still don’t think this is getting very far. Answers to what? And it still doesn’t stop questions. Vague sloganeering can sound witty, but it isn’t saying anything at all.

    “You can justify anything using religion. Don’t want to kill: Thou Shalt
    Not Kill. Want to Kill: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

    Again you’re being way too vague. These are particular bits of legislation and are not synonymous with “religion.” That’s way too big an umbrella to make the point you’re trying to make. Anyway, what you can really justify anything with is atheism, as long as you get enough votes, or have the biggest gun. Are you suggesting that atheism in itself actually imposes a set of rules in which certain things are not permitted?

    “#3 Means that calling yourself a Christian/Muslim/whatever does not automatically make you a good person.”

    Well no one said it does.

  • Jennifer K.

    You complain that the words are too vague, meaningless, or general.
    Billboards are not effective when they contain entire
    paragraphs…that’s just the nature of billboards! Remember also that
    these have been translated into English.

    Now that we’ve had a couple people explain their meanings to you…how would
    YOU have worded them so that they’re brief and to the point, but not too
    “vague?” Just curious, since you’re being a word critic and all.

  • Rich Wilson

    For #1 I highly recommend a talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson

    #2 If you think you’ve got God on your side, what ISN’T permitted?

    #3 Maybe a picture of some famous ‘good’ atheist, and “Good without God” next to a picture of Gandhi  and “Good with Gods”?

  • Rich Wilson

    “Well no one said it does.”

    Beg to differ on that one.  Lots of people think that not believing in a God, any God, makes you immoral.  Or at least not someone to vote for, no matter what else you’ve got going for you.

  • Anonymous

    I have heard Hitchens use it though.

    Indeed.  Hitchens is extremely well read, and this is one book he often quotes.  It’s hard to decide if that book is arguing in favor of religion or against it, which I’m sure is one of the reason Mr. Hitchens enjoys it.

    It’s not that without God you “lack moral judgment,” it’s that in a
    materialist/naturalist universe there’s no real moral standard

    From Psalm 14:1:

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they
    have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    To be morally grounded, it is very often argued that you have to believe in God (whichever God the person arguing this happens to believe in, conveniently enough). 

    The point is that even with God (in this case the Islamic God), everything seems to be permitted as well.  I’m sure I could spend years digging up stories about horrors committed by the pious, and you could spend years “No True Scotsman”-ing them, but the fact remains that faith doesn’t seem to work very well to make people behave.

  • Jennifer K.

    We all know there are crazy rules in the bible that no one follows anymore (slavery, stoning, etc.) The morals you follow today are the common morals of our culture and judicial system, not necessarily of the bible or any other religious book. I think deep down you know that.

    I like that you are listening to Hitchens and also checking out this
    blog, Daniel…you are obviously curious about atheists and are on the
    right track. 🙂 It’s OK to question things, and you will find lots of support from the atheist community along your journey.

  • Rich Wilson

    “Anyway, what you can really justify anything with is atheism”  That’s meaningless.  Saying “humanism can be used to justify anything” would at least have meaning.  It’s wrong, but at least it’s using the correct words.

    Religion separates people into groups.  There are those people who are in your religious group, and those that aren’t.  Your people are doing it right, and everyone else is doing it wrong.  Or at least less right.  You make a value judgement about someone based on whether they’re in your group or not.

    On the other hand, I don’t think you’re necessarily doing it wrong, just not any more right than me.

    ok, many atheists make a value judgement on people based on what their religion is.  But that’s just because we’re dicks, not because we’re atheists.  Atheism itself doesn’t define people as better or worse, even if they’re not atheists.

  • It’s not vague. Believing something without evidence does not answer anything. There is nothing that it answers. If I say, “I do believe in fairies,” it answers nothing. It’s a statement. That is the point. I can’t give you a list of things it doesn’t answer, other than to say #1: Everything.

    I am suggesting that you can justify anything by saying “this is what your god wants you to do.” I gave two contradictory examples of behaviors people can and have justified using a particular religious book. Not vague. And I am not suggesting anything about atheism. You can’t justify anything with it. “Kill that guy, because I would need to see evidence in order to believe something!  Yeah. That makes sense.  But that’s not what we’re discussing. Don’t change the subject.

    And yes, actually, people say that very thing all the time. “We didn’t know he was a serial killer! He was such a nice man! He went to church!”

  • Daniel H.

    “We all know there are crazy rules in the bible that no one follows anymore (slavery, stoning, etc.)”

    I don’t think that’s mainly for cultural reasons though. The Bible as a whole is much closer to a narrative than a list of rules. There is historical/narrative progression, from an old covenant to new covenant, etc. Some OT laws are specifically abrogated in the NT. Some involve principles that apply differently in different circumstances. It’s not always easy and straightforward, but it’s untrue and disingenuous to say that certain rules are simply being ignored.

  • Rich Wilson

    I haven’t read Brothers Karamazov, but having read Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, and knowing a little about Dostoevsky, I suspect that while Hitchens deeply respects the work, he doesn’t agree with the premise.

  • Rich Wilson

    Oh I botched that.  Dostoevsky was deeply religious.  He wouldn’t b writing against religion.

    (or maybe I should just bite my fingers for a while- you seem to know more about it than me)

  • Gregg Stephani

    The way I’ve come to look at that quote is this: If you claim a call from god as your justification in performing an act, anything done to achieve that goal can be justified as an appropriate means to achieving the end result of obeying and glorifying god.

    If you take that element of god away, the idea is that the person pillaging, murdering, etc. would have to justify the harm caused to their victims in terms of the reward they are receiving for the actions. This would provide much more incentive to doubt whether the actions are worth the price in human dignity and suffering.

    Of course, I am not a philosopher, and my memory is probably not allowing me to recall the argument in its full potency.

  • Daniel H.

    No idea. I’m not an atheist, so I’d have a tough time coming up with any pro-atheist slogans or witticisms that don’t strike me as silly.

  • Jennifer K.

    So do you truly believe your morals are completely derived from a book that is admittedly “not always easy and straightforward” in its wording? Or do you avoid robbing and killing because you are actually a good person by nature and wouldn’t want to hurt others (and wouldn’t want others to do the same to you)? Out of curiosity, if you *hypothetically* learned there is no god and that the bible is meaningless, would you start doing bad things?

  • Anonymous

    I’m so glad to see this. I spent some time in Brasil, its rich culture is becoming diluted with evangelical Christianity as preachers take advantage of the poor class seeking hope.

  • Davidp

    I love these, tbh I think they are better than any of the ones I have seen in America.

  • Rich Wilson

    Good point.  As we argue against Daniel H, we should remember that no matter how much WE like the signs, we’re not the target audience.  For whatever reason, they’re not working for our sample size of one.

  • If converting religious believers was the goal, then, yes, it would be counterproductive. However, it always seems to me that these billboards are targeting people who are already atheist or who are at least questioning their faith and would like to know that they are not alone. The only reason I knew about the atheist group in my area was because of some bus ads. 

    I do like the idea about focusing on what we for rather than against – if that could ever be defined. 

  • Sinfanti

    I’d be interested to see some follow-up on this story about what reaction the billboards are getting.  Do the Brazilians get all into a furor over these the way that American conservatives do about billboards that aren’t nearly so direct and to-the-point?

  • Annie

    I’m interested in that too.  Since Brazil is a predominantly Catholic nation (74%), I’m interested in what the Catholics think.  I always think of Catholicism as being the largest breeder of atheists.  If they are spooked by this, then that’s a good thing.

  • ACN

    The only time I’d be comfortable putting “historical” in my description of the bible, is if it were followed by “fiction”. The narrative is not at all an obvious progression. It has been carefully edited, bound together, and marketed in this way, but anyone who is paying attention in a first semester seminary class in biblical studies should understand the spin.

  • Anonymous

    That’s almost certainly true.  It’s been a long time, and I only remember bits of the book.  He does explore a lot in the book, though.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the point is that the rules are largely arbitrary and often contradictory.  You can use the bible to justify almost any moral stance whether than be pro live or pro choice, pro war or pacifism, violence or peace, pro gay rights or oppression of gays, misogyny or equality, etc, etc.

  • Martialartheart

    Also, it’s a quote in the Bible.  1 Corinthians 10:23.  If the Bible says everything is permitted *with* God, well…

  • I would have preferred a slightly different expression such as “With a belief you are doing God’s will…”

    The plains were flown into the buildings not because there is a God but because the perpetrators believed it was God’s will for them to do so.   Its all about the problems of “belief”.  Whether or not there is a God is really besides the point.

  • Kat

    This is a different perspective of a Christian (I imagine many Christians would categorize her as “not a “true” Christian” or not a “real” Catholic). But I showed my friend (who is Catholic) the billboard saying, We are all atheists with the gods of others.” I agree with that rather pithy statement,  but my friend answers that actually, she’s not truly an atheist with the god of others. Rather, she thinks that the gods of others are just their way of worshipping the one god. They got the actions wrong, but they’re all the same being. She believes that if others worship Thor or Zeus, or  Shiva they’re not wrong, just that they call it a different name (or names). Granted, this is her, personal, opinion, NOT the opinion of her church or many others perhaps, so she agreed the billboard is a good message for some.
    How would you respond, anyone? If you would.

  • Sarah

    If your memory is correct then that argument falls apart at the slightest touch. – They could justify the harm caused in terms of the greater good, in terms of morality, in terms of neccessity, in terms of punishment, in terms of balance, in any term they so choose.

  • Sarah

    He’s right, it’s vague sloganeering, plenty of faith does not discourage questions, and plenty of those who lack faith do discourage questions – just try questioning Chairman Mao

    You can justify anything with religion, you can justify anything with any non-religious ideology or logic, you just have to pick your a-priori however you like. There’s no difference and it makes no substantive point.

    Saying that “he was such a nice guy, he went to church” is not the same as saying “being Christian makes you automatically good” – just ask them what they think of people who are the “wrong” sort of Christian, you will soon find out that it’s a myth that Christians are a big monolith who think they are all good people.

  • Sarah

    “Christian = automatically good” =/= “If you’re atheist you’re immoral”, they’re just not the same thing. The latter is facile and stupid though.

  • Sarah

    Atheism seperates people into groups. So does football, and in fact any group that can be named.

    Your last paragraph is spot on though, just like Christianity doesn’t stop most of them being dicks neither does Atheism

  • Sarah

    Atheism seperates people into groups. So does football, and in fact any group that can be named.

    Your last paragraph is spot on though, just like Christianity doesn’t stop most of them being dicks neither does Atheism

  • Sarah

    Try harder! “Atheists have morals too”, “Most Atheists and Christians have done wrong at some point, but most of them are good most of the time”, “Some of my best friends are Atheists”, “While Atheism does not prevent everyone from doing evil neither does religion”, “Jesus would hug an Atheist”, “Love thy neighbour? Yes, even if he’s an Atheist – What Jesus Would Say”, “Remember that time Jesus said you should be a dick to Atheists? Me neither.” 

  • matt

    The moral argument is a fairly strong one against that billboard.  It’s true, we don’t have a moral absolute.  However, once you read Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, in the Socratic Dialogues, you realize, -neither does religion…

    What is good?  

    That which the Gods (God) loves.

    Is a thing good because God Loves it?  Or does God love it because it is good?

    In the first case, there is no intrinsic moral value.  God could arbitrarily decide to love rape, murder, starvation, torture, -yet we would not consider these things “good.”  Therefore, moral value or “goodness” does not and cannot come from God.

    In the second case, God’s “loving it” is completely incidental.  If he loves it because it is good, then God’s love (or approval or whatnot) is completely unnecessary and the thing has moral value on it’s own.

  • I LOOOOOVE the Hitler/Chaplin ad!! I want to print it out and frame it!

  • Filippo Salustri

    I haven’t seen any discussion about the cultural aspects.  I do know one or two Brazilians, and the history of the culture there may impose certain connotations on the billboards that “don’t compute” for other cultures.  I honestly don’t know, so it seems a valid question (to me) 🙂

    Anyone care to offer some insight?

    Also, it seems to me that, with respect to the Big Famous religions, their gods cannot exist without their scriptures.  What is the christian god without the bible?  Not much.  So undermining the accuracy and validity of the holy books seems quite consistent with disproving each god in turn.  If such an undertaking is ever successful, all that would be left are the relatively benign and in any case impotent gods like Spinoza’s.  While I’d consider such a result sub-optimal, it would certainly be a major step in the right direction.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps, but billboards have to be pithy, and brief in order to be readable at high speeds with a single glance.  That usually precludes being extreme precision with all necessary disclaimers.

  • Thilinab

    The idea behind the billboard and what Hitchens meant by the phrase is that if you believe in god, its very likely you will cherry pick the parts of the bible you like and find a way to justify any action. 

    And unfortunately it is as simple as “certain rules are simply ignored”, one of the bible quotes used by the anti-gay marriage groups is right next to one about not eating shellfish (some people ignore both others insist one should be law and pretend the other doesn’t exist). 

    In my experience few people look to a holy book to look for what they shouldn’t do, only to look for a excuse for they already want to do. 

  • Martin

    Religion…………. A refuge for the weak minded, A failure to accept reality

  • Nude0007

    Looks like my English versions sparked a good bit of discussion.  That’s great! I take no credit for translating, merely using my limited spanish understanding to approximate what it said compared to Mr. Mehta’s english versions below them, and checking some with an English/Portugese translator.  Glad I could help!

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