Church Responds to an Atheist Billboard in South Carolina December 18, 2011

Church Responds to an Atheist Billboard in South Carolina

Last month, some digital billboards went up in South Carolina as part of the Columbia Coalition of Reason‘s outreach campaign:

A few days ago, there was a rebuttal to the sign put up by Park Street Baptist Church (in the same location as the atheist billboard) with the words “We Still Believe in God & his Son, Jesus.” According to Pastor Sam Catoe, “We thought this would be a clever way to catch attention and it certainly has.”

WLTX out of Columbia interviewed both Catoe and Columbia CoR’s coordinator Dustin Tucker about the placement of the new billboard:

“It’s awesome,” said Dustin Tucker.

Tucker is from the Columbia Coalition for Reason, which put up the other billboard. Friday he saw the new competition for the first time.

“Anytime I see somebody expressing their first amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion, I’m excited,” said Tucker.

I love Dustin’s reaction. He’s not upset. He’s not irritated. He’s not mocking at all. But he is excited to see the response. Obviously, the church is welcome to express their First Amendment rights and what they believe.

It is amusing that the church seems to think that people may not know “the other side” (as if Christianity’s some well-kept secret). But it sounds enough like playful enough ribbing. There may even be a tangible benefit from the Billboard War: Interfaith work between members of the Columbia Coalition of Reason and Park Street Baptist’s congregation. Dustin and Pastor Catoe have already been in contact about doing community service with each other.

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  • My reaction is similar.  With so many theists responding to these billboards by crying that they are offensive, by seeking to get them taken down, or even with outright vandalism, it’s refreshing to see someone who disagrees respond by simply expressing their own opinions in the same or a similar venue.  You know, civil discourse and all that.  Good for them!  (Even if they are still wrong :p )

  • I think it’s a wonderful development that the Coalition of Reason and the church are working together on community service. It is probably the single best way to break down the demonic caricature of atheism that passes for conventional wisdom among the faithful. 

  • “…demonic caricature of atheism that passes for conventional wisdom among the faithful.”

    Huh? Please clarify wtf this means. I don’t quite get it because this could be perceived many ways.

  • Yukimi

    I tink it’s very positive to do community service but I hate we have to show we aren’t monsters because we don’t believe in a god by doing it. I guess it’s necesary (at least in the US) but it rattles me.

  • C.W.K.

    Here we have the essence of what was intended for the democratic republic; controversy tempered in compromise.

  • It is commonplace among the faithful to regard those who identify without god as evil, or morally defunct.  By showing that we truly care about our fellow man, it makes it difficult to hold that position.

  • Anonymous

    A really subversive billboard would show Christopher Hitchens in flames, like the vulgar depictions of the damned in hell, with the caption, “My life has meaning and purpose now.”

  • I like the idea of a joint community service project. — A lot more useful in the end than for instance a debate. Debates on the order of ‘Is Religion positive, or does God exist’ only reinforce already held beliefs. No doubt there are needy in that community that would welcome charity from any group.

  • EJC

    Free speech in action. As long as the billboard company allows both messages (and others) to be equally shown, I welcome the free flow of expression.

    I don’t like the message, but I absolutely respect, and will defend, the right to place them up.

  • Michael

    This reminds me of the original atheist bus campaign. Religious responses fell into three groups, a large number screamed about how offensive it was while a smaller but altogether more impressive group actually donated money and announced to the press “We want to have this conversation. We think we will come out better off for people discussing God.”

    The third group, obviously, were more interested with what’s on telly or their dinner than the whole issue. Which is cool too.

  • You mean Pastor Sam Catoe doesn’t want to offend all the the non-believers? He must have missed the How To Be An Obnoxious Christian memo this week. Seriously, I’m glad it’s all good natured, and he’s willing to work with non-believers on things that are actually important, like helping others.

  • Anonymous

    Besides all the other good, their response means we’re getting more news coverage and publicity for our message.

  • Deathby2

    The word “still” is the funniest part.  The arrogance of christians to think that people believed in the first place.

  • Rich Wilson

    The sad thing is that what we think should be a ‘normal’ response is newsworthy.  I look forward to the day that the original atheist billboard is as ho hum as any religious billboard is now.

    It’s there to express our confidence in our faith

    That’s something that has always struck me about people who try to deny or deface the atheist billboards. What exactly are they afraid of?

  • Well, Christians did believe in the first place….
    I took it to mean “Your attempt to weaken our faith failed!” which (1) assumes that that was even the intent, and (2) betrays their fear that such an attempt may have succeeded!

  • Trina

    Who said we’re doing it to show we aren’t monsters?  It may be a useful by-product of helping others, but I would hope that those doing it have the primary motivation of wanting to help communities and the people in them.  Although it’s far from uncommon for groups to volunteer ‘in the name’ of awareness of any number of issues.  There’s plenty of need out there to go around, and anything that will get us helping can only be of benefit.

  • Tom

    This response is a nonsense.  The original atheist board is implicitly addressed exclusively to atheists.  It’s saying, “hey, fellow atheist, there are more of us – come on down and join the party.”  It’s nonsensical at best, and rude at worst, for a church to respond as if it had been addressed to them; it’s kind of the billboard equivalent of eavesdropping on a private conversation, then muscling in and responding as if you’d been a part of the debate all along.  Unless, you know, they’re atheists in denial.

    We need another billboard that says “What made you think we were talking to you when we said ‘Don’t believe in god?'”

  • Tom

    Don’t get me wrong, in any other context that second billboard would be fine and dandy – but theists setting it up as a direct response to something that it makes no damn sense for a theist to respond to strikes me as quite inane.

  • Yeah, I couldn’t see the connection between the two – but maybe it is just newsworthy that the latter group didn’t see the former group’s nearby billboard and feel the need to put up something up saying ‘All Atheists are Evil’ or whatever. 

    Both to me seem like a monumental waste of money.  If I was an atheist looking for other atheists, I probably wouldn’t need to see their billboard.  And if I saw a Baptist church, I’d assume that they believed in the incarnation.  So what?

  • This is an editor’s masterpiece.

    The individual cordiality depicted in this news video is nice, but the mutual cordiality is an illusion.

    It looks to me that the reporter interviewed these two men separately, and carefully staged the way they were standing to look like they were there at the same time, facing each other. The sun is on the left side of pastor Catoe’s face with the sign behind him, and the sun is on the right side of Dustin Tucker’s face with the street behind him.  So in the back-and-forth editing, the illusion is that they’re facing each other, and the camera is in between them.

    Some commenters here seem to have the impression that Pastor Catoe is interested in the joint community service that Dustin Tucker proposed. There is nothing in the pastor’s remarks that address that at all, since he didn’t hear it. There is nothing in either man’s remarks that is a direct reply to any of the other man’s remarks.

    It remains to be seen if this contrived tableau of “let’s all get along and work together” will ever be accomplished in real time and space.

  • Alix

    Hey, as a devout Catholic (who loves to read this blog and consider all sorts of opinions) I think this is great… that they are coming together to help those in need? Let’s all get together and help people and explore our differences, and our similarities! I’m not at all upset by billboards I don’t agree with… they make me think, and I like that.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Merry Solstice, and Happy Whatever Holiday (or day off) you celebrate (I’m a big fan of Festivus!) If you come to see me, I promise lots of eggnog, with plenty of rum, and cheerful discussion (or lack thereof, if you just want the time off.) My eggnog is pretty famous. I also have gin. 🙂

  • Kelley

    Hi Richard,

    Dustin and Pastor Catoe have already been in contact with each other, and Pastor Catoe seems excited about working with us (I’m part of Columbia CoR as well). Admittedly, we hadn’t talked to him before the interview, but Dustin has after the fact… so yeah.

  • That’s great to hear, Kelly. I hope your mutual efforts benefit people in need and also help to make the atmosphere in the Columbia area more amicable for everyone. Keep up the good work.

  • Thank you Alix, and merry Christmas to you. May your egg and nog always live in harmony.

  • “What exactly are they afraid of?” Using their brains and thinking for themselves…

  • They should have put a billboard up that says, “We still can’t afford graphic designers.”

  • Greg

    I’m rarely one to say this but : I thought the Church response was completely rational and used the right way to express themselves. There was no attacks being tossed in either ad, and while the billboard by the church was a response, it felt as good natured as one could ever ask for from a church billboard.

    Its nice to see a response for once that didn’t involve defacing, or public outcry or an ad agency losing its gall to keep the billboard up. It was strangely logical.

  • It would be awesome to see a co-billboard.

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