A Better Apology for the Slavery Billboard March 16, 2012

A Better Apology for the Slavery Billboard

You can argue that the PA Nonbelievers/American Atheists billboard that featured a Bible verse about slavery wasn’t offensive if you took a second to read the fine print and understand the (anti-slavery) meaning behind it:

But it’s also true that the intended message wasn’t conveyed properly.

Most locals just didn’t get it. And even some of you who knew precisely what the message was didn’t like it. If that’s the reaction, then the billboard creators are at fault. Billboards are about communication, and this billboard didn’t communicate its message well.

Brian Fields, the president of the PA Nonbelievers, issued this apology at the time, the same day the billboard was vandalized and taken down:

I want to say that I’m truly sorry that many people have misunderstood this billboard. It was never our intention to use “race” as our message itself…

Does that cut it?

Alonzo Fyfe doesn’t think so. He suggests a proper — better — way for Fields and the other group leaders to apologize:

Hint: “I am sorry that you are all such idiots” is not an apology.

Here are the five elements of a proper apology illustrated with sample text:

(1) The apology itself.

I am truly sorry.

(2) A statement of personal responsibility. where the agent describes exactly what he or she did wrong.

We created a billboard that was so poorly designed that a casual observer could take it as an endorsement of black slavery when, in fact, it was meant to condemn slavery.

(4) A statement of the steps that will be taken to prevent similar events in the future.

We accept that it is our responsibility to make sure that our message is clearly understood. In the future, when we condemn those practices that contributed to and supported slavery – and we will continue to do so – we will make sure that we use a message that clearly condemns slavery. Unlike the Pennsylvania Legislature, we have no interest in even appearing to endorse those practices and institutions used in the defense of slavery. We will see to it that our future actions reflect that standard.

There’s a lot more where that came from on Alonzo’s site.

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  • This is absolutely something that people don’t get in the world. That an apology that blames the victim is a notpology. I did not personally find the billboard offensive when I first saw it because I did read the fine print but I shouldn’t be expected to find a message that isn’t obviously stated.

    Seriously, a simple “Our bad, we’re sorry” would have been better than an apology with the caveat that says “it’s not really our fault you can’t read”

  • I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the billboard’s message or layout.  I don’t think any apologies are necessary.

  • Hmmmmm. So tell me, how does one apologize for being a hypersensitive dipshit that goes on lengthy crusades over their own perceptions of how a billboard, that didn’t last 48 hours anyway, should have been?

    “I have no idea who was actually offended or why, but I’m going to guess wildly and everyone should heed my opinion as fact!”

    You know, I thought that was exactly the kind of thing we were trying to move people away from…

  • Daz

    Is it just me that thinks the original sign was okay?  I got the intended message straight away and I don’t think any apology is in order.
    Whichever way you look at this, a perfectly legit sign was vandalised…and the group that put the sign up is apologising for any offence.  Hmmmm.

    Maybe it’s cos I’m in the UK?  Things annoy the hell out of me here with our chinless millionaire ‘leader’ talking about god all the time, the queen being head of the church and saying it’s still relevant, Gay marriage controversy with the catholic priests and all the casual religiosity that is ingrained into us (my girlfriend knows I’m an anti-theist but I can tell she is fed up of me talking about it.).  Seriously though, If I lived in America I think I would have to leave.  The religious people over there seem like they are on a different level!

    On a side note, my girlfriend said the other day that she has more respect for the muslim faith because they live their lives by it and take it more seriously and it’s all very honourable and meaningful for them. *sigh*  Of course, I then rebuked that woth cold, hard logic and pointed out to her all the problems with that and the Islam in general at which point she took it as me belittling her thoughts. Basically because she represents like 80% of people over here – not religious but don’t particularly care either.  She doesn’t think about it cos it doesn’t affect her day-to-day, like many others she doesn’t see the harm in it at all.  
    So when I point stuff out she doesn’t like that I seem like a stuck record always pointing out the evils of religion.
    I try not to talk about it with her now and if I do it’s in a subtler way…
    Anyone else have this problem?



  • Taxihorn

    The mouseover message on this communication-related webcomic really says it all: http://xkcd.com/1028/

  • Anonymous

    The fact that Christians don’t take their religion all that seriously is precisely what it makes it at least tolerable there most of time. Explain to her some of the shit he would have to put up with in the US. Especially as a women these days

  • qp

    There’s nothing racist about the billboard, and the people who claim that it is, is only trying to divert other people from what the main message really is –that the bible is rubbish when it comes to saying anything about what morals we should have, or how the world works, or generally about anything at all.

  • RTH

    The billboard’s message is very clear to anyone with basic comprehension skills. If a bunch of rednecks had misinterpreted a sign and felt offended by it, I don’t think anyone would have been compelled to apologize.

  • Simon

    FYI Here is the American Atheists statement from March 9:

    We want to thank everyone for sharing their opinions with us about the “Slaves, Obey Your Masters” billboard. While we certainly respect the opinions of those who disagree with our tactics, we respectfully disagree with that opinion. We are unapologetic about the billboard and stand behind it 100%. There will be no apology from American Atheists for saying what needed to be said: sometimes the truth is offensive.

    By all means, continue to talk about it and hash it out among yourselves, but we have said all there is to say on the issue and will say no more.

    We are moving on to our next project and look forward to putting up more billboards!

    Thank you for your support!

    Source: http://atheists.org/content/moving-next-project

  • No apology is going to be effective because no one is capable of acknowledging the problem.  The reason it caused offense isn’t because the billboard looks, to the casual observer, like an endorsement of slavery.  Its because slavery is a trigger issue for the targeted audience. 

    The sign isn’t racist, so any attempt to apologize for making a racist sign is either going to involve accepting more blame than is appropriate (ie, accepting blame for making a racist sign when the sign was not in fact racist), or is going to look a bit like blaming the reader for not reading very well.

    On the other hand, apologizing for using a trigger issue in the sign would involve agreeing that its wrong to make signs that offend people, purely on the grounds that its wrong to offend people.  If so, what happens to the entire billboard campaign?

    At best, the line can be tread carefully.  THIS sign that offended people by referencing slavery was wrong purely because it offended people.  THAT sign that offended people by referencing the fact that Christianity isn’t intellectually credible isn’t wrong enough though it offended people.  That’s doable.  But it involves giving up on claims of absolute values or rights (we atheists tend to have them to, such as “truth over comfort”), and people are psychologically bad at doing that.

    And that’s why the discourse on this subject has been, and continues to be, confused and ineffectual.

  •  I try so hard to be tolerant of all walks of life, but why do Christians make it so difficult to even deal with them on a serious level? All they have to do is shut their traps and stick to themselves like the majority of other faiths in this country. This righteous, self entitlement is getting very old.

  • If they issue an apology then I hope they follow up with an apology to the people like me who think an apology was unnessecary and counter priductive. 

  •  but it isnt their fault that people radically misinterpreted a very simple clear message.

  •  Diversionary tactics are proving very successful, and many of “us” are helping with the diversion.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Isn’t it about time atheists stopped apologizing every time our message is misunderstood by people who freak out at the very mention of the word ‘atheist’ or the even the idea that atheists actually do exist? They want to write letters and complain? Let them. Can we please, as a whole, grow a backbone finally? Poorly executed? There was nothing wrong with the billboard.

  • Erm,

    many people have misunderstood this billboard. 

    Is not the same as “You are an idiot” or, “you can’t read”.  It simply means many misunderstood, which they did and apparently are still doing.

    Still, it works for the religious as long as atheists are arguing among themselves.  Apparently the message isn’t as important as the design, layout, font, sheesh.

  • The Other Weirdo

     No, it doesn’t. It avoids entirely the issue of people who are programmed to misunderstand, people who are unwilling to understand, and people who freak the freak out at the very mention of the word ‘atheist’.

  • Miko

    If  “I am sorry that you are all such idiots” doesn’t cut it, what about “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologize because we did nothing wrong and the whole reason that you have trouble seeing this is because you are all such idiots”? 

  • Spanish Inquisitor

     I agree. If we were completely neutral in our ability to understand, that billboard would not be controversial in the least. The problem is partly a predisposition to oppose the underlying message (atheism) when the overt message is a church/state violation glorifying one particular religion’s holy book.

    Spanish Inquisitor

  • TiltedHorizon

     Personally I think apologies ARE necessary… from whoever provided the verse.  *cough* Christians *cough*

    “The verse out of context!”
    “It was indentured servitude!”
    “It was a different time!”
    “Christians set them free!”
    “It was an interpretation problem!”
    “It was not racial slavery!”

    I’m sure an apology is coming any day now….

  • TiltedHorizon

     What I find hilarious where the blame goes. Its the bible verse which give the image its context, yet it gets none of the blame.

  • panther

    Oh Daz! I am from America….and I DID leave. I also thought the sign was shocking, daring, honest, and REAL. If the SIGN is so offensive….then why isn’t the BIBLE under fire at this point? Those words came from the BIBLE not that sign!!! I think the sign is a scapegoat for things that people don’t want to be reminded was in the Bible. Then they’d have to think. So shoot the messenger instead. 

    However, I do think the picture was a bit much. If I were in charge of design, I’d have modified the sign with a photo that is more neutral in terms of which slaves are being featured. Blacks of course were not the only slaves, so highlighting the message with a black image is probably where this sign got off on the wrong foot.

    Yes, I left America. Forever. That place drove me NUTS. 🙂 

  • panther

    Oh, and about your gf having more respect for a Muslim faith, that is only because she doesn’t live in the  Muslim country and see how they really are. I lived in a Muslim country for 3 years initially when I left the US. The things that go on there……that are justified by religion……honestly make America look like Disneyland at the moment. 

    She’d also be laughed at for having an opinion, because she’s just a stupid woman. Ahh, how cute, did the little cockroach have an opinion? Someone slap her so she’ll stop that s**t. 

    There’s a taste of Islam for her. Only a masochist female would become a part of that religion intentionally. (I’m female, btw)

  • Unless our board asks me to, I do not expect to be offering any further public statements on this billboard.  I hope that helps clarify our position.

  • Ombakrrw

    It sort of is. People can’t just say things and ignore likely interpretations.

    It should be evident to people designing this billboard that a lot of people won’t even get past the image because of the trigger or message that it alone conveys.

    Hence, talking about how the bible message is the problem misses the point. The issue isn’t people of faith misunderstanding the billboard, it’s people of all sorts, especially african-americans, encountering an offensive image that makes it harder for them to even get to the message part.

  • Ombakrrw

    The problem isn’t the atheism in the message, it’s not even getting to the message because of a poorly chosen image that dominates the billboard.

    And the xkcd strip absolutely is right in this case, communication involves listeners, and it’s not unreasonable to expect people to be offended by this billboard BEFORE they even get to the bible verse and atheist message.

  • Adam

    No,  “I am sorry that you are all such idiots” is the proper response. 

    They were quoiting from the Bible. If the quote is offensive then the people apologizing should be the authors. Since that’s not possible then it should be the people who, to this day, support a book that promote such barbarism.

    Not that I think that you should have to apologize for offending. People need to get over it.

  • Greg

    Well put.

    Choosing an image of an African American man, bound at the throat is sure to elicit strong feelings due to the specific connotations it has in our culture. Had they used imagery of the Egyptians building a pyramid, I imagine the reaction wouldn’t be nearly as negative nor as attention grabbing.   While they might be “correct”, they also have to gauge reaction. Public Relations is part of the name of the game.

  • Adam

    Except that the Egyptians that built the pyramids were not salves.

    The fact is wee need more billboards like this to point out to people that their holy book says crap like this. 

  • The Captain

    The only apology that should have been giving is “sorry if your holy book endorses slavery, and sorry that that same book was used to justify keeping black people as slaves here in the US”.

    It makes me sick when I see people jumping over backwards to “not offend” someone, who has no problem offending us! The billboard wasn’t “racist” that is just a great buzzword that got thrown around to silence a harsh criticism… and thanks to the lack of balls of American Atheists it worked.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Basically, what you’ve just said implies that atheists must water down their message to such a degree that nobody–Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc.–could never ever in a million zillion years take offense to.  In this context, the only message that could be possible is silence. And you know what? I think there’s been enough silence.

    Christians, Muslims and Jews all get offended even at the very mention of the fact atheists exist. Christians and Jews don’t want atheist billboards in their areas, and Muslims just throw a temper tantrum and set the world on fire every time somebody says something they don’t like. Everybody blames the atheists then.

    Where I live in Canada, every other street corner has a church sign promoting some nonsense, and no one says boo about it. In the US, church density is even more so than here.

    Well, you know? The hell with them. It takes two to communicate, but when one party fills its ears with sand and sticks its fingers in for good measure, and then *WE* are supposed to back down and cringe and fawn at their injured sensibilities? To hell with that.

  • Greg

    ‘I’m sorry that you’re idiots’ is precisely the right way to respond to the criticisms of this billboard.

    No-one should expect to have their criticism taken seriously when they haven’t got the faintest clue about what they are criticising.

    It sets a horrible example to be willing to take blame for other people’s lack of understanding (or effort to understand). 

  • The Other Weirdo

     So, as a Jew from the Old Country(tm), am I supposed to be offended when someone wants to use an image from Dachau, for example, to showcase the evils of Nazism? Offended to such a degree that I call it antisemitism and demand the sign’s removal?

  • Tigerboy

    The South used the Bible (the very phrases quoted here) to justify their blatantly immoral position on slavery. The imagery of an African-American man in bondage IS offensive, if used in a way that supports it. This is a reference to an historical situation. It’s what happened. Would this image be offensive in a history textbook? This billboard is also educational. The offensive situation is exactly what the Bible was used as a tool to support and defend! People need to learn that.  Claiming *moral perfection* for the Bible is the problem! The offense lies with the words. Taking the position that this book represents a lesson in morality is what is truly offensive. The offense DOES NOT lie with the people who report the outrage. Anyone who spent enough time with this image to be offended should have taken enough time to understand what was being said. The apology should come from those defending the outrages in the Bible as a representation of moral authority.

  • Let’s see. An an organization representing a demographic that is largely white puts up a billboard advocating its cause in a neighborhood that is predominantly African-American. The billboard has a picture that is extremely offensive to African-Americans. The group in question appropriates African-Americans’ struggles for its *own* message, all the while completely ignoring the role that Christianity has played in the civil rights movement and African-American’s struggles to be recognized as fully human.  The message completely ignores the role the the church has played in providing some semblance of a social safety net for a community of people that white America largely doesn’t care about.

    You know what message this sends? A bunch of privileged white people are telling a bunch of people of color what they should do with their community and their belief systems. A bunch of privileged white people are telling people of color to ditch an institution that has served as one of the few sources of support in a white controlled country that has done its best to incarcerate and kill people of color. This group of atheists is doing the same thing white people have done for ages now: they are a group of white people telling people of color that they know what’s best for them.

    THAT was the message that was sent. Oh, I know, the poor white people at the atheist club didn’t meeeeeean it that way. Well you know what, that’s the wonder of privilege. White privilege means that you don’t even have a friggin’ clue as two what side of town people of color live in. So, you place your broken-assed advertisement in their neighborhood and act upset when your message is “misinterpreted”.


    Your racial privilege is showing and dare I say it? The fact that very few people in the atheist community have recognized the problems I’ve delineated above is a function of RACISM. You are being racist. Period.

  • Zeggman

     I’m sorry that you’re an idiot, because some people may think all atheists are similarly clueless.

  • Zeggman

     I’m sorry you’re an idiot too. The quote was from the Bible; the illustration clearly was not.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

     Great. So the inability to ascertain that one is being racist according to someone’s subjective opinion is, in itself, racist.

    It’s hopeless. We should just give up. It’s impossible to do the right thing. You can say that the Bible is immoral all you want, but if you point to its support of slavery, that’s racist. So why bother.

    Time to move on. Pick a different topic to condemn the Bible for, because slavery will always engender accusations of racism.

  • Robert Thille

    If I were going to change nothing else about the billboard, I would have changed the race of the man in the collar to a white man.

  • Zeggman

     If the largest design element of the billboard is a picture of Jews in Dachau, and the caption above it (which is the 2nd largest design element) says “Be a good Jew now,” and you expect people driving by to see the fine print at the bottom which says “Brought to you by the “Year of the Nazi” legislature” and “Paid for by people who don’t like Nazis” and put it all together as it whizzes past their window…

    It’s kind of obvious to me, reading these comments, that a lot of atheists simply want to offend. They’ve been hurt in some way, and they want to hurt back, whether that will accomplish anything or not.

    I prefer constructive dialogue with the religious. They’re already inclined to see us as immoral and depraved; mooning them as they drive by will only reinforce their prejudice.

    I realize that some religious people will remain prejudiced no matter how reasonable we attempt to be. Not all religious people are that hidebound however, and behaving as though they are alienates the people we actually have a chance of reaching.

  • Greg

    Nice ad hom. Hope you’re proud of yourself. 🙂

    (And no, mine wasn’t an ad hominem. It was a statement of fact. The only way you can make an argument that that billboard is racist is if you are severely lacking in intellect and/or comprehension skills.)

  • Greg

    Someone needs to look up the definition of ‘racism’ in a dictionary.

  • Zeggman

     “Ad hom” and “statement of fact” are not mutually exclusive. If you weren’t such an idiot, you might have realized that.

  • Ombakrrw

    No for crying out loud no. This has nothing to do with religion. I WANT the atheist part to be there. I want the immoral bible quote to be there.

    I want the image that makes people not even see the important stuff to be considered a little more carefully before it’s used. It was a poorly chosen image, not a poorly chosen message and it’s NOT because the religious will be offended. I couldn’t give any less of a damn if they were.

  • Tony

    Prefers “constructive dialogue with the religious”. 

    Produces multiple posts devoid of actual arguments merely calling people idiots. 

  • Zeggman

    Failure to appreciate irony makes one an idiot, doesn’t it? The people who got my “sorry you’re an idiot” posts seemed to think so. Failure to communicate must be a deficiency on the part of the listener, since the message is so clear in the mind of the speaker.

    Is the post to which you’re replying devoid of actual arguments too, or do you simply prefer to ignore them?

  • The Captain

    No the illustration was from the 17th century US, where the bible was used to justify that slavery.

  • Greg

    Actually, they are. Look up the definition of ad hominem.

    Don’t worry, I’ll be happy to accept your apology for your ignorance. 🙂

  • HA2

     Biggest picture on the billboard, first thing people see – a person in chains.
    Second-biggest thing on the billboard – a quote from the bible endorsing slavery.

    The obvious message that most people would read out of that is “the author of this billboard endorses slavery, and is trying to use the Bible to support it”.

    There is other text on the billboard, but those are the two most prominent parts, and together they form what is a pro-slavery message. If someone is already religious, the typical meaning of “A quote from the bible to back up opinion X” is to back up “opinion X”.

    Now, since we know the agency who put it up, we know that that is not the intended meaning. But it is, in fact , the meaning that many people would see when they see this billboard.

  • Michael Appleman

    Has anyone ever chimed in on what the heck that thing around the man’s neck is? For bondage equipment it looks like it would make for a pretty effective improvised weapon.

  • This argument is innately racist because they are appropriating
    the experiences of the African diaspora to fit an agenda which they
    claim is for liberation. Billboards like this erase the fact that the
    Scientific Community has also deliberately contributed to the
    destruction of PoC. Not just Western Christianity.  This Billboard also
    contributes to the Whitewashing of Christianity, making it seem as
    though it has no connections to African peoples, when it does. I’m not
    “sticking up” for Christians and their bullshit, but I am demanding the
    people who pride themselves on reason and ethics and humanist liberty to
    actually practice what they preach.

    See, White society only gives a shit about Black people and our
    cultural experiences in a White Supremacist society if it can be used
    for their benefit. They use our ancestry as “proxy” to promote their
    agendas while simultaneously marginalizing us and then expecting us to
    be “honored” by their gross acts of appropriation. Cases in point? “Gay
    is the New Black”. “Woman is the Nigger of the World” and White vegans
    making comparisons between the enslavement of Blacks and the conditions
    of animals on meat farms.

    Read the rest of the article here, which was inspired by a comment to this post.

  • LVatheist

     It’s not the quote that is the problem, it was the choice of clip-art.

  • LVatheist

     The problem wasn’t the quote, it was the choice of clip-art.  Take away the art, and there is no room for misinterpretation or racist connotations.

  • The Captain

    The bible was used to justify racial based slavery in the US. how is the clip art historically  inaccurate?

  • Sikivu Hutchinson’s wrote an article that describers her take on the billboard in question.

    Some quotes from her article:

    As I wrote in my 2009 article The White Stuff,
     “It’s cartoonishly pro forma when white folk, ignorant of these
    historical traditions, swaggeringly insist that atheist discourse is
    implicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist because one,
    we white people say so, and, two, hierarchy is something only those
    knuckle-dragging supernaturalists do. It’s paint-by-the-numbers
    entitlement time when the so-called new atheist “movement” is resistant
    to the charge that racial and gender politics just might inform who
    achieves visibility and which issues are privileged in the broader
    context of skeptical discourse. It’s not PC to point out that traditions
    of scientific racism, secularism, and Judeo Christian religiosity went
    gleefully hand in hand for much of the West’s enlightened history.”

    Douglass prefaced his critique by contrasting the corrupt Christianity
    of a slaveholding nation and the so-called benevolent “Christianity of
    Christ” practiced by African slaves in liberation struggle.  Yet he was
    also critical of the hypocrisy of a nation that rationalized slavery
    based on secular Enlightenment ideologies of individual liberty and
    democratic citizenship for white men.  Slaves and the descendants of
    slaves gathered, organized, mobilized and resisted white supremacy in
    church communities because they were and continue to be some of the only
    socioeconomic, political, and cultural spaces widely available to black
    people.  Post-racialists say that’s past history, pimping the delusion
    that “we” can all lock arms in Kumbaya and move on, slamming by on the expressway out of the “inner city.”

  • Zeggman

     “Abusive ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal
    attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one’s opponent in
    order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument, but can also
    involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant
    to the opponent’s argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because
    insults and negative facts about the opponent’s personal character have
    nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent’s arguments or
    assertions. However, verbal abuse in the absence of an argument is neither ad hominem nor a fallacy.”

    The criticism of the billboard is valid even if some of the critics are idiots. Your attempt to characterize all critics as idiots is fallacious not only because it is ad hominem, but because it’s poisoning the well.
    “Michel Foucault once characterized Derrida’s prose style to me as “obscurantisme terroriste.” The text is written so obscurely that you can’t figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence “obscurantisme”) and then when one criticizes it, the author says, “Vous m’avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot” [roughly, “You misunderstood me; you are an idiot”] (hence “terroriste”).”


  • Tim

    Slavery, with all its attendant evils, was not only universally accepted in ancient times but also considered a fundamental institution, indispensable to civilized society. More than half the people seen on the streets of the great cities of the Roman world were slaves. And this was the status of the majority of “professional” people such as teachers and doctors as well as that of menials and craftsmen.

  • Greg

    If I was calling them an idiot for something other than their criticism of the billboard, then you would be right. However, if the statement of fact is related to the issue at hand, you would be wrong, as it is directly related to the logical merits of their arguments.

    In that I am calling them idiots because their criticism is idiotic, I am not making an ad hominem.

    Hence, you are wrong.

    Still perfectly happy to accept your apology. I’ll even take just one apology for everything, rather than expect separate apologies for each post. 🙂

  • Zeggman

     Science was also used to justify that slavery. Economics was also used to justify that slavery. In addition to being used to justify slavery, the Bible was also used to energize the abolition movement.

    If the Pennsylvania legislature had declared 2012 to be “The year of science” and some creationists illustrated a quote from Christoph Meiners with this drawing, people might misunderstand that billboard too.

  • as

    I don’t see why that’s a big deal. Who cares where it’s from?* If it had been from a Christian organisation endorsing slavery, wouldn’t — or shouldn’t — a person say, ‘That’s wrong! Does the bible actually say that? Maybe I should question my beliefs in the bible.’ But people don’t even stop to think about it because they’re too busy thinking in black and white.

    * Obviously, I’d prefer people don’t actually want slavery, even if it were never to come about from their views.

  • We local leaders in the atheist /freethought movement are all unpaid volunteers, and most of us untrained or inexperienced in the savvy ways of marketing and public relations.  We do the best that we can, and I applaud Brian Fields and his group for what I think is a great billboard campaign.  The original apology was more than adequate in my estimation.

    Dave Bentley
    Arkansas Society of Freethinkers

  • as

     ‘It sort of is. People can’t just say things and ignore likely interpretations.’

    Then maybe everyone should just shut up and never talk?

  • as

     Why? How does that relate to US history at all? This is in America where African Americans were slaves.

    I suppose you could change it to a woman because women were slaves too, just not in the same way. — Although, sadly, many people probably wouldn’t be as likely to care. But changing it to a white man in America would just be plain silly.

  • as

    Why should they apologise if they’re not sorry? 

  • Zeggman

     You aren’t discussing the logical merits of their arguments, you’re simply calling them idiots, hence ad hominem.

    “I am calling them idiots because their criticism is idiotic” is a vapid tautology, and once again, mere name calling with no discussion of merits, hence ad hominem.

    I’m sorry you’re still an idiot.

  • People who are offended by this billboard don’t understand christianity or the bible.

    Personally, I was thrilled when I heard about this a few weeks ago. What a great move! I expected religious people to understand its meaning. Perhaps I expected too much of them. *shrugs*

  • If you’re offended by the billboard, you’re not paying attention.

  •  I didn’t see a problem with the sign, either, but I guess that makes me a “racist” or something.

  • Maevwen

     exactomundo, timber.   spot on.

    did anyone think about asking a person of color their input on the billboard, before putting it up?  does anyone else here on this forum give a rats behind about how people of color interpret this or feel about it? 

    not only does the supposed intellect of this demographic of atheists who supposedly are logical, devolve when their -isms are called out.  but they also devolve into little children using such playground insult-slinging as “idiots” and “who cares”.  really?  if you are soooo proud of how morally superior you are, why the heck do you cling to your put-downs – the taste of that petty emotional pay-off seems to be worth a whole heck of alot more to you than actual moral improvement of yourself or others.

    i am an atheist, and i speak up for us in my community.  however, i also speak up for the other -isms and dislike disrespect or asshat behavior wherever i see it.  this is one.  this kind of behavior, is EXACTLY why I, and I’m sure others (such as people of color and women), stay away from atheist gatherings.  because of the absolute ignorance of how each of them participates in -isms, struts around like a bunch of roosters, and defends their -isms with supposed “logic” so they don’t have to do any more extra work, but can enjoy their mud slinging at others. 

    it’s time that we all really look hard at ourselves and EDUCATE ourselves on how to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS, especially in communication.  and to educate ourselves on these -isms.  otherwise, it’s just another group encouraging discrimination, in the name of atheism. 

  • Maevwen said:

    not only does the supposed intellect of this demographic of atheists who
    supposedly are logical, devolve when their -isms are called out.  but
    they also devolve into little children using such playground
    insult-slinging as “idiots” and “who cares”.

    Yup, I’ve seen those who challenged the white privilege and racism of the people behind this billboard labeled as “idiots” and “too stupid to understand the message” in many atheist spaces.

    Do people realize what they are doing when they say this? They are saying to African-Americans who were upset at the racism of this sign, “Hey upset black people, you’re just too stupid to understand the message of our sign. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t as smart as the white atheists who brought this message to your neighborhood.”

    That’s the message that these comment threads are sending. That’s the message that the atheist club’s apology sent.

    You know what, y’all, there’s a really long history of white people thinking and saying aloud the message that black people are stupid.  Think about that.

    Now, ask yourself why African-American non-believers would want to be part of this wonderful movement you are patching together. Given your condescending attitudes toward people who call you out on racism, why would black atheists show up to the rally you are having at the mall in DC this month?

    If you want the atheist movement to remain small, ineffectual, and hated by both religious people and non-believers, then by all means, maintain your current trajectory. Combine this with your frequent displays of sexism, and you can call your next DC event, “The Thousand White Man March”… because that’s mostly who’s going to show up.

  • Wfaxon

    Your suggested apology includes, “[Our billboard] was meant to condemn slavery.”

    No, it wasn’t. It was meant to use the now common moral understanding that slavery is wrong in an attempt to condemn the scripture that advocates it.

    Of course if scripture advocates something, that something can’t be wrong, even if it’s slavery. Plus that image… So you’ve got quite a mixed message there. Trying to explain it on a billboard is probably too tricky.

    Better would be (warning! bible reference!):

         Historical Christianity approved of slavery.

         Remove the log from your eye at atheists.org

    Or simply:

         Historical Christianity was immoral.

         Find out why at atheists.org

    Both sans pictures, with the front page of the site featuring a bold link to a page of the various immoral positions–including on slavery–taken by the “divinely-inspired” bible writers.

    I suggest including the modifier (“Historical” here) and the past tense, to soothe the many Christians who don’t take their scripture quite so literally. You shouldn’t condemn someone for believing something they don’t actually believe.

    (Anyone is free to use the above without credit.)

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I’d be more inclined to accept that revision if I hadn’t already had plenty of personal experience with Christians who still make excuses justifying the slavery that occurred back then, which doesn’t do much to reassure me that they’re fully cognizant of the idea of slavery being morally unacceptable.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Your vehemence is unnecessary. You’re not wrong – your argument does apply. However, I did see people condemning the billboard as advocating slavery, proving there were people who completely missed the point, and their claims of racism are not valid. It is to those people who an apology would seem unwarranted, unless they saw the billboard after it had been defaced and were making a complaint without knowledge of the full context.

  •   “Hey upset black people, you’re just too stupid to understand the message of our sign. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t as smart as the white atheists who brought this message to your neighborhood.”

    No one here is saying or thinking that, it’s a strawman fallacy on your part.
    In fact, and this is a reply to @Maevwen too, seveal atheists of colour have chimed in on this (read the other stories about this billboard) and said that they have no problem with it. Including prominent black people from the movement itself.
    So no, your rantings are totally out of sync with what has happened.

  • Yeah, like I wrote in the discussion about one of the other articles, if you’re upset about this billboard, that’s good. It has caught your attention, that’s what it’s supposed to do. If you then study it closer or investigate what the billboard is all about and you’re STILL ranting about racism, then I have no more sympathy for you. You’ve taken the time to read about it, to look closer at it, to think things through. If you, at that time, still comes to the conclusion that it’s about racism, then You’re Doing It Wrong(TM)!

  • The “problems with social interactions” you speak of are directly related to my experiences as a transgender person, growing up in an extremely prejudicial family/community (who were extremely racist, I might add), and several other bodies of experience related to oppression.

    In fact, the words that you reference are from a five part series I wrote on my blog dealing with the emotional fallout of social oppression and abuse. Here you are, using that discussion as ammunition against me because I’ve challenged the oppressive attitudes of people on this comment thread and the atheist “community”.

    How ironic.

    Your response epitomizes what is wrong with this movement and this “community”. There is a level of privileged callousness permeating new atheism that drives people away. Inevitably, when someone speaks of the privilege and prejudices riddling this social space (sexism, racism, etc.), someone comes to the fore to attack that person as irrational and intellectually corrupt. Rather than listen to that person, you deride them as damaged somehow.

    You are a part of that problem, GentleGiant.

    So many of you complain of the privilege and power accorded to religion and its followers. Yet, you refuse to acknowledge the reality of your own versions of power and privilege.

    You are hypocrites.

  • Gunstargreen

    I think, “We’re sorry you’re all such idiots,” is fine and accurate.

  • Wfaxon

    The referenced page at the American Atheist site presumably should have critiques of each of those excuses. I’ve heard some myself. At the minimum, none of them are consistent with the Fundamentalist’s own belief in an “unchanging Biblical morality” and in particular, none of them apply to slavery in the first century, when Jesus presumably taught and Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians was presumably written.

    But I understand that people have defense mechanisms to prevent them thinking through arguments that attack their identities. Billboards like this are more useful nudging Christians who are doubting or open to doubt.


    If people prefer the present tense, how about: “Biblical Christianity is immoral”. No harm to Christians who don’t actually believe the bible.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Not just in the past tense, either. I mean I’ve had discussions with such people which seem to boil down to “Well, America doesn’t really like slavery, but since the Bible had no problem with it, it’s not intrinsically evil or anything… there must be occasions when it’s acceptable, or it wouldn’t be there in God’s Perfect Word.”

    IE, some Christians really are willing to accept slavery in the here and now, although you can practically hear them choking on the cognitive dissonance. But if you can’t question the Bible, and one or the other is wrong, and it can’t be the Bible that’s wrong…

    So if I were designing the next billboard, I think I’d have to start on a premise to plant the seeds of doubt – something that could flower into the realization that the Bible isn’t the infallible Word of God. Something to get people to start thinking critically, since as someone noted in another post, you can’t be an atheist without having skepticism. The more people think critically, the less likely the flimsy insanity of the Bible holds up, which invariably must make one start to doubt religious leaders too.

    What would that be, though? Pointing out contradictions? Hard to fit a bunch of text together and still be legible from a difference, but nothing sounds more insane than someone trying to explain away blatant contradictions (like how Moses has three fathers – “The other two names were nicknames!”)…

  • Anonymous-Sam

    We’re all idiots. Some of us are just trying harder than others.”

  • Greg

    Just because I didn’t mention any arguments in that particular post doesn’t mean that my position isn’t based on any, or that I haven’t mentioned any elsewhere. 

    I’m starting to be concerned about your intellectual capabilities now. This isn’t hard stuff.

    Still willing to accept your apology. 🙂

  • Greg

    Actually, just rechecked my original post. I have pointed out why they are idiots. They are criticising something without understanding what they are criticising. I didn’t go into detail, sure, but you’re just plain lying with your response.

  • Maevwen

    This is why we all need to educate ourselves on communication, and how to build relationships, and how to understand -isms and how they manifest.  Exactly.  Because a message requires a communicator and a receiver.  And it contains more than just words – such as tone, body language, and pattern, over time.  In addition to context, and personal reference.

    To say “oh they just misinterpreted”, oversimplifies the issue, deifies the self and gives the self an excuse to be lazy, and dismisses the other.  Superior, man.
    To say  – “oh look – these people agree with me, and these don’t.  Oooobviously those that agree with me are right, and those that don’t are wrong and I don’t have any need to listen to anything they have to say”.   Awesome.

    What is the ultimate goal here?  Do you care about others at all?  If so, then you’ll try to find ways to build communication, listen, and build relationships, and consider where others are coming from.  And how your own actions and patterns of communication/actions come across.  And will want to try to improve that, — that’s the real hard work.  Even when you don’t understand and get caught up in your high on slinging personal attacks around.

    This billboard was a mistake.  The press that it has gotten has been negative, and given those who discriminate against atheists – wittingly or not – a reason to want to stay well away from them.  The image used was extremely graphic.  It was extremely insensitive.  It appropriated the hardship of a people in this country, without thought, in ignorance.  We all get to look forward to further conversations from folks when they learn we are atheist – “oh you mean like that slavery billboard?”   And we’ll get lumped together – just like we lump the religious together.

    Personally, I think we’d do much better to reduce the pattern of being so negative, and externally referential in our identity.  So many messages atheists use reference “others” – “those” christians (are horrible because xyz) “those” etc etc.  We are “not” that and “that” is horrible because xyz.
    How about – we “are” … xyz – a statement that is totally self-referential.   And something positive about what we are.  And what we aim for as individuals and a community.

    And, if we want to fight against being discriminated against, then we had better do a far better job on educating ourselves about discrimination overall. 

  • Maevwen

     A valid and important pov that we all should read.  Alack and alas….   not surprising that most here won’t consider it, let alone read it. 

  • Maevwen

     [and very entertaining to read as well.  😛  ]

  • I didn’t write what I wrote as an attack on you, merely as an explanation/example of why I could see you holding the position you do.
    I would never “attack” anyone because of that situation, that would be ridiculous given my own circumstances.
    Let me provide some context as to why I wouldn’t do that.
    Hi, my name is Claus and I’m (early) retired (or however you want to call it, depending on where in the world you (generic you) is located – disability pension/SSI/DLA/etc.) because of mental health issues (Simple Schizophrenia).
    I’ve been in treatment with lots of people who have social interaction problems, my best friend was recently diagnosed with Aspergers, so I’ve had a wide range of contact with people who might be in a similar situation as you (albeit for other reasons). And I’ve seen how they interpret the world around them.
    So no, it’s not an attack, it’s me telling you I think you’re blowing things way out of proportion.
    And I am by no means privileged (except by having a high IQ, but that can be a hindrance at times too and I don’t really know if I’d call it a privilege). I’m also one of the least racist people you’ll ever meet.
    So, again, no, I still don’t see this whole campaign as a “white privileged campaign that doesn’t take into account the feelings of African-American people who might see it.”
    Yes, in some areas of life people of colour (and not just African-Americans) are still discriminized against.
    And in some areas people of colour still claim oppression when none is present. This being one of them.
    It isn’t discriminatory against them, it isn’t “using the horrible past their forefathers lived through in the US to placate the “oblivious, secluded, privileged middle class” atheists.” 
    Sometimes too much is simply read into things where no such thoughts, actions or meaning was ever intended.

  • No, the image wasn’t really that graphic. I’ve seen history books with much more graphic depictions of slavery. It presented a historic fact, how can that be insensitive???
    Like I said above in my reply to timberwraith, people are deliberately reading more things into this than there is, all in an effort to be offended and to claim victimhood.

    Pointing out how “good” we are doesn’t touch on the fact that a lot of the messages in e.g. the Bible are downright horrible, so how is that going to get people to investigate what their holy book actually says?

    NO ONE IS BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST HERE! How hard is it to understand that simple fact?

  • Truthteller

    If the same artwork were to accompany the message, “Support reparations for descendants of slaves, ” suddenly the billboard sponsors would be heroes, and the artwork would be praised.

  • I didn’t write what I wrote as an attack on you, merely as an
    explanation/example of why I could see you holding the position you do.

    Really? Reread what you wrote. You are back-peddling from the actual nature of your response.

    I’ll say this again. Using a person’s honestly shared words regarding the impact of oppression upon her life as a means of invalidating her observations regarding oppression is a really low thing to do.

    This happens in other contexts, too. Whenever someone responds to problematic attitudes regarding some form of oppression, a member of the majority group will use the vehemence of that response as an excuse to dismiss what the person to say. Read exchanges between US nonbelievers and US Christians. Or LGBT people and straight people. Or black people and white people. It’s a very common pattern. The dominant group has the luxury of remaining calm in the face of challenges to their base of power… because they are the ones with power.

    For me, this has been building for some  time. The sheer ignorance I’ve seen displayed toward women, people of color, and people of religions that are oppressed in my country (the US) is incredibly angering. The vehemence of my response is one that has accrued over time. For a group of people who have declared themselves to be rational and deep thinking, there should be no excuse for this, yes? 

    Unfortunately, the albatross around new atheist’s collective necks is one of demographics. Atheists are largely white, male, and from previously Christian backgrounds (especially in the US).  In spite of the reduced levels of privilege shared by nonbelievers, the demographic origins of atheism accord large degrees of privilege and ignorance. This produces massive blind spots in the movement. It’s a problem that new atheists have only recently (during the last year, actually) begun to address. Currently, the response is deeply lacking.

    Besides that, I’ve provided the words of other people, in addition to mine. Atheists have been criticized for this “faux pas” by many others, as well. You can circle the wagons and dismiss your detractors as emotionally damaged, as religiously biased, or simply as idiots. Nevertheless, the deepening damage to the public visage of non-believers is there and that’s cold, hard reality. Owning up to the actual social problems underlying this billboard would be the rational, humane thing to do. It would also be a good public relations move as well. Unfortunately, like so many other groups of people, you are choosing the path of hurt egotism and ignoring valid criticism. The church does this. Why not atheists, too?

  • Maevwen, it’s no use. He’s set on his blinkered misinterpretation of events.

    Sadly, something similar happened during the US women’s movement of the 60s and 70s. The heterosexual, white, middle-class dominance of the movement caused huge blind spots in the work that was done by the movement. The women’s movement was an unsafe space for women falling outside of those demographics. Over time, it improved for queer women, but fell short otherwise. It has taken decades to repair this damage, and wide amounts of ignorance still linger. As a consequence, the movement fell underneath its own weight and turned into a force of social change that is far less effective than it might otherwise be. Many women want nothing to do with what is left of the movement because of decades of privilege-based ignorance.

    The irony of all of this is that the women’s movement was a reaction to the deeply embedded sexism of other progressive movements of the time. The women that worked in those other movements responded to the blindness around sex/gender by forming the the women’s movement. Ironically, they recreated the same problems, only referencing other forms of oppression.

    Privilege and power form a strong drug. It’s important that the blindness of privilege is challenged, but nevertheless, it’s an uphill battle. People will deny, deny, deny. It’s always this way.

  • Maevwen

     You say tomato, I say tomahto.  Yours is the only relevant pov????   Just because you saw something in a history book, and that something else is in the bible, gives you carte blanche, bedamned the totality of outcomes and everything else involved in the message? 

    Others are the ones who have to change their actions, emotions, and points of view, but you aren’t?

    You get to tell others that their offense is an “effort” to claim victimhood?  You are the one who gets to define all that, and you are the one who gets to tell someone else how to feel and what’s important? 

    My, aren’t you all-knowing and powerful.

  • Maevwen

     well said

  • One more thought. There’s a growing body of research that shows evidence for the huge negative impact that oppression has had upon LGBT people: increased levels of drug and alcohol abuse, elevated levels of psychological problems, elevated levels of teen pregnancy, decreased levels of physical health, and on and on.

    The Christian right in the US use this research as a means of dismissing LGBT people us unstable, dysfunctional individuals who can not be trusted. They have used this research as a means to show that queerness is, by its very nature, unhealthy.

    So, GentleGiant, should anyone trust the words of someone like me? I’m damaged, dysfunctional, and untrustworthy, correct? I’m delusional (a popular term amongst new atheists). My words are meaningless, right? The impact of straight people’s hate and violence has rendered my view upon the world to be empty and without import.

    Guess what? There’s also a body or research which shows that non-believers who live in religious societies experience decreased levels of well being and social integration.  They tend not to thrive as well as the more powerful, better integrated religious majority does.

    It would seem that neither my words nor the words of nonbelievers are valid. Straight, white, middle/upper class Christian males are the arbiters of truth, for they thrive more readily than any of us (at least, here in the US).

    If you get to play this game, then why shouldn’t anyone get to play the game? Let us bow our heads in reverence for our social betters. They know and see the solidity of worldly knowledge.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I’d say your only real issue is that you’re frothing at the mouth in a room full of mirrors. Other than that, you seem fully functional to me, just so enraged by being human that you perceive everyone else as a shadow of yourself. When you begin reading hateful intent on behalf of everyone surrounding you, then it’s time to confront the mirror for what it is.

  • The Other Weirdo

     I dunno. Maybe I don’t have the insta-insult self-actualization gene, but I don’t feel it necessary to freak out every time I see a billboard that seems, at first glance, may seem to be offensive.

  • The Other Weirdo

     So, the bible quote gets left in. The atheist message at the bottom gets left in. Some innocuous image gets used. And the effect: religious people driving by shrug and think, “Well, that’s not in my bible. Honey, how about some baby back ribs?” Instead, this at least has had the effect of getting a shocking image coupled to a shocking phrase out there for people to think about and throw temper tantrums about.

    And don’t kid yourself, this is all about the religious. Atheists already know the bible is top-filled with joyful surprises like that.

  • *shrug* That’s a standard response. When challenging a group of people on their prejudiced behaviors, the observer is often told that s/he is being hateful.

    Call our racism and you are labeled a racist.

    Call out sexism and you are labeled a sexist hater of men.

    Call out society for it’s treatment of the poor and you are labeled as a hater of rich people.

    Call the excesses of organized religion and you are labeled a hater of god and religious people.

    It’s a common pattern, old and familiar.

  • Ashley Burke

    Wow, the “freethinkers” behind that one probably didn’t think about how descendants of Black American slaves would feel seeing a Black man on the billboard. In ancient times slavery was NOT associated with any particular race.


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