Question: Why are New Yorkers atheists?
Answer: Because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.
I'm talking about the Lincoln Tunnel, outside of which the American Atheists group has posted a billboard proclaiming, "You KNOW it's a Myth" emblazoned above the silhouettes of the Three Wise Men, riding camels toward a manger, with the Star of David shining overhead.
Having spent every weekday morning for three years sitting in traffic on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, I know for a fact that lots of people are getting a good long look at that billboard. According to local New York AM radio station 1010 WINS, many of them don't appreciate the view.
Disclaimer: I'm an atheist. I'm also a former resident of New Jersey.
I'm also not a fan of the American Atheists, who used blow dryers to de-baptize attendees at their annual conference last year. Meant to be funny, I found it ridiculous instead. Thanks for making atheists look like demented twerps, Edwin Kagin.
Likewise, I'm not a fan of the billboard as it stands -- not because it might offend Christians, but because I don't think it represents atheism fairly. I don't believe in the mystical aspects of the story of Jesus' birth, but that's not why I'm atheist. Nor do I wish to dissuade Christians from believing. Religion is a personal matter.
In fact, on the East coast, religion was a far more personal matter than I've found it to be in other parts of the country. I never thought much about it because few people talked about it. Here in Colorado, I've been genuinely shocked by the assumptions that people make regarding belief, both by adults and children. While swimming at my neighborhood pool one summer, a child swimming in the lane next to me, apropos of nothing, informed me that "Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins." Uh, okay.
So I also think the billboard is misplaced. If in fact the intent is to "attract atheists who are currently in the closet," we need several hundred billboards spread along I-70 from Maryland to Utah.
I'd also suggest a little copy editing. Instead of attacking others' beliefs, why not validate atheists' lack of belief? "No reason to believe? You're not alone." Or "We're good for goodness' sake."
American Atheists defends the billboard as a means of fighting back against the impugning of atheism in the "war on Christmas." I'm not so sure I understand that either. I'm an atheist who celebrates Christmas out of tradition and because it's fun. I also wish others "Happy Holidays" because I prefer not to make assumptions about their beliefs. I don't see how that's an assault on Christmas, but it's been characterized as such by the media.
I do know that, having written openly about my atheism for several years, many people question traditional religious beliefs, even if they don't choose to deny them altogether. Setting up atheism as the antithesis of belief (however valid that juxtaposition may logically be) and forcing a stance of "If you're not with us, you're against us" will lead people to avoid exploring their doubts and cling even more tightly to the comfort of belief.
Image via 1010 WINS