Three Atheist Signs Part 2: DC Metro System

The Washington DC bus sign campagn

The next Atheist or perhaps I should say Humanist sign was part of an add campaign by the American Humanist Association and the venue was the sides and inside of busses in Washington D.C. This one was much simpler than the one outside the Olympia Legislative building, but there were many of them. Most of the signs were simple green and red lettering with some snowflakes falling with the slogan:

“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

My Reaction to the sign

I must admit that if I saw this on the side of a bus I would smile and have warm feelings because I would feel represented and I would know I’m not alone in my views. Also it questions one of the fundamental problems many have with Christianity. It is this assumption that one must believe in a god in order to be a good person. Furthermore, I’ve heard Christians on several occasions say that even if you do charity and good deeds all your life, you’re still going to hell if you don’t believe in their god. That theme always leads me to ask: “is it better to do good because it’s the right thing to do or because you think that if you don’t you will burn for eternity?” In fact you can make the argument that allowing for forgiveness for the worst of human crimes grants enables sinners.

Is the Sign attacking God/Christmas?

Unlike the Olympia, Washington sign, instead of making one sided all or nothing statements, this one asks a question and makes a suggestion. The sign is much more encouraging contemplation and debate than attacking a cherished symbol. Also the images in the signs have no overt symbols. For some reason that I can’t discern, however, the version of the sign that goes inside the bus has a Jamaican looking guy in dreadlocks wearing a Santa suit and shrugging. Definitely a more innocuous sign but still I have to ask, why have a Christmas themed sign at all? For me the one reason might come with the understanding of a former Christian Atheist’s four stage understanding of Christmas.

Stage 1: As a child Christmas is about Santa and Presents.
Stage 2: As the child grows older he/she is taught that Christmas is really about the celebration of the Birth of Jesus.
Stage 3: As an adult Atheist the person no longer believes in the Christian mythology and may feel like a hypocrite for celebrating Christmas.
Stage 4: The person uncovers the many layers of history behind the Winter Solstice and Winter Seasonal celebrations that pre-date Christianity and understands that most of the traditions existed outside of Christianity. Therefore the Christians don’t own Christmas and all the trappings so one is free to celebrate all they want (Yuletide, Solstice etc). We can also enjoy the Christian mythology that is part of our personal history even if we no longer practice the religion it is based on.

This campaign is partly to reach out to our fellow atheist stuck in Stage three. The sign provides the website address http://www.whybelieveinagod.org/ that is full of information about the origins of the Christmas holiday. The website also provides a very concise definition of what a humanist is and what they are about.
Among the active people who found the sign offensive most chose to either complain or create a sign of their own. Many complained to the DC metro system who chose to take payment in return for displaying the signs. One of the response signs answer to the “why believe” question was “because he created you and he loves you.” Now it’s really hard for a non-believer to not add “and you will burn forever if you don’t” but I feel providing a counter sign is the most American way to respond. If someone is out in the world putting out a message you don’t like or believe is dangerous, you have the right to go out and counter that message. Clearly there is a lot more to cover about perceptions of atheists and free speech but I think I’ll try to tackle that in the last section of this series. The D.C. bus system is much more on the right track with its intended goals. It doesn’t spout absolutes but rather encourages discourse and thought. It’s not intended to take Christmas away from Christians but more to reach out to those who have left religion for good reasons and to educate and expand knowledge about the winter holidays. It lets the Atheists/Agnostics etc. know that they are not alone and it offers and alternative to the people on the fence who may feel isolated for even questioning long held beliefs. It may also be a way to gather the non-religious community so we can better exercise our power in politics on issues that are important to us and that has never been about taking away religion from people but protecting the rights of all Americans with regards to religion.

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