Sunday, November 01, 2009

Good Without God

The atheism ads have now arrived in my own city of Boston. Check it out:

Beside ads beckoning believers to explore Islam, attend services at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church, or learn about the healing powers of Christian Science, the walls of the city’s subway cars will make room this month for another creed: nonbelief.

A group called the Boston Area Coalition of Reason has spent $11,000 to buy ads on more than 200 subway cars on the Red Line and Green Line to raise awareness about people who believe that God is a myth. Surveys suggest that they account for an increasing number of Americans.

The ads, which were unveiled yesterday and will be up for the next month, are set in a background of blue sky with puffy clouds. The bold-lettered message reads: “Good without God? Millions of Americans Are.’’

“The point of this ‘Good without God’ campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists, and agnostics living in the United States,’’ said Fred Edwords, head of the United Coalition of Reason, which is sponsoring the campaign in Boston, as well as similar efforts in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. “Nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them, because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.’’

The national coalition, funded by an anonymous donor, has already sponsored ads this year on billboards and transit systems in cities including Dallas; Charleston, S.C.; Des Moines; Phoenix; and New Orleans, with the message: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.’’

You can read the whole story here.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I yawn in the face of the so called 'New Atheism'. This article bugged me though. Not because there is anything wrong with people of any belief system promoting their views or trying to alert those with similar beliefs that they are not alone. What bugged me was the following portion:

They also point to polls suggesting that the numbers of nonbelievers are increasing.

A 2007 Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, for example, found that 20 percent of Americans surveyed between the ages of 18 and 25 say they have no religious affiliation or consider themselves atheists or agnostics, nearly double the percentage of those who said that in a similar survey 20 years ago.

Another Pew survey that year found 12 percent of Americans surveyed who were 20 and older described themselves as not religious, up from 8 percent in 1987.

The author of this article lumps being 'unaffiliated' or describing oneself as not religious together with being atheist or agnostic. This gives the impression that there is some kind of rising tide of 'nonbelievers' in America. However, being unaffiliated or identifying as non-religious in a survey tells us nothing about a person's belief or lack of belief in God. Rejection of organized religion, a well documented phenomenon in contemporary social science, is not the same thing as rejecting God. Research suggests that the "Nones" as they now being called, are a a complex and diverse group only a small portion of which could be considered atheists. Some have characterized these Americans as those who "believe but don't belong", which may be a more accurate description than "nonbelievers".

Good without God? I'd settle for good journalism.


  1. Hi Phillipe,

    I live in a far more overtly secular society than you, and I don't share your confidence that belief in God remains strong. I agree with you that the article makes unsupported assumptions in its interpretation of the US poll findings. The deity may not have been thrown out with the holy water.

    Excellent advertising campaign, though. "Good without God" is an eloquent expression of a complex concept.

  2. Steve, you're right my perspective is definitely based on the US context.

  3. I yawn in the face of populist thinking, and look out: I haven't brushed my teeth!

    As an American, God is the guy in DC who authorizes my money, which is legal tender because we Americans trust in the Currency Czar (God, that is).

    The Atheists don't stand a chance. Break one idol and a thousand idols bloom, every last one calling itself "God".

  4. Anonymous2:58 AM

    Thanks for the post, Phillipe. I've learned over my Baha'i years not to blame Atheists or Agnostics for their beliefs. Such beliefs are well-founded in religious confusion everywhere. More, we now live in a new age when not only the Universe is being explored but the very essence of matter. But all traditional religions are silent, leading many religionists to conclude than these human endeavors are "sins". Where is God? If He is dead, or such, then He would have made Himself known, in order to address man's newly-found capacity and even guide man forward. I, too, asked such questions until I found the Baha'i Faith. Now I'm experiencing God as One Who speaks to man's rational mind, as well as his spirit.

  5. Anonymous3:01 AM

    How does one who has no URL or such, who is simply reading the pose and desires to respond, sign his name? I could only use Anonymous; other choices were invalid. James A. Williams

  6. Statistics are always skewed and cherry-picked.

    It is sad that they are ignoring the blossoming faiths outside of the "big three".