An American Atheists billboard located in both Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, is generating controversy because it advocates for Christian believers to “skip church.” The atheist group has explained the meaning behind the message, claiming that much of the traditions surrounding the Christmas season have “nothing to do with religion” or Jesus’ birth. Instead, they argue that the holiday season can be “inherently secular,” so they are calling for Americans to “just be good for goodness’ sake.”
In a related report by the Inquisitr, according to the latest 2015 Pew poll, atheist beliefs are continuing to rise in America, yet at the same time, atheist churches are starting to become popular. In fact, 26 percent of atheists consider themselves a “spiritual people” and even 3 percent refer to themselves as a “religious people.”
But the American Atheists leaders probably have not started an atheist church, nor do they advocate that Christian believers attend their own church for the 2015 Christmas season. The atheist group is paying for two billboards along I-40 and I-25 which proclaim, “Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness sake. Happy holidays!”
According to FOX 21, some Colorado Springs residents found the American Atheists billboard to be a “little offensive.” The message apparently is not being understood, so reporters asked what meaning the atheist group intended to convey.
“We’re trying to be inclusive of everyone in Christmas and saying that anyone can celebrate it. It shouldn’t be viewed strictly as a Christian holiday,” said American Atheists spokesman Randy Gotovich. “People celebrate the birth of Christ and that’s perfectly fine. The other side of it is inherently secular: spending time with family, swapping gifts, having a meal together. That’s not inherently religious.”
Gotovich makes the philosophical argument that people “don’t need an external reason to be good” since “being good is its own reward.” It’s possible that he is referring to motivational internalism, the belief that humans do not external reasons to motivate us, justify our beliefs, or determine meaning.
Although Gotovich did not explain the motivations behind the atheist billboard in detail, American Atheists National Program President David Silverman did say one of their goals was to get rid of atheist stereotypes.
“We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person,” explained Silverman on their website. “The things that are most important during the holiday season — spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry — have nothing to do with religion.”
Although the atheists claim Christmas can have nothing to do with religion, they also admitted that they were targeting religious people with their billboards. American Atheists National Program Director Nick Fish said they specifically picked North Carolina and Colorado because they are “places where they’re extremely religious, or there’s some sort of connection to evangelical Christianity.”
“We want it to be either a little funny, or edgy, or provocative in some way, so when people see it, they stop and go, ‘hey, wait a second, what did that just say?'” said Fish, according to WCNC. “That’s why we do these billboards now, because this is a time when religious symbolism is in a lot of places. We want people to know they’re not alone.”
But Christians find it unsettling that the American Atheists group went out of their way to advocate that believers skip church instead of focusing on a general uplifting message.
“I mean, the holiday is about going to church and celebrating the birth of Christ, so to me, that would be a little off for me to see that,” said Amy Inglesby.
The American Atheists billboards will remain up through the remainder of December.
[Image via Erika Hayes/Twitter]