Last December, an American Atheist billboard outside the NY/NJ Lincoln Tunnel made headlines with a message implying that the Christmas story was a myth. When it came down, it was replaced by the Manhattan-based Times Square Church billboard with the theme “God is…” and that was news too. Now there’s more news about this billboard and it’s not the kind I’m happy to report on.
Sometime over the weekend someone vandalized the church’s billboard. The original message was “God is…” in bold letters together with a variety of sentence endings in lighter print such as “good”, “alive”, “Jesus”, etc. But some anonymous vandal has spray-painted on another ending: “dead.”
The phrase, “God is dead” was made famous by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and is usually associated with Nihilism, the belief that nothing has inherent purpose, including life. It is a philosophy that many in the faith community say (inaccurately, I might add) underlies atheism. Can you see where this is going? Some are going to say that atheism was responsible for this vandalism.
While it’s quite possible that the vandal was an atheist, to lay the blame on atheism is as unfair as blaming numerous acts of vandalism against atheist property on Christianity even though the perpetrators probably were, or at least probably consider themselves, Christians (here in Los Angeles, we have some experience with such vandalism in the battered figure of our poor atheist gnome, Charlie).
If we have to find something to blame for this act of vandalism (We don’t. A sample of one is not statistically significant… and please, don’t throw Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao at me. It is willful ignorance to say that their crimes were committed in the name of atheism or because of atheism), I think a better candidate would be the increasingly violent rhetoric that is dividing this country both politically and socially. We’re still reeling from the January 8th Tucson shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and so many others. That such rhetoric played a role in that attack and other recent political violence seems quite likely. Rather than pointing a finger of blame for this at the right or the left or, in our vandalism case, theist or atheist, I’d like to point out that when anyone stokes a fire, people on all sides of it get hotter. Tone it down, America. If you can’t make your case civilly, maybe your case isn’t worth making.
There is one other interesting aspect to the “God is…” billboard vandalism case. After a lot of searching, I found only one place that had the news of it: the American Atheists Inc. (official) Facebook page. Yup. So far, the only outlet for this story are the very people whose controversial Christmas billboard inspired the “God is…” replacement. They published a picture of the vandalized sign with the comment below it, “Someone vandalized the billboard that replaced our Christmas MYTH billboard. It’s unfortunate that this has happened. If anyone knows who did this, please slap them for us. Thanks to “Meredith O.” for taking the picture and sending it to us.”
Comments on their Facebook post vary considerably. A few atheists even compliment the vandal. Most find the vandalism at the very minimum regrettable and many condemn it unreservedly. The comment from American Atheists Inc. (official) is as follows:
Since our billboards have gone up we have talked about how when we put ours up they tend to get vandalized and how atheists don’t vandalize religious billboards.
Even if an atheist didn’t do it, we know they’re going to blame the atheists an
d that makes the above argument harder to make. This isn’t about “playing nice” (we’re the last group that promotes playing nice), but we do not condone breaking the law and vandalizing other people’s property.
Whoever did this should be just as ashamed of themselves as the Christians that vandalize atheist billboards
I think American Atheists Inc., deserves a lot of credit for breaking a story that doesn’t make atheists look good and for their quick condemnation of this kind of action.
What do you think?
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