John Kelly's Washington

Let the publicity war begin: Atheists' new ad rolls out

The American Humanist Association rolls out this year's ad, which will run on some Metro buses and trains.
The American Humanist Association rolls out this year's ad, which will run on some Metro buses and trains. (John Kelly - Washington Post)

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By John Kelly
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Television lights burned brightly Monday in the room at the National Press Club where the Consumer Federation of America was holding a news conference on holiday spending. Outside, where something called the 2010 Hunger Report was about to be released, the juice-and-muffin table was swarmed.

Things were a little quieter in the Zenger Room. As of 9:30, I was the only journalist covering the announcement that the American Humanist Association was sticking it to religion again this season. Then Matt Ackland from Fox 5 showed up, and we could get started.

You remember the American Humanist Association -- the atheistical folks who last year caused such a fuss when they plastered Metrobuses with ads that read: "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

This irritated some believers, who took out their own pro-God ads. Metro received a bunch of complaints. The American Humanist Association received a bunch of publicity. The head of the Catholic League lumped secular humanists in with such figures as Jeffrey Dahmer and Hitler. Even the publisher of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" complained.

This year's ads say: "No god? . . . No problem! Be good for goodness' sake." At the peak, 220 ads will run on Metro buses and 50 ads will run on Metro trains. With a $40,000 budget, the campaign has also bought ads on buses in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles -- plus a billboard in Idaho.

"We're not trying to put down people's religious faith," AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said Monday. "We just don't see the evidence necessary to support such faith."

The ads are sure to rile some religious folk. The wording echoes a bumper sticker you might have seen: "No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace."

Roy said the ads aren't intended to make religious people feel bad but to make nonreligious people feel good. "We want to remove the tabooness from being non-theistic," said Steve Lowe, head of a group called Washington Area Secular Humanists.

Don't you find it at all curious, I asked, that Metro had the worst spell in its history in the year since those first ads questioning God's existence went up?

No, said Roy. As Steve put it: There is no "scientific evidence for a connection."

Is there any good that comes from religion? I mean, the Hunger Report that was being released down the hall was the product of a group called Bread for the World, which describes itself as "a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad."

It's kind of a wash, Roy said. Religion causes as many problems as it fixes. You only need to look at the state of the world to see that.

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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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