Sunday, April 10, 2011

Exchanging Ideas

More freethought billboards are going up. The latest one I've heard about, in Indianapolis, is sponsored by the Center For Inquiry (CFI) and bears the message, "You don't need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live." I know I'm biased, but I don't see anything even remotely controversial in that message. There are plenty of nonbelievers, including me, who do hope/care/love/live, so the message is obviously true. The word "God" is even capitalized, perhaps out of respect for the sensibilities of believers, or maybe as an attempt to appease potential vandals (similar billboards have been defaced).† Nonetheless, some Christians in Indianapolis are upset about the signs and have erected one of their own that claims "You need me. - God." (God apparently needs human agents to get his message across for him these days; I guess burning bushes and pillars of cloud or fire don't cut it in the 21st century. And billboards popping into existence without human agents would eliminate the need for faith, which to some is more highly prized than evidence.)

As annoyed as I get with people like Pastor Bill Jenkins of the Church of Acts, who insists that we atheists really do "need"†† his god, I believe that the free exchange of ideas, even—or especially—conflicting ideas, is a good thing. As a lifelong resident of the Bible Belt, it's hard for me to imagine anybody getting past second grade without hearing "the message of salvation," but Pastor Bill and his fellow believers are still welcome to publicize it. Those who've never been told that atheism is a viable option should likewise have the right to see the messages from CFI, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, the Coalition for Reason, and other such groups.

Some people view opposing opinions as "divisive," and the controversy has caused at least one advertiser to ban all messages pertaining to religion. That's unfortunate, in my opinion. Anybody with sufficient intellectual maturity to understand these religious/freethought ads should also be mature enough to understand the principle of "live and let live." It isn't biblical, but it's still good advice.

† And as my inner English teacher reminds me, a noun that's used as a name is properly capitalized. For example, you'd use lowercase in a sentence like "My mom has brown hair" but uppercase in a sentence like, "What time is dinner, Mom?"

†† "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

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