Why Atheist Ads Send Mixed Messages

More

What do a 108-foot statue of Jesus in Poland and pro-atheist advertisements on buses in Texas have in common? Both get big media attention, especially in the New York Times. But each also necessarily calls attention to the weaknesses of its respective sponsor's position. As the Times notes, the statue in a small western Polish town indirectly acknowledges religion's decline:

They [supporters and critics] agree that church representatives in Poland have lost authority and credibility, and that much of the population is moving toward a more secular view of life, one with a greater separation between church and state, and a rejection of church mandates on individual morality.

It's thus as much of a monument to doubt as it is to faith, and also an acknowledgment of the power of sheer material scale, genuinely inspiring as it may be to many believers.

The hostile reaction to atheist advertising, on the other hand, shows that many believers aren't willing to acknowledge the constitutional right to the free expression of skepticism as well as faith. Provoking a certain amount of debate was clearly a goal of the campaign's backers. But far from encouraging the public affirmation of atheism, the reaction in Forth Worth and elsewhere has shown just how uncomfortable the public expression of unbelief can become.

Atheist messages, especially in England, also can have unintended implications.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In