Humanist Groups Aim to Push Back at 'Bible-Derived Morality'

By planning an advertising campaign in time for the holidays

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Right in time to spur awkward theological discussions with extended family members, the American Humanist Association and other related groups are preparing to launch a holiday advertising blitz aimed at drawing stark distinctions between believers and their less devout brethren. The AHA campaign, in particular, highlights some of the more violent and sexist passages of the Bible and Quran and contrasts them with quotes from Albert Einstein, Katherine Hepburn and others. The ads strike a much different tone than last year's "Be Good For Goodness Sake" campaign that papered buses and trains across major U.S. metro cities.

"We’re going further in our attempt to challenge the intolerant view that atheist and agnostic humanists can’t be good without Bible derived morality," stated a release by the organization, which is planning a $200,000 ad buy that includes a commercial on NBC's Dateline. (A related campaign includes a Nativity billboard by American Atheists that reads "You Know it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason").The ad buys, naturally, have already rankled religious organizations who, in response, are planning to promote their own counter ad this holiday season. It's the most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

  • What Is the Purpose of These Ads? Looking specifically at the American Humanism Association's eyebrow-raising ad campaign, Beliefnet writer Jason Boyett wonders how the campaign will influence believers. "The campaign takes some of the less savory parts of The Bible and the Quran and compares them with reasonable, compassionate quotes from prominent humanists," he writes. "That's a great advertising technique, of course, but doesn't do much to prove anything one way or another (Christians could create a similar ad, of course, using a 'love your neighbor' quote from Jesus and contrasting it with something awful from Stalin). When you get to pick and choose, you can always pick and choose stuff to support your cause. Christians do that with the Bible all the time, and so do atheists or humanists."
  • The Goal Isn't Necessarily to Win Over the Religious   They're just competing for "market-share" with other atheist/freethinking groups, finds New York Times reporter Laurie Goodstein. "The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and released in 2008," she reports. "But the ranks of the various atheist organizations number only in the tens of thousands." Hence, the infighting: "There’s a competitive environment for ‘no religion,’ and they’re grabbing for all the constituents they can get," religious studies expert Mark Silk told the Times.
  • These Groups Have Tried This All Too Many Times  Katherine T. Phan at the Christian Post outlines the group's advertising blitz, noting that the new campaign is in a similar mold to previous incarnations. "The campaign will include a television spot on NBC Dateline on Friday and print ads in major newspapers, including USA Today, the Seattle Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the San Francisco Chronicle," she reports. Ads will also run in Metro trains in Washington, D.C., on billboards in Idaho, and on buses in select cities. Earlier this year, AHA also targeted the national motto and the National Day of Prayer in marketing campaigns for its organization. The humanist group ran billboards reading 'In Good We Trust' in Idaho in April and later declared May 6 the National Day of Reason to counter the National Day of Prayer."
  • Simply Put: They Want To Fight 'Fire With Fire'  Some of these groups feel as if they need to halt the advance of fundamentalism in America, observes Politics Daily's religion reporter David Gibson. So they've organized. "These public relations efforts are further evidence of a growing profile for nonbelievers (who can battle among themselves over whether they should be called atheists, nontheists, humanists, secularists or other variants)," Gibson writes. "While religious believers could quibble with the AHA quotes as the kind of cherry-picking proof-texting that biblical literalists are often accused of doing, some are simply trying to fight fire with fire."
  • This Is Why We Launched the Campaign  From the American Humanist Association's statement regarding their advertising concept: "There are millions of Americans of strong moral character who don’t happen to believe in a god. Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be a good person, but many other Americans have not, and that’s one reason we’ve been running ad campaigns in the past. This year, we’re going further in our attempt to challenge the intolerant view that atheist and agnostic humanists can’t be good without Bible derived morality. We’re taking a hard look at what is included in religious texts."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.