First on CNN: Atheist group targets presidential candidates' faith with billboards
A billboard criticizing Christianity is going up in Charlotte, North Carolina, host city of the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
August 13th, 2012
10:03 AM ET

First on CNN: Atheist group targets presidential candidates' faith with billboards

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - A prominent atheist group is using next month's Democratic National Convention to take aim at the presidential candidates' religion, putting up billboards targeting Mormonism and Christianity in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Our political system is rife with religion and it depends too much on religion and not enough on substance," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, sponsor of the ads.

"Religion is silly and religion has components that are inherently divisive. … There is no place for any of that in the political system,” he said.

The billboards go up Monday in Charlotte and will stay up for a month at a cost of roughly $15,000. The Democratic convention runs September 3-6.

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The billboard targeting Christianity features an image of Jesus Christ on toast and this description of the faith: "Sadistic God; Useless Savior, 30,000+ Versions of ‘Truth,’ Promotes Hates, Calls it ‘Love.’ ”

The billboard targeting Mormonism lambastes - and, Mormons would say, distorts - specific Mormon doctrines: "God is a Space Alien, Baptizes Dead People, Big Money, Big Bigotry.”

The Mormon billboard features a man in white underwear, a reference to special Mormon garments.

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Both billboards feature the line "Atheism: Simply Reasonable."

American Atheists had wanted to put the anti-Mormon billboard in Tampa, Florida, to coincide with the Republican National Convention there later this month. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon. When no billboard company in the city would lease the group space for such a sign, Silverman said the organization decided to focus solely on the Democrats in Charlotte.

“Presidential conventions are for ideas, not ideology - platforms, not platitudes," Silverman said. "If a person believes stupid things, we have every right to question his or her judgment, and that directly impacts how the nonreligious voter votes.”

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Some religious leaders said the billboards showed a misunderstanding of how faith works.

"That billboard makes the most common high-school error when it comes to atheism," wrote the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, in an e-mail to CNN. "It's not arguing against the existence of God, but against religion. The American Atheists need to go back to school on this one."

Martin also questioned the language used on the billboard: "And as for 'promoting hate' they're doing a bang-up job themselves with that billboard."

Terryl Givens, a Mormon professor at the University of Richmond, called American Atheists "petty and vindictive."

“If this example of adolescent silliness is what atheists mean by being reasonable, then neither Mormons nor other Christians have much to worry about," he said of the billboards. "When atheists organize to serve the poor and needy of the world, they will be taken more seriously."

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It's not the first time the American Atheists group has released in-your-face billboards. Earlier this year, the group put up two billboards in heavily Muslim and Jewish enclaves in New Jersey and New York bearing messages in Arabic and Hebrew.

“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards said. At the time, Silverman said the signs were intended to reach atheists in Muslim and Jewish areas who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.

In addition to the billboards, Silverman said his group plans to stage protests at both conventions.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • Barack Obama • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (7,477 Responses)
  1. AverageJoe76

    Doesn't matter really. When people pray, they know they're praying to themselves, but they're just not making themselves responsible for the answer that the 'inner-voice' gives them. Because God told me (but it was really myself, but I wont admit it). IDK, I never heard anything except for me when I tried to pray. Am I suppose to eat something magical before I pray, THEN I hear God? Like peyote, or something?

    August 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • John

      You would like this video.


      August 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      Peyote will make you barf so I'd go with LSD, make sure it's pure though, you don't want a speedy trip.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  2. Mac


    The true gospel!

    August 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      Isn't that an oxymoron?

      August 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Mara

      and which 'gospel' would that be? There are a whole slough of Bibles out there including the Douay-Rheims, the RSV, the KJV, the ESV, the NKJV, and the NIV, among a whole host of others...each one touted as the "real, true" gospel. So which one, in your oh so holy view, is the TRUE gospel, and why?

      August 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  3. Rufus T. Firefly

    In my opinoin, it's a shame to make these so insulting and combative. You won't make any friends or get anyone to think about your point of view by belittling them.

    A better message might be simply, "It's okay to question religion. Ask yourself why you believe in what you do."

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Or simply, "Respect the US Constitution, keep religion out of politics."

      August 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  4. RCC

    An the braod statement of "useless savior" If Silverman has never had a belief or experience with Christ how would he state that he is useless? Let's go back to my first comment – hatred and bigotry – used by all people and atheists are just as good at it as "believers"

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • BRC

      Having not written the biboard I can't be sure, but to me their talking about the fact that Jesus "died for our sins", but when you're born you're still going to hell unless you jump through several hoops of faith to attain salvation. Ie, if you're still making people prove their faith why have your son/self tortured and killed?

      August 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  5. Larry

    Poor choice of words if you are trying to make a case for separation of church and state. I'm all for that message but the billboards are not expressing that very well. It's OK – no vote here for Mitt the Morman and Obama is not trying to force Christian beliefs down our throats – vote Obama 2012.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  6. tkindsm

    Atheist's are pretty much life trolls. They just go around trying to impose their values and beliefs on others all the while crying that people of faith are trying to impose theirs on them. I'm agnostic but i believe everyone has the right to do as they like with their spiritual beliefs. Atheists are bullys plain and simple. Let someone who believes, say a prayer. Who cares.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • RCC

      I agree and I think you pretty much nailed that landing! Gold medal for you.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • H-Town, TX

      You must not get out much if you think that atheists in general go around trying to cram their beliefs (or lack thereof) down peoples' throats. For the most part, militant atheism seems to be more of a REACTION to something that is a STAPLE of religion (spreading the faith).

      That being said, I think these ads are counterproductive. Aggressive atheism might have its place when opposing the encroachment of religion on laws, schools, and the general public. However, playing the "convert to us or be shunned" game is best left to religion.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  7. Tim

    $100 billion+ in untaxed "Church" owned land. I'm all for getting a realistic share from the 1% (who average half the tax bracket through shelters presently), but how about we get the religious shelters out from under their cloak as well.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  8. Peercept

    Another 2% group trying to get it's 15 minutes of fame...

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  9. Mike

    One of the biggest arguments against athiests that religious people love to bring up is the origins of all life and existence. However, most people don't look at their T-shirt and wonder where it came from and what the beliefs of the person who made it are. They just buy it, wear it and forget about it. However, whenever people talk about the religion suddenly they care about where they came from and what the origin of the universe is.

    WHO CARES? How does knowing that a big old guy in the sky farted them out 6000 years ago or the big bang exploded them into existence or how the big bearded guy is going to murder billions of innocent people at the apocalypse will somehow make the quality of your life better today?

    Sure the Bible has plenty of good stuff in it (be good to others, be charitable, be kind, care for the poor), but you don't need to read it to know that stuff. Just having good moral fiber will allow you to fulfill all of the Bible's best teachings while avoiding the worst.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  10. CJ

    Finally, some intelligence; religious fundamentalism is the norm in the US. Keep it to yourself, and keep it out of public life.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  11. DMT

    Agree with the billboard entirely!!!

    August 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  12. estebs1978

    Atheists in general as intellectuals tend to be very intelligent people that can "wow" believers with fancy rhetoric and words like "dogma “and mystical.

    Believing in God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ as Savior and the Holy Spirit is a matter of faith. The definition of faith per the dictionary (Bing) is:

    1.Belief or trust: belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof
    2.Religion or religious group: a system of religious belief, or the group of people who adhere to it
    3.Trust in God: belief in and devotion to God

    My personal definition of faith is "believing in things that are not seen but you know them to be true”. For example; people believe in the paranormal, ghosts, etc. Millions of dollars are spent in tarot and palm readings around the world every year. So if people (including atheists) believe in things like these, why can't we Christians believe in our God Creator of the heavens and the earth, of all that is seen and un-seen?

    The other thing is, how is it hurting them for the billions of us around the world that believe in God and are Christians? Why spent so much time debating this? If they don't believe, then let them! We as Christians are called to preach the good news of what we believe is eternal salvation and spending eternity in peace and harmony with a loving God. Why are they so bent out of shape that we believe these things? It is not hurting them one bit.

    "I believe in God the Father, Almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. I believe what I believe and it makes me what I am, I did not make it, nor it is making me, but it is the basic truth of God not the invention of any man." (Rich Mullins).

    To all atheists who may read this. I love you and pray that God touches you in a way that is unique and that He shows you how much He cares for each and every one of you. Many blessings to you.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Lee

      The university is to the secular world what the Church is to Christians.

      August 13, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • CJ

      "how is it hurting them for the billions of us around the world that believe in God and are Christians? Why spent so much time debating this?"

      How would you feel if Sharia law influenced your daily life in the US? You'd hate it. That's how 'it' hurts us. Every day, we are forced to listen to Christian claptrap, in all aspects of our Iives, which we have chosen to live as good people, free of mystical ignorance.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Alcoholiday

      You can believe in what ever you want, just know that you're wrong.

      Look up the definition of delusional

      August 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • JC

      Except that the university tends to deal more with things that can be proven. Do not equate any form of religious indoctrination with an education; they are not the same. Do not despise intelligent people simply because you are not one of them.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Etalan

      You can believe in your religion, but you can not force it upon other, put it in school, change the politic in their religion view, tell people they going to hell, kill abortion's doctor, etc.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      "...can "wow" believers with fancy rhetoric and words like "dogma “and mystical."

      This is a perfect example of the intellect of a believer. Fancy rhetoric and words like dogma and mystical are incredibly challenging to put your head around.

      Don't you think the believers know what these words are and mean? Again, if they don't then they are severely undereducated and that's probably the case. Keep them dumbed-down and pregnant.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • gs

      It hurts us all as it is a driving factor behind many wars in the history of mankind (see middle east). You are free to believe what you believe but keep it separate from decisions that affect us all. Throughout my life I have, unfortunately, found religion to serve more as a vehicle for hate by many misguided bigots than a vehicle for good.

      The billboard however is more petty than constructive.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Howie

      The reasons your faith is so offensive to us are numerous. Chief among them is the tendency believers have to inflict violence on people who disagree with them, as well as the fact that concentrating on an imaginary afterlife and spiritual ideal prevents you from using your intelligence to help improve human knowledge and the conditions under which we live this real life. Imagine the level of technology we could have achieved if all of the great religious thinkers over the ages had instead concentrated on science! Imagine a world that had never been torn apart by wars over competing religious ideology! Religion has been the absolute scourge of human existence since its inception. It is the greatest source of evil man has ever created. As such, yes, your faith offends me deeply and I feel fully justified in trying to humiliate you out of your ridiculous beliefs at every possible turn.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Scott_in_NC

      We (as an agnostic I'll group myself with the atheists on this one) get bent out of shape not because you believe, but because of the "calling" to "preach". Most of us are tired of being preached to, especially due to the fact even if we politely decline to hear the speech we're lectured about how it's for our own good. If an atheist group wants to turn the tables and push back, so be it. At least they are not campaigning to actually impact someone else's rights limited due to what they do in their own homes. They at least have that level of courtesy.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • asm_ith

      In your personal definition of faith, you said "you KNOW them to be true” (emphasis is mine). Knowing implies that there are some facts and evidence on which you can base the knowledge. It would be less controversial if you said that "you believe them to be true."

      August 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  13. JC

    The problem is that this sort of vocal non-belief equates to a belief. If something does not exist, then how can one argue against it? I would think that a far more effective attack would simply be not to give a damn. Most Americans are really pretty good at that already, so you'd be making it easy.
    Yeah, the Mormon church is WAY out there, and given what they believe, it makes you worry what else Romney believes. The Christians, on the other hand, are great at shouting slogans, are lousy at following any of them. It always seems like the ones who shout the loudest and slogan the most are the farthest away from anything resembling God.

    The real problem isn't God or religion. Those are both just words, ideas. The real problem is people; very, very stupid people.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • TheVocalAtheist


      "I would think that a far more effective attack would simply be not to give a damn."

      Yeah, that makes perfect sense JC. I'm glad I don't live in your brain!

      August 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  14. dave

    Does anyone else see the irony behind this statement? "Religion is silly and religion has components that are inherently divisive" Calling religious people "silly" is fairly divisive if you ask me.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Pope Benedict

      Fighting fire with fire.

      August 13, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  15. RCC

    Interesting how Silverman uses words like bigotry and hatred but practices both exceptionally well.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • rrpostal

      Calling out someone's silly beliefs is not "bigotry". Nor is he saying that you don't have a right to said belief, only that it should not be used to govern everyone, because some of us have no reason to follow magical rules that even the religious can't agree on anyway. Just asking for people to have good reasons for their actions is hardly a horrible thing. Nice try, however.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  16. Ditch Religion


    August 13, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  17. CJEH

    Just another example of extremist fundamentalism. Fundamental Atheists think insulting and demeaning others is OK, because they're more 'enlightened' or 'intelligent' or somesuch. It is just another excuse for bullies to act like jerks.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Etalan

      Christian kill doctor and burn abortion building because god tell them.

      August 13, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • William Demuth


      Christianity is the offical cult of bullies.

      We have turned the table, and soon it will be you with our boot at your throat, rather than the reverse.

      We tried to be nice, and got screwed. Now it's war.

      August 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • John

      What is a fundamentalist atheist? They have no doctrine or theology to be fundamental about.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • rrpostal

      Oh Noes! They want us to make sense! The horror!

      August 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Alcoholiday

    I believe (hope) Obama is an atheist. The thought of the leader of the free world asking an imaginary man in the sky for advice is pretty scary.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  19. Pope Benedict

    Rev. James Martin "It's not arguing against the existence of God, but against religion."

    Isn't Martin's statement called "Double-talk?" That's why he's a Jesuit Priest.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  20. AverageJoe76

    OMG, this is like a practical joke or something? I cannot believe they paid for those billboards! They're hilarious to an atheist/agnostic, but down right offensive to those 2 faiths. Ah well.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:52 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.