Author Bridget Gaudette
I'm an ex-Jehovah's Witness with a focus on Black atheism, humanism, and sex-positive dialogue. | @BridgetGaudette
“Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”
Last year those eight words, on a billboard on a random Orlando street, were the catalyst for my coming out as an Atheist. I’m living, breathing proof that atheist billboards work and get people out of their closets and into secular activism.
People are closeted because they fear what will happen to them personally and professionally if they are out and open about who they are or what they believe. They are forced to hide their true selves. I know from experience that this is both painful and exhausting. It also comes with a very special kind of loneliness. So when I saw this particular billboard, stating that I was not alone in my God disbelief.. well.. it was exactly what I needed. When I got home, I immediately went to the United Coalition of Reason website, got in touch with the local coordinator and went to a meetup where, for the first time in my life, I found myself surrounded by other Atheists! It was a truly liberating experience.
Today, American Atheists released a set of billboards pointing out the absurdity of Christian and Mormon beliefs about the nature of gods, salvation and human mortality:
If the intent is to ridicule religion, I like ‘em! Attempts were being made to have these up during the RNC in Tampa, but none of the billboard companies would allow them to be displayed. This, of course, wasn’t something I wanted to read. After all, I am proof positive that these campaigns can work. I asked the Director of Outreach for American Atheists if they had considered toning down the message in a way that would mollify the billboard companies. His response was, “we should not have to tone down the truth.”
On the American Atheists Facebook page, a status update said, “The target audience [for the new billboards] is our fellow atheists, especially closeted atheists.” Having been a closeted Atheist who just came out last year emboldened by a billboard, I feel I can rightly speak to this: billboards that are more.. conservative, more subtle, also work. Having a toned down billboard can be just as effective at reaching the target audience – maybe even more effective (but that’s an argument for a different day). I feel that American Atheists might have missed an opportunity. I hope they rework the billboard and make further attempts with the billboard companies by offering other versions.
What’s my point? Atheist billboards work. To the organizations that can afford to put them up: Keep Doing It. Toned down doesn’t mean less truthful, or less ballsy; it means you’re flexible, in tune with your audience, and just as savvy about the long-term goals of your project as you are with the short-term gains.