The American Atheist organization is putting up "Christmas" billboards in at least 7 cities across the country this month.
All of them are encouraging drivers to go ahead and skip church this Christmas, with messages like: "Make Christmas Great Again--Skip Church," and a mischievous-looking Santa Claus saying, "Go Ahead and Skip Church! Just Be Good For Goodness Sake. Happy Holidays."
Unlike in years past, this year they are targeting kids.
TV News 7 in Denver reports, "An Atheist group is keeping a peculiar holiday tradition alive with a billboard that's encouraging drivers to go ahead and skip church this Christmas."
The group, they say, "is dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating for the complete separation of church and state."
American Atheists was founded by the late Madelyn Murray O'Hair in 1963. Murray O'Hair, as you recall, used her young son Bill in her suit against a local school claiming he was being forced to endure a prayer each morning as class began. The suit went to the Supreme Court resulting in prayer being banned in public schools.
Her son Bill became an evangelical Christian and has been active in ministry throughout his adult life.
I met Bill some years ago, and in our several times together he told me he always doubted his mother's actual commitment to atheism because they celebrated Christmas every year in their home---even after she founded American Atheists---with Christmas trees, decorations, angels and even a Nativity.
Bill told me he always felt his mother's atheism was a way to earn money more than a deeply held belief.
Madelyn is dead, but her followers carry on.
This year the atheists have included a new message---one directed at kids.
Denver TV 7 says they are putting a billboard up on Highway 25 in Colorado Springs that features a mother looking over her daughter's shoulder as she reads a text from a friend who asks if she's going to church this Christmas.
The billboard features this text exchange:
"LOl. No way. I don't believe that stuff anymore."
"What'll your parents say??"
"They'll get over it. P"
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, says, "More and more Americans are leaving religion, but we still have work to do when it comes to fighting the stigma many atheists face."
Nick Fish, the national program director for the atheist organization, told TV 7, "The only way to remove the stigma is to show our friends and family that we are the same kind, loving and compassionate people they've always known us to be."
This is verbatim the narrative the homosexual activists advocate for kids who choose to become involved in homosexual behavior---including the "stigma" issue.
TV 7 says, "The atheist organization cites a recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, which shows approximately a quarter of Americans and almost 40 percent of young people are atheist or non-religious."
Barna, a highly respected Christian research firm, did a study on atheism or religious "skepticism" in America. What they found is parallel to some of the findings in the Public Religion Research Institute found.
However, some are not. The atheists considerably overstate the actual number of atheists in America by combining all "nones" (those with no church affiliation) with those who claim atheism and identifying them as "nonreligious" or "non-believers" because they have become discouraged with the local church. Many of these disaffected actually do believe in God and are not atheists, but have lost confidence in the local church.
I have linked the Barna study above. It has a lot of information on the subject.
A couple of things in Barna's research that stood out to me was his evaluation of the church.
He says, "Churches have done little to convince skeptics to reevaluate. In fact, because more than two-thirds of skeptics have attended Christian churches in the past, most for an extended period of time---their dismissal of God, the Bible and churches is not theoretical in nature. Most skeptics think of Christian churches as:
- Groups of people who share a common physical space and have some common religious views but are not personally connected to each other in meaningful or life-changing ways.
- Organizations that add little, if any, value to their communities; their greatest value stems from the limited times they serve the needy in the community.
- Organizations that stand for the wrong things—wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.
- Led by people who have not earned their positions of influence by proving their love of humankind, and are thus not deserving of trust.
- Barna points out that many of these ideas are initiated, promoted and reinforced by celebrity personalities and media exposure. "There has arisen a new stratum of anti-religion celebrity apologists that includes Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Peter Singer, Woody Allen, Phillip Roth, Julia Sweeney and the late Christopher Hitchens."
And I would add Seattle's own Ron Reagan.
Nick Fish, with American Atheists, notes that the billboards may not convert anyone, but. "This billboard campaign will be a starting point for a conversation in communities..."
Perhaps churches could begin to courageously and lovingly shed the shackles of trying to be "relevant" (which apparently many are not) and move forward on the notion that the Gospel "is" relevant, and it is "the power of God to salvation."
The Gospel spoken directly to culture and directly to this generation would be more than a mere conversation---it would be a transforming experience.
Transformed people are not inclined to walk away from "religion" or the church.
Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Informed. Be Prayerful. Be Faithful. Be Blessed.