Differing views on spirituality have taken on unusual territory with billboards spreading a message of godlessness.
The advertisement displays an image of a light blue sky and puffy white clouds and reads “Are you good without God? Millions are.”
Ten of these billboards are now up between Davis and Sacramento alongside Interstate-80.
Part of the national United Coalition of Reason (CoR) campaign, which is also working in cities such as Boston, Seattle and Baltimore, these advertisements aim to increase awareness of nontheistic viewpoints.
The Sacramento CoR, made up of nine nontheistic groups from the area, is sponsoring and coordinating the local campaign, costing $6,450. The billboards will be on display only during February.
Tom Ikelman, a media representative for the Sacramento CoR, said the campaign’s primary goals are to relate to others who share this attitude, attract people to the idea and refer them to the variety of groups who are skeptical or do not believe god exists.
“The variety of viewpoints, like humanists, agnostics, freethinkers and atheists, are represented with our coalition,” Ikelman said. “The billboards express the truth that there are millions of good people without God in their life, regardless of the constant claims of you needing God to be good.”
Ikelman said he is not surprised some people have taken offense to their effort and believes they might misunderstand their purpose.
Anonymous vandals recently defaced one of the billboards by using spray paint to add the words “also lost?” after “Millions are.”
“The vandalism is unfortunate but shows the lack of respect given towards this small community,” Ikelman said.
Father Bong Rojas, the pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Davis, believes the issue has many facets, and the billboards show the absence of spirituality in society.
“I truly believe that it is not an issue of godlessness, rather an issue of forgetfulness.”
Director of religious studies at UC Davis, Naomi Janowitz, believes these groups are banding together to point out a strain of American thought based on atheism exists, and it is appropriate to talk about.
“Their belief system is not mainstream, and they are expressing they have morals,” Janowitz said. “It is an unrecognized fact that atheism has been part of American tradition.”
President of the UC Davis Agnostics and Atheist Student Association (AgASA) Shiva Kasravi, and social chair Elyse Green, endorse Sacramento’s CoR message. They believe “atheism” and “agnostic” are philosophical terms many consider to have negative implications, and these advertisements can lead people to further resources.
“The statement made on the billboards cannot be seen as denouncing theism or religion while advocating atheism because they say nothing about the validity of any of these ideas,” Kasravi and Green said in an e-mail interview.
Although their statement does not represent all the members of AgASA, Kasravi and Green said CoR’s campaign voices an underrepresented attitude. They believe the billboards can help dispel some of the myths and rumors associated with agnostics and atheists.
“All [the billboards] say is that moral standards extend beyond a belief in God,” Kasravi and Green said. “They are simply saying that atheists can also have moral standards and that, if you consider yourself a ‘good’ atheist, you are not alone.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, 78.4 percent of adults reported to be Christian. Of the adults surveyed, 16.1 percent reported they were unaffiliated with a religion, 1.6 percent of which said they are atheist and 2.4 percent agnostic.
The Pew Research Study also shows a dynamic and diverse American religious makeup. The category of those unaffiliated with a religion, such as atheists and agnostics, has seen the greatest growth, whereas the Catholic Church, now at 23.9 percent, has lost the most members due to changes in religious affiliation.
The organization Freedom From Religion Inc. has a similar campaign throughout the country. Its billboards say “Imagine No Religion,” referring to the John Lennon song “Imagine.”
MICHAEL STEPANOV can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.