“A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”
When I first saw the ads that are scheduled to be displayed in some New York City subway stations starting today, I bristled. I imagined the religious counterpart to the atheist ad: “Five million New Yorkers are good with God. Are you?” It felt snide and aggressive.
Then I realized that many God-believers are snide and aggressive on a regular basis—maybe they don’t advertise in subway stations, but they don’t need to. They have hundreds of other platforms available for spreading their message, plus strength in sheer numbers. I shifted from defensiveness to compassion to curiosity. What prompted the Big Apple Coalition of Reason to create and place the ads in the first place?
In the name of awareness and dialogue
According to this article and a statement from the coalition, the ads are “part of a coordinated multi-organizational advertising campaign designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god.”
That’s something I can generally get behind—raising awareness, along with encouraging conversation and thought. We all need more of that. We all need to be reminded that not everyone is like us, just like we need to be reminded that we’re not alone. These ads will do both of those things, depending of whether you read them as an atheist, a believer, or something in between.
That “in between” contingent, though, is one I can’t ignore. This is essentially what’s at the heart of my issue with these particular ads, and with many other aspects of religious and secular society: The human tendency to draw lines in the sand—to say I’m this, you’re that, and we simply don’t overlap. End of story.
What about the millions stuck somewhere in between?
I touched on this “in between category” in my recent post Telling Jesus stories at the KGB. Here’s the essence of what I concluded:
…I’ve long had a really narrow, either-or, all-or-nothing understanding about how people view faith. In my imagination, they either completely embrace belief or completely reject it. But this experience has proven to me, once and for all, that only a fairly small percentage of people fall into one of those extreme categories. The rest of us fall into a deep and wide category I’ll call “It’s Complicated.”
With that in mind, I would like to propose an entire series of subway station ads—not to replace the “good without God” ad, but to accompany it. Here are a few ideas to get the series going (disclaimer: I’m completely making up the numbers, here). I’d love to hear your ad concepts. After all, the goal is to increase awareness, dialogue and thought, right? Let’s do it as broadly as we can.
A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?
Six million New Yorkers are confused about God. Are you?
A million New Yorkers believe religious conservatism and social liberalism are not mutually exclusive. Do you?
Four million New Yorkers aren’t exactly good with God, or good without him, so they avoid him. Do you?
Two million New Yorkers have taken part of the religion they grew up with and blended it with other beliefs and traditions. Have you?
All eight million New Yorkers are love by God, even if his followers consistently fall short of doing likewise. Do you?