The Questionable Authority

Earlier this week, the Des Moines bus system abruptly removed ads from their vehicles that had been purchased by an atheist group. The bus system had received numerous calls and complaints, and apparently some people actually refused to ride busses that had the ad. The Governor of Iowa, when asked, said that he “was disturbed personally” by the ads:

Iowa Governor Chet Culver has commented on the controversy: “I was disturbed personally…by the advertisement, I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent. But, we’ll see how it unfolds,”

Culver avoided giving his opinion on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a free speech right for atheists to advertise on buses: “I think it’s a great question for the attorney general and for legal scholars to kind of sort through that, that balancing act between free speech and the type of message that is being sent. But I do again understand that people were actually not wanting to get on the bus, they were so disturbed by the message that was being sent.”

The ads said, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” They also had the website address for the group that purchased the ads. And nothing else.

That message – the simple message that there is, in fact, more than one person on the planet who does not believe in God – was so offensive that it “disturbed” the Governor of Iowa. It was so offensive that people didn’t want to get on busses that carried the message. Apparently, it’s so offensive that there needs to be some sort of “balance” between free speech and the messages being sent.

The bus system has apparently offered to work with the group to come up with a new ad that will be less offensive, but I’m having a really hard time believing that’s a sincere offer – in large part because I’m having a hard time finding anything offensive about the first one.

And people wonder why there are angry atheists around.

Oh, and Des Moines residents? If you find that ad to be too offensive to allow you to get on a bus that bears it, I’ve got a suggestion for you: walk.

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    August 7, 2009

    The weirdest thing was that the ad was the fact that it is actually a little ambiguous (you can actually interpret the “you are not alone” part to mean there is a God after all).
    I think this is the suggested non-offensive alternative.
    http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/3193/busdcu.jpg

  2. #2 rfguy
    August 7, 2009

    This illustrates the point made by Richard Dawkins (and others) perfectly: to be called strident or militant, all an atheist has to do is announce their existence.

    -mark.

  3. #3 TheEnigma32
    August 7, 2009

    Sounds to me like there are a lot of people who lack a lot of faith in their… errr… faith, and they don’t like being confronted with people who are happy without faith or religion of any kind, or things that question their “faith,” because it reminds them how unhappy they are.

    *sigh*. This whole problem could be diverted if they just admitted they weren’t happy being Christian and dropped the facade to become atheists, deists, or another position less accommodating to cognitive dissonance.

    Doubt it’ll happen, though.

  4. #4 ABM
    August 7, 2009

    I expect a lot of this nonsense has to do with the idea that people define “atheist” as “angry, smug religion-hater”. Which is sometimes true, but is largely a big giant fat stereotyping lie.

    So when people like the governor see these ads, they read them as “Hate God and Christians? You are not alone! Come to our website where we will all spit on Jesus together.” (In other countries, substitute the local dominant religion for the same effect.)

    Sadly, the more of this crap that goes on, the more I am lured to BECOME an angry, smug religion-hater. But I won’t spit on Jesus. He sounds like an ok guy.

  5. #5 echidna
    August 7, 2009

    I agree with you, ABM, to a certain extent. I think you are right this imaginary construct is exactly what these people are reacting to.

    And that is the whole point. These people are not considering reality. Since they are clearly in the right (being God’s chosen and all), they need not consider the possibility that maybe their imaginations are a little overheated.

    This is a very innocuous ad, with the implicit and explicit message being that atheists exist, no more, no less.

  6. #6 Osky
    August 9, 2009

    According to the Des Moines Register on Saturday, DART has now reversed that decision and the ads will go back on the buses.

  7. #7 eric
    August 10, 2009

    Well, it was only a little over year ago that we had Illinois state legislator Monique Davis stating that it was dangerous for children to know that atheism even exists.

  8. #8 mark
    August 11, 2009

    Oh, and Des Moines residents? If you find that ad to be too offensive to allow you to get on a bus that bears it, I’ve got a suggestion for you: walk.

    Ah, yes, the War Against Christians. Once again victimized by being denied their right to hate others.