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Jul 21 2013

This atheist t-shirt is perfect

The RDF is selling this t-shirt, and I really, really like it. I have this design on my grocery bags right now, but I’m clearly going to have to get it as apparel.

Religion_t-shirt_pro_artwork_2_large

It says, “Religion: Together we can find the cure.” Why is it so good?

Because, first of all, it’s not garish. I can stroll down to the store every day carrying it, and it’s not like I’m slapping all the passers-by in the face. It’s subtle. It’s also simple — a good message has to be brief and thought-provoking to be effective.

But despite being subtle, it’s strong and unambiguous in expressing the atheist position on faith. Most of the time, people don’t even notice when I’m carrying it…but every once in a while I get this wonderfully rewarding double-take as people notice what it says, and it sinks in and they realize what I’m saying. That’s the real payoff.

I criticize American Atheists for their billboards every year — it’s because I love, David Silverman — but I wouldn’t be able to carp if AA and the RDF teamed up this year to put that kind of simple message up. Hint, hint.

41 comments

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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    Silverman would never put that kind of message on a billboard. It’s too subtle plus it doesn’t insult third parties. Besides, it’s not garish enough for Silverman. No, I can’t see Silverman using that motto for a billboard, it’s not blatant, tawdry or overwrought.

  2. 2
    urmensch

    Could you run that past me again, Al Dente? I’m not sure I get what you’re saying.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Draken

    He’s only quoting a bible verse, and observing that the Pennsylvania House named 2012 “year of the bible”.

  5. 5
    Gregory Greenwood

    Al Dente @ 1 and 3;

    You may find the style over confrontational, and the subject matter upsetting, but Silverman did not invent that quote – it is taken directly from the bible, and the anti-abolitionist camp was well known for their appeals to notional biblical authority to try to justify the slave trade.

    This is one of many issues where the bible thumpers have been as comprehensively on the wrong side of history as it is possible to get, and have subsequently – in a staggering display of blatant hypocrisy – tried to rewrite events to claim, exclusively in the name of religious faith, social advances that came about in large part due to secular progressive values.

    Why should it be the responsibility of atheists to sanitise the monstrous legacy of religious belief systems?

  6. 6
    consciousness razor

    He’s only quoting a bible verse, and observing that the Pennsylvania House named 2012 “year of the bible”.

    No, that is not only what it was doing. Sikivu Hutchinson said it better than I ever could.

  7. 7
    Gregory Greenwood

    consciousness razor @ 6;

    That link was enlightening. Sikivu Hutchinson makes an excellent case for why the billboard was highly problematic, even though it was designed to protest the year of the bible idiocy.

    Still, I am not sure that Silverman letting his oblivious white privilege show in this instance means that he is incapable of saying anything worthwhile about atheism in all circumstances, as Al Dente’s post @ 1 seems to suggest.

  8. 8
    consciousness razor

    Still, I am not sure that Silverman letting his oblivious white privilege show in this instance means that he is incapable of saying anything worthwhile about atheism in all circumstances, as Al Dente’s post @ 1 seems to suggest.

    What #1 says is that the messages which Silverman (let’s say the AA, since I don’t consider it personal) has put on billboards have been unsubtle, needlessly and uselessly insulting, garish, blatant, tawdry and overwrought. That is different from anything he says in all circumstances isn’t worthwhile on any measure whatsoever.

    That sort of thing makes for highly ineffective communication, except as vague attention-grabbing, or preaching to the choir who already agree religions are bad and thus don’t pose any kind of threat. And I question what use billboards, of all things, are supposed to have in raising some kind of public dialogue about such a wide-ranging topic. If you’re advertising a particular group or an event, a billboard’s fine. Say matter-of-factly what the thing is about and what people need to know, then your job is done. If on the other hand you’re really trying to say something meaningful, reach out to people, provoke thought or conversation or political involvement or whatever, a billboard’s a fucking awful way to do it. Find some other outlet for that kind of expression.

    I also think they’re horrifically designed purely from an aesthetic standpoint, probably owing in part to not fitting the function of a billboard like I described above, but perhaps also from sheer incompetence or disinterest in that sort of thing. Or, if the idea were to parody ridiculous religious propaganda billboards, maybe think about making it funny somehow. You know what I mean? Slaves aren’t funny. Crappy pictures, loaded verbiage and poor design decisions aren’t all that funny either, by themselves. It just gets really fucking old really fucking quickly. It can’t help but cross the line from “so bad it’s good” to “so bad it’s bad again.” At least it provides a canvas for graffitti artists. That’s something, I guess.

  9. 9
    Gregory Greenwood

    consciousness razor @ 8;

    I can see your point about the billboards being ineffective at what they are intended to do, alongside instances of offensive content. Perhaps a change is needed at American Atheists when it comes to the methods they use to promote themselves? Do you know if AA has shown itself to be responsive to the concerns of the atheist community with regards to how it approaches this kind of thing in the past, or is it the type of organisation that is run by the kind of middle class white guys that are inclined to dig their heels in and obstinately refuse to listen to reason, as some other prominent atheist organisations seem to be proving themsleves to be these days?

  10. 10
    jenny6833a

    Here’s the message I’m getting from the comments above:

    ATTACK OTHER ATHEISTS, BE NICE TO BELIEVERS

  11. 11
    consciousness razor

    You’re bad at getting messages, jenny6833a.

    Wait, hold on … are you an atheist or a believer? Maybe I should’ve been more or less nice about that.

  12. 12
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Whatever would make anyone think the intent of the slavery billboard was meant to be funny? Or a parody?

  13. 13
    consciousness razor

    Gregory, I know there’s a lot of good people in AA. Some good friends, even. But I can’t say much that’s useful in answering your questions. I think they’ve been trying to change, that they’re often good at being fairly self-critical all by themselves and that they have been responsive (albeit sometimes reluctantly and annoyingly) to others when these kinds of things have been pointed out to them. My point here has just been to disabuse people of the notion that they need to defend AA’s past mistakes which they’ve acknowledged and taken steps to correct.

    Whether they intend to take steps to stop their silly billboard propaganda campaigns altogether, as I would like, is another matter. I don’t know.

  14. 14
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    It says, “Religion: Together we can find the cure.”

    It took me a second to figure out what this meant. It isn’t abundantly clear if you don’t know that it’s an atheist shirt that religion isn’t apostrophe for “we” rather than what needs to be cured. I just thought “what are the religious trying to cure?”

  15. 15
    sigurd jorsalfar

    @7 I think some of the commenters in that article, such as mynameischeese, do an even better job of getting to the point of what exactly is wrong with that billboard in a way that a white guy like me could understand.

  16. 16
    Gregory Greenwood

    consciousness razor @ 13;

    I know there’s a lot of good people in AA. Some good friends, even. But I can’t say much that’s useful in answering your questions. I think they’ve been trying to change, that they’re often good at being fairly self-critical all by themselves and that they have been responsive (albeit sometimes reluctantly and annoyingly) to others when these kinds of things have been pointed out to them. My point here has just been to disabuse people of the notion that they need to defend AA’s past mistakes which they’ve acknowledged and taken steps to correct.

    That is encouraging. At least they seem prepared to acknowledge there is a problem, rather than falling back on reflexive defensiveness the second they get criticised. And as you say, mindless defense of a group’s past mistakes is not what a party who wishes that group well should do. Sometimes, being a good friend means being prepared to tell someone clearly and unambiguously when they are making an arse of themselves.

    It is something my friends have to do for me rather more often than I would care to admit…

    Whether they intend to take steps to stop their silly billboard propaganda campaigns altogether, as I would like, is another matter. I don’t know.

    It seems to have the hallmarks of someone’s – or perhaps more than a single someone’s – beloved pet project. The kind of situation where the person or people behind this supposedly ‘bright idea’ are so invested in it that they can’t or won’t see the problems with it.

    If that is the case, then it will probably be a while before they are able to see that the billboards do more harm that good. At the moment we still seem to be in the ‘people just don’t appreciate how great an idea this is; I will be validated in due time’ stage.

  17. 17
    tomh

    @ #13

    Whether they intend to take steps to stop their silly billboard propaganda campaigns altogether

    I certainly hope not, since I don’t find them silly at all. I see plenty of Jesus billboards, with the Lord this and that promising dire things, and, though I’ve never seen an atheist billboard in these parts, I’m happy to know they exist. So, some people find them irritating and insulting, so what? I’ve been irritated by God’s billboards forever. Does everything have to be a useful, convincing, thought-provoking message, beautifully designed and perfectly worded? Not for my taste, it doesn’t.

  18. 18
    Inaji

    I see no one is going to discuss the shirts. They need a red one. I like the message well enough, but the one T-shirt I still get the most response to is RDF’s Atheist + shirt, the atheists doing good one.

  19. 19
    Inaji

    tomh:

    Does everything have to be a useful, convincing, thought-provoking message, beautifully designed and perfectly worded?

    Heh. I’m in ND, land of goddist billboards, none of which are tasteful or subtle. There’s a fairly new one up, black background, with a large painting of a heart monitor and an EKG going flatline, with the tagline: “When you die, you’ll meet God.” It fairly screams “You’re gonna meet your doom, sinner!”

  20. 20
    Gregory Greenwood

    To get back on topic as suggested by Caine, Fleur du mal @ 18, I like the idea of the shirts as a subtle critique of the toxic, social-disease-like nature of religion in its impact on society, but I think that it may be a little too subtle. I imagine some, perhaps many, people will look at it without paying much attention and think that it is suggesting that religion is the cure – some general panacea to all the ills of society, a sentiment often expressed by ardent believers.

  21. 21
    Inaji

    Gregory:

    I imagine some, perhaps many, people will look at it without paying much attention and think that it is suggesting that religion is the cure – some general panacea to all the ills of society, a sentiment often expressed by ardent believers.

    I agree. I like the message, but I think it wouldn’t work particularly well where I am.

  22. 22
    sigurd jorsalfar

    @20 Who has ever advertised ‘religion’ that way? Christianity, sure. But I think use of the world ‘religion’ makes it pretty clear the following message isn’t going to be pro religion.

    So I’d wear that shirt. But only in fluorescent orange or lime. I have my standards.

  23. 23
    sigurd jorsalfar

    @21 A marketing test is indicated. Someone send me a free tshirt, I’ll wear it around town, and report back.

  24. 24
    blf

    There’s a fairly new [death cult billboard], black background, with a large painting of a heart monitor and an EKG going flatline, with the tagline: “When you die, you’ll meet God.” It fairly screams “You’re gonna meet your doom, sinner!”

    To me it is saying “Pay your tithes or die!”

    Billboards cost money and the message obviously isn’t for a charitable cause (e.g., ACLU or Amnesty International (human rights), Greenpeace (the planet), et al.). Hence, the advertisers are deluded and/or trying to increase their revenue / profits.

  25. 25
    johnlee

    How about “Religion: What a load of bollocks!” – wouldn’t that get a few more interesting doublé-takes?

  26. 26
    David Diskin

    I don’t think it’s as great for two reasons, both dealing with the clarity of the shirt.

    1) As #14 pointed out, this shirt doesn’t make it clear that religion is in need of a cure. It could be interpreted as religious people working together to find a cure for the world.

    2) I’ve run across many deeply religious people who would agree that religion is a bad thing. They use terms like philosophy instead, or insist they have a personal relationship with their deity. They might not even call themselves Christian, but they still hold the same worldviews as other Christians. They could just as well wear this shirt proudly.

    And yes, both of my observations here depend on the (incorrect) interpretation of the shirt’s message. Though considering that a large population of the US interprets The Bible to suit their own needs, what’s to stop them from interpreting a t-shirt similarly?

  27. 27
    Rich Woods

    What’s a doublé-take? Is it like a double entendre, but even less meaningful en Français?

    Pedantry aside, I do actually agree with your suggested slogan. I’d be happy to be seen in the street with it.

  28. 28
    sigurd jorsalfar

    They could just as well wear this shirt proudly.

    Oh I’d love to see that. What a laugh it would be watching them getting high fives from muslim passers-by.

  29. 29
    cicely

    I agree. I like the message, but I think it wouldn’t work particularly well where I am.

    I agree with Caine’s agreeing.
    Hereabouts, I think this shirt would be construed as promoting ecumenism. Even a warm-and-fuzzy, all-world’s-religions-have-a-kernal-of-truth supermegaecumenism.
    -

  30. 30
    DLC

    Religion : should come with an NC-17 Rating.

  31. 31
    jamescarlton

    I love the message but the typographer in me would rather wear gasoline as aftershave and take up smoking than have that across my chest. There’s so much wrong with the font for ‘religion’ I don’t know where to start. I know they tried to make it look archaic but that’s not how you do it. I guess at least it isn’t Papyrus.

    Sorry for being a font snob but it just doesn’t come with an off-switch :)

  32. 32
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    jamescarlton:
    Why is the font for religion problematic (I know nothing of typography, so honest question here)?
    (please, font snob away)
    ****
    I agree that the phrase is perhaps too ambiguous for many to ‘get’.
    My other problem is purely aesthetic–why are slogans, phrases, and images so often printed across the chest? I like culture related t-shirts (favorite one is a Buffy one “…then Buffy staked Edward. The end.”), but I wish the designers got more creative. Have the image off center. Have the phrase run vertical down the sides. Or set the phrase flush to one side or the other. I think I have bought 4 or 5 Avengers t-shirts and the ‘A’ is always front and center. Minimize it and put it on the upper left of the shirt (where Star Trek communicators are located)…wrap the ‘A’ around the side of the shirt, from abdomen to lower back…

  33. 33
    jamescarlton

    It’s a really weird typeface that just doesn’t know what it wants to be – though I admit I can’t find a good close up pic of the font.

    It’s a strange mish-mash of engraved and calligraphic/brush styles with wobbly strokes that make my eyes hurt. It’s sans-serif but it has these weird serify knobby bits and the G is just plain odd. With the exception of the ‘I’ the letters are extremely wide – especially the ‘O’ and the ‘N’ but the kerning is extremely tight. If you glance at it quickly it looks like it spells “REUGON’.

    I’d have gone with something classic like Trajan or maybe something based on Carolingian Minuscule like Pfeffer Mediaeval but that’s just me.

  34. 34
    anchor

    Actually, I think the subtlety is in large part due to its ambiguity on initial encounter – which encourages a second look and a little thought to work it out, whereupon the ambiguity evaporates to be replaced with the strong unambiguous message – and that’s its charm. I would guess much of the double-take it triggers would be on account of how it draws people to look at it again to find out what its ‘actually saying’ because it might not resonate with one’s expectation of propriety initially or after due thought, depending on whether one is an atheist or a theist, respectively. Its beautiful; its crafty and devious – it plays on people’s presumptions from both directions. Its almost like a poetic optical illusion that flops over in your mind and becomes something else right before your eyes. Its easy to see atheists derive gratification from it. Its not much harder to see how effective it is at delivering its message to theists, a sentiment which, after all, they cannot possibly dispute. Lots of bite in that bark.

  35. 35
    Inaji

    Anchor:

    I would guess much of the double-take it triggers would be on account of how it draws people to look at it again

    Given that it’s a message which would cause people to look again, or perhaps stare at it for a length of time while processing is another reason I won’t get one – I don’t really need people focusing on my breasts while they try to work out the message.

  36. 36
    David Marjanović

    Hm. I thought this was the perfect thing to wake up to. But:

    To get back on topic as suggested by Caine, Fleur du mal @ 18, I like the idea of the shirts as a subtle critique of the toxic, social-disease-like nature of religion in its impact on society, but I think that it may be a little too subtle. I imagine some, perhaps many, people will look at it without paying much attention and think that it is suggesting that religion is the cure – some general panacea to all the ills of society, a sentiment often expressed by ardent believers.

    Bingo.

    I bet there are “cancer” or “breast cancer – together we can find the cure” T-shirts somewhere out there. To people who know those, the message would immediately come across (and, if they’re religious, cause massive offense). For any other audience, all bets are off.

    I also agree with the font snobbery. :-) That font is simply ugly!

    If you glance at it quickly it looks like it spells “REUGON’.

    praise be to St. Ronnie

    Given that it’s a message which would cause people to look again, or perhaps stare at it for a length of time while processing is another reason I won’t get one – I don’t really need people focusing on my breasts while they try to work out the message.

    …That, too. There’s many an interesting T-shirt or conference nametag that I haven’t wanted to stare at.

  37. 37
    David Marjanović

    Oh, and now I remember reports of creeps using T-shirts as an excuse for blatant, extroverted, more or less aggressive staring. “Wait, whaaaaaaaaaaat *bending down* does it say? *trollface*”

  38. 38
    anchor

    Caine, yes, I certainly can appreciate that point. Messaged t-shirts aren’t my cup of tea either. I dislike the idea of being a walking billboard. They are more suitable for a parade or demonstration. Not only won’t I wear them, I take extra care to avoid looking at stranger’s torsos who do wear them. That isn’t always easy when some are very effective at drawing the attention of the eye. Its a solicitation that make me feel uncomfortable. It can be an awkward imposition on behavior and can rob both the wearer and the hapless bystander of a dignified interaction.

    Also, people often forget wearing such shirts carries certain obligations and consequences. I’ve observed quite a few instances where a person wearing a flamboyant message seemed to forget what they’re wearing. They resented the attention it drew and reacted with considerable indignation when people seemed to stare at them.

    I was speaking strictly about the message, of course, understanding that many people do wear t-shirts with a message. This particular one remains a good message, suitable for a billboard or on the flank of a bus.

  39. 39
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I’d rather wear a slogan on the back. If it’s on the front, viewers must be able to grasp the concept in a glance.

  40. 40
    robster

    Why all the anti David Silverman stuff? The bloke is a treasure, I hope he’s busy having lots of sensible children that won’t be exposed to silly religious nonsense and inherit their father’s passion in exposing the fraud for what it is. The T shirt is a beaut!

  41. 41
    chrisv

    How easy is it for an armchair quarterback to criticize AA/Silverman and efforts to counter the xian propaganda machine? Keep it up, Dave! BTW, I’m really looking forward to Al Dente’s next billboard.

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