For someone from New Jersey

The Los Angeles Times spots an opportunity to bash atheists, and seizes it with both paws.

A New Jersey-based atheist organization is castigating the work of Pope Francis  and others who respond to natural disasters with prayer, Bibles and rosaries.

That’s a remarkably snotty way to describe American Atheists. Why not just say American Atheists? What’s with the “New Jersey-based”? Are we supposed to think it’s just a pathetic little local startup that will be gone in a few minutes? One of many fly-bitten atheist organizations based in somebody’s borrowed garage?

Anyway. To the substance, such as it is.

American Atheists announced Monday that it was unveiling digital billboards  in the central part of that state that carry just such a message. The  designs, seen here, are variations on the following: “Disaster  victims need prayer… real help.”

The billboards then encourage people to go to for more information, including a list of  secular agencies that American Atheists endorse for disaster relief efforts.

The organization accuses religion in general, and Pope Francis in particular,  of exploiting natural disasters to bring more people into the fold. Pope  Francis, the organization noted, used Twitter to ask followers to pray for typhoon victims, and was  retweeted more than 35,000 times.

“Imagine if the pope had asked for people to send money to victims or to send  needed supplies. How much more useful would that have been to the people of the  Philippines?” American Atheists President David Silverman said in a statement,  going on to say the pope’s actions were “repugnant.”

“Natural disasters should not be viewed as opportunities for  proselytization.”

We called the organization to find out why they thought it was their place to call out people who wanted to pray, or send Bibles or rosaries to affected  areas.

Well why does the Los Angeles Times think it’s their place to call out American Atheists? And notice that that’s not accurate anyway; Dave didn’t mention people who wanted to pray, he mentioned the pope asking people to pray.

Dave Muscato answered the question by saying that helping requires actually doing something.

Could that same criticism apply to the American Atheists? Their billboards  are being use to drive people to their website.

Is that a form of exploitation?

The difference between asking people to pray and urging them to do something real instead of praying remains a real difference.

The billboards are being carried by Clear  Channel Outdoors. A representative for Clear Channel told the Los Angeles  Times that four billboards are up and running.

And the public’s reaction so far?


What kind of insect does Rene Lynch (the reporter) expect in response to a billboard?


  1. says

    Heh. I wanted to end with something like that but then had to face the fact that Los Angeles just doesn’t sound as small and provincial as poor little NJ (where I grew up).

  2. Cuttlefish says

    Seems to me, the public’s reaction so far includes a piece in a newspaper all the way across the continent. Or do they include their own piece in “crickets”?

  3. maddog1129 says

    @ Cuttlefish #4

    Not only that, but they really have no way of knowing what the “reaction” to the billboard is … unless they know how many people contacted AA in response, or how many people saw the billboards and said to themselves, “Yes, that’s right, I should do something” and sent money or did actual things about relief efforts in the Philippines or elsewhere.

  4. Al Dente says

    What’s with the “New Jersey-based”?

    Have you ever been in Patterson or Atlantic City? Have you seen the dark Satanic mills of Secaucus?

  5. Al Dente says

    Personally, if I was in an area devastated by the largest, strongest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines, I’d prefer to have food, clothing and shelter rather than a Bible or a rosary. But that’s just me. SoCal journalists may have different priorities.

  6. Latverian Diplomat says

    Freedom from Religion Foundation often gets hit with the “Wisconsin-based” tag, but that’s usually in connection to their legal actions against establishment clause violations in small Southern towns or school districts. You can see why that might play there. I didn’t realize LA was so provincial.

  7. says

    One of the things that annoys me is when people whine about opinion pieces in newspapers not being objective. However, what the hell?!? If this was supposed to be an opinion piece, it should be in the opinion section. While no news story is truly objective, at the very least there should be some semblance of objectivity.

  8. says

    We called the organization to find out why they thought it was their place to call out people who wanted to pray, or send Bibles or rosaries to affected areas.

    …gee, could it possibly have something to do with the fact that you can’t eat bibles, rosaries, or prayer?

  9. sailor1031 says

    Hold on now – bibles can be burnt to provide heat (although not terribly useful in a tropical/subtropical zone they could be lifesavers in a catastrophe in, for instance, Inuktitut) and have other emergency uses. You can strip the beads off rosaries and use them in trade with other natives for what limited supplies of food, water and shelter there might be. This is real, practical assistance not just christians and RCC doing some feel-good shit without actually helping. The prayers, however, not so much; they only help the prayer to feel good while doing nothing useful.

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