CRANFORD, N.J. (Christian Examiner) – A national atheists organization has caused a social media stir with a series of billboards urging people to "skip church" — and assuring them they can still "be good" without believing in God.
The billboards by American Atheists can be seen in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Colorado Springs, Colo., and show a smiling Santa with the words: "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness' sake." It ends with "Happy Holidays" and includes the American Atheists' name and the group's website.
"We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists. "The things that are most important during the holiday season -- spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry —have nothing to do with religion."
The organization isn't one to, well, "skip" controversy. Last year, American Atheists launched billboards in four southern cities showing a picture of a little girl with the words, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales."
Although last year's billboards appeared in Nashville, St. Louis and Memphis, the billboard operators in one major city – Jackson, Mississippi— rejected the ad campaign.
"Last year's billboard showed a child writing a letter to Santa, telling him that all she wanted for Christmas was to skip church. This year, Santa wrote back," Silverman said.
An American Atheists press release said the 2015 billboard campaign is "designed to reach the millions of people who still attend church occasionally and call themselves religious, but have doubts about their beliefs."
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"There are tens of millions of atheists in this country," said Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists. "We're everywhere. And we don't need church or gods to tell us how to be good people."
'DECLARE WAR' A FACEBOOK SUPPORTER SAYS
The billboard set off a lively discussion on American Atheists' Facebook page.
"I think it's high time we offend the Christians, blatantly. I personally think we *should* declare war on religion," wrote one supporter named Desiree Franklin. "We're in the 21st century ... it's high time we start doing away with archaic beliefs and ideals and make some real progress for mankind!! It really is only a matter of time until religion dies off. One way or another, it's happening in Europe and it's starting to happen here. Each generation is progressively less religious."
But M. Glenn Nelles, apparently a Christian, challenged billboard supporters.
"I don't actually get the point of atheism," Nelles wrote on Facebook. "... I would rather live my life believing there is a God and find out at the end that there isn't, than live my life believing there isn't a God and finding out at the end that there is."
VA Fitt took it a step further, writing on the atheist Facebook site: "As an atheist, I am pretty disappointed in this campaign. A billboard that had Santa and said 'Just be good for goodness' sake' would be a fine way to promote secular ethical frameworks without offending churchgoers. The majority of American atheists aren't anti-theists."