I was asked by the Young Adult group in my parish to address some ads on our local buses and subway trains here in Washington. The members of the Young adult group found the ads offensive and troubling, especially since they were aimed at kids. The ads are posted by the American “Humanist” Association (AHA) and are indeed aimed at kids and teenagers. The focus of the message is “Kids without God: You’re not the only one.” I have altered the ad at the upper right of this post to avoid listing its website but as you can see God is represented by a seeming angry and/or accusing finger and a bemused teenager who says “I’m getting a bit old for imaginary friends.”
OK, so lets start with the necessary disclaimer. This is America and an folks are free to post billboards and promote ideas, even unpleasant or obnoxious ones. That said, I wonder if Christians would get away with the kind of demeaning and dismissive tone evident in these bill boards by the AHA.
Consider, first of all the timing of these ads, Christmas. Just about every year, the AHA runs its ads right during the Holy Season of Christmas and Chanukah. I would argue that this amounts to an intentional form of rudeness that the secular media would never accept in return from Christians.
Think, for example if, on “Earth day” (usually happens in April) Christians were to announce that, as far as we were concerned this had become an annoying celebration of the secularists, druids and others. And therefore we sought to ridicule their holiday by burning leaves, throwing trash around in public, or on our property, or turning all our lights on in protest. Perhaps too we might engage in personal ridicule on earth day, scoffing at them, calling them “tree huggers” and erecting posters encouraging people to kick a tree instead. It is unlikely we would be ignored by the media if we acted thus, on their special day, and ridiculed “Earth Day” and those who celebrate it. Rather we would be excoriated by the press and others for this.
And yet, many secularists and atheists rudely ridicule, mock and seek to put an end to our observance of Christmas. I am willing to engage secularists and atheists on matters of my faith, and I have done so on this blog. But acting, as many of them do, at the times of our sacred feasts is just plain rude, it is shameful behavior.
Next, note the ridiculing nature of the poster at the above right. The slogan equates faith in God with being childish and immature, as if faith in God were no different than “believing” in Santa Claus or some other imaginary friend, as little children do, who don’t know any better.
This dismissal of the belief in God as childish is insulting to the billions of people on this planet who DO believe in God. Belief in God is not childish, and God is not an “imaginary friend” for those of us who believe. I did have imaginary friends as a child, and I know the difference between what they where, and who God actually is. I am not stupid, and others who believe are not stupid, or childish, or immature.
I and others who believe, do so by the gift of faith and also because of the manifold evidence of God’s works and presence in our lives. I live in a world, that to my observation has obviously been designed and thus presents strong evidence of having a designer, that obviously has existence and thus has a source of that existence. Further, when I pray I am heard. I talk to the Lord every day, and I hear from him every day. I know and experience his presence in the depths of my soul, in deep contemplative experience, and in my daily life. And the Lord Jesus Christ is changing my life. His word and plan for my make sense to me, and have summoned me to a magnificent and joyful life. His gospel is a prophetic interpretation of reality that has have ordered my life and given meaning and explanations that comport with my lived experience. I have tested God’s promises and teachings in the laboratory of my own life and found them to be true.
Now an atheist or secularist is free to question me on any of this, and I understand that they doubt my experience or would what to explain it away. But the disrespectful nature of this AHA ad is rude and insulting. It presumes that I and others who believe are merely to be regarded as simpletons, clinging to childish notions and fairy tales. I am doing nothing of the sort. I am no fool, I am not a child, and God is not “an imaginary friend” to me. My life of faith is rooted in real experience and the manifold evidence of having tested God’s word, having found it true and wise, and seeing my life changed by God. I also have the lived experience of thousands of other acquaintances who believe, who know and encounter the Lord in their lives and experience his powerful presence.
There is also the lived experiences of billions of others, currently on this planet and those who have gone before who testify to the existence, presence and power of God in their lives.
Ridiculing all of us as simpletons, and implying that the ancient Catholic, Christian and Jewish faith amounts to no more than have “an imaginary friend is not only insulting and rude, it is uninformed. The intellectual, spiritual, liturgical, Scriptural and artistic legacy of the Judeo-Christian faith is both rich, and rooted in careful thought and balance. I would also add to this the many other great religious traditions on this planet. And while I do not agree with many of their fundamental tenants, the great contribution of these faith traditions to civilization and culture cannot be denied and should be respected.
Dismissing this great and rich tradition of faith and more than implying it is childish comes across as boorish, bigoted and unschooled.
Further the “pointed finger” supposedly representing God is also cartoonish, unbalanced and disrespectful to the great religious tradition. It is true that God does confront injustice, wrong-doing and sin in the Holy Scriptures I revere. But it is also true that those same scriptures teach and reveal that God creates everything in Love and provides for his children and creation. He is merciful and forgiving. He respects human freedom and summons us to follow him freely, not under compulsion. In his love he entered our world and joined his sufferings to ours, and repaired the ancient breach, reaching out a saving hand (not just a pointed finger) to all who take hold of it. The God I know and have personally met, loves immensely, and when he does seek to correct me, I experience it as an act of love just as the Scriptures assert (e.g. Hebrews 12). God has a passion to set things right in and for those whom he loves. Here too, the cartoonish simplification of God by the AHA is inaccurate and unschooled.
To summarize, the bill board, ad campaign of the American Humanist Association comes off as rude, boorish and bigoted. It steeps its message in a ridiculing notion and implication that billions of believers throughout this world and many more stretch back into time are nothing more than children who believe in an “imaginary friend.” The utter lack of respect for the rich cultural tapestry, careful intellectual tradition, and lived experience of billions of believers in this ad shows the AHA is little more than uniformed an unschooled in the traditions and faith they try to criticize. The timing, tactics and content of this bill board by the AHA show them to be far from the humanitarian principles they claim to promote.
There is nothing humanist or humanitarian in their ad at all. It is plain and simple, “Rude,” just plain rude.