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.

39 Responses

  1. marcel x says:

    You are kidding? You practice a religion that tells children, young impressionable children, that if they don’t believe in god and jc the savior then they will spend eternity in Hell. I listened to Christians telling that to my children, I listened to it myself as a child from Catholic and Protestant “friends” and relatives. So spare me your indignation at ads aimed at children, when you yourself, and your criminal priesthood, target children and instill fear in children in order to assure that they become believers.

    You can believe what you want, but it doesn’t make it real. And I’m so glad you talk to god everyday, cus maybe you could ask him what the Hell he was doing last Friday. What a sick and perverted way for a “god” to call his children home. He seemed to be a tad absent on Friday. What a pathetic excuse of a supreme being.

    Oh yeah, he answers your prayers. Nice, I suppose answering the prayers of the grieving parents and dead children just isn’t on his agenda.

    In short, you disgust me.

    • Well again, you criticize by simplifying as if the threat of hell was all we taught and we never mentioned the love or mercy of God or as if all priests were criminals etc. What if I in return was to point out the 100 million killed in the last Century for secularist/atheists ends and then declare that all atheists are genocidal maniacs like Stalin and Mao. Of course you would object, and rightfully so because necessary distinctions are not being made. Basically your comments makes the very point my article does, that there are an increasing number of secularists/atheists who are just plain rude and uninformed, who argue by erecting false dichotomies and misrepresenting what they criticize.

    • Steve M says:

      marcel x:
      Please also be disgusted with me. It would truly make my Christmas holiday. I espouse the teachings of the Church. I cannot imagine not believing in anything but you have at it. If you ever wish to actually be informed on what the Church teaches as opposed to what you think, I am sure that we can find you a charitable priest. It

    • edracruz says:

      Marcel x:
      Just say this, GOD, if there is a GOD, save my soul, if I have a soul.” Let go and let GOD work in your disgust and anger and you’ll find a better alternative in life. GOD bless you and your family.

    • Irenaeus of New York says:

      marcel,

      Why would God be at the school? He hasn’t been invited to the classroom in 50 years.

      • Michael says:

        Irenaeus,
        God surely was there. First, God does not need an invitation from our government to be somewhere. Second, it is obvious that he was there in the hearts of the courageous teachers and staff who actually sacrificed themselves to save children. Don’t let your anger about policies with which you disagree blind you.

    • Dan Tracy says:

      marcel x-

      To take your post to its logical conclusion, then you must disgusted by the parents and families in Newton, the ones who lost their children that Friday, who sought out their pastors and their faith community.

      With your much esteemed reason and intelligence, you just proved Msgr. Pope’s observation. You have revealed what your “disgust” and charges of “sick and perverted” and “pathetic excuses” truly are.

  2. edracruz says:

    As Fr. Tom Burdick of Blessed Mother Parish said, if someone greets us ‘happy holidays’ accept it and say, indeed, they are Holy Days as this is when we celebrate the birth of our SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. Also, in this season, we greet our Jew friends, Happy Hannukah. To our CHRISTian friends, Merry CHRISTmas. To our atheist friends, good luck.
    Monsignor, right on, we are not just for the fight but to win their souls for GOD. I offer my pains and my ailment for your success in bringing them to GOD. AMDG.

  3. edracruz says:

    Could you please add, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcuta Parish.

  4. TaillerHuws says:

    Very good Msgr Pope. Thank you. I am reminded of the old stories of salesmen selling snakeoil on the Western wagon trails: Some will lie in order to make some money…at the expense and potential harm to others.

    I wonder whether the AHA should be ranked alongside of such groups as the KKK as far as groups that the Federal Government should watch very closely since atheism has been a basis for deadly social movements in the recent centuries such as extreme racism, Marxism and Communism. Also of note was the atheist Mexican President Plutarco Calles who led Mexico against Christians in the Christero War.

    Attacking God is a precursor to attacking those who worship God. This is an historical truth. The Government should watch the AHA very, very closely as it seeks to lead our children into a mindset which historically seeks to hurt God-fearing people.

  5. Anne Marie says:

    Good article.

    A few weeks ago, and I kid you not, I saw a nativity scene set up, and on the right a posted board that said, “Keep America Secular”. Not surprised at all about this attack. This was seen in Rockville, CT, USA.

  6. Frank says:

    Simply put, these atheists are lacking charity.

  7. Jamie Reynolds says:

    Msgr Pope, you’re not beyond reminding commenters here (including this one) to have a thicker skin. I advise the same here. AHA or any group is entitled to run these ads. Of course as a Catholic I disagree with them; and I would prefer not to see them. But I do not find them in the least offensive or rude. As with most advertising of this nature, I doubt if the ads will change anybody’s mind about God (irrespective of which side of the fence they are) – instead, the ad just makes the publisher feel good about themselves.

    On a more serious note, Pew Research shows that 16% of the world’s population self-identify as being without a religion. We cannot become irked at every display of athiesm, especially the childish and inoffesnive ones.

    • I have a reasonably thick skin, and I did disclaim that they have every civil right to make these ads. But I stand by my analysis and find it remarkable that you cannot see how offensive and insulting the premise of the ad is. Your scolding of me in this regard is off target especially in your phrase “not…in the least offensive or rude” you’re going to the other extreme seems strange, and may perhaps be rooted in the fact that you seem to be chasing over some recent rebuke by me of you, which I don’t recall. In the end, you then commit in unnecessary offense against our opponents by referring to their ad as childish, The very sort of ridicule that I’m critiquing here. Bottom line, I find your comment a very strange one overall.

      • Mark says:

        I agree with Msgr,
        as any true believer would find offense with the statements made by the AHA as they have no qualm about ridiculing my faith but i am not to dismiss it as ignorant of the techings of the Church, nor am I too defend my beleifs.

        I deal with two AHA members from my own family and I find it ironic that they dismiss their Catholic upbringing and faith until they are faced with a life threatening illness or surgery, it is then that they want me to pray to my God for their well being. They forget their ridicule in their dire need for an intervention on their behalf from the very God the do not believe in.

        When my sister had Brain surgery and she asked for me to pray for her and I did, without pointing out her irony, as God wants us to pray for all of his children, because conversion is through the heart not the mind and we must accept many will resist the love of the Father.

        Pray for our country so we can see the evil that is all around us, and it was evil that was behind those awful shootings in CT, not the will of God fore he loves with all his heart.

    • Jimmy G says:

      The argument to have thick skin or to look the other way at these insulting ads remind me of the way many Catholics feel about abortion (and really the apathy with this issue of the billboards and attacks on Christmas is a microcosm for a lot of issues of morality). They may not like the ads but why stand up for their beliefs and speak out against them? Likewise, many may not want an abortion themselves and find abortion to be wrong. But who are they to tell someone else they can’t get an abortion? We need more Catholics to actually LIVE the Gospel and not passively believe in God. We may not be influenced by these attacks on Christmas and our Lord and Savior, but there are many young, impressionable children out there who see these ads too.

      • Mark says:

        We have failed our young Catholics as many of us adult Catholics have taken a secular view of our faith, so young Catholics do not know we love the sinner hate the sin. More Catholic adults first must live the Gospel for the young among us to want to emulate. If you cannot live the Gospel to the young believers, how can you expect to live the Gospel to the masses, as we must be able to aptly defend our faith, with vigor and resolve.

        Preaching to the choir only strenghtens those in the choir, however spreding the word in the street is the harder road, but if we can convert but one and so on. ask someone back into the fold through the celebration of Mass or ask one to a bible study. I recommend the book The Spiritual Combat as a starter for deeper commitment to defend the faith, a favorite of Saint Frances de Sales.

  8. Kathy J. says:

    Thank you for this important post. I remember well my anti catholic days and how I’d belittle and mock
    sincere belivers. I had a strong desire to dismiss their silly little world.Thankfully and mercifully a dear cousin
    had been praying for me for years. I had a walloping conversion. We need to pray for these people.
    Prayer works……start with your family. Merry Christmas!

  9. Victor says:

    Just enjoyed a day of reflection: GODISNOWHERE. The choice is yours! But the consequences are not. Victor.

  10. Jamie Reynolds says:

    Let me pare it down for you – the ad is neither offensive or rude; and the ad is too childish in its argument to convince anyone seeing it on a bus to give up their belief in God.

    • Well of course Jamie there is more to be concerned about than that somehow vast numbers will leave the faith. Remember too, I was asked to speak to this by young adults in my parish who are troubled by the ad and would like to know what I think. So you are free to live in your world of no harm no foul but some of the rest of us are asked to and required to make answers.

  11. Vijaya says:

    Atheists ought to be worried about trying to maintain their lack of belief. We are hardwired for God … and this is why they fight it so much, and so crassly. The first comment is incredibly rude … I am surprised you allowed it since the poster is not asking for a discussion, only to spout off uncharitable opinions. And I hope your in-box is not filled with vitriol.

    At times like these, I turn to the beatitudes … Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    God bless you, Father, and Merry Christmas!!!

  12. Missy says:

    People who don’t believe in God spend an awful lot of time paying attention to Him. Kinda funny.

    • Rover Serton says:

      Yes Missy, you are right. God being put into the pledge, the money, the oath of office on a bible (so help me god). The special privilege that religion gets from the US government is annoying. The 3 crosses along the expressways (private property, no problem) but just shove your belief at us continually.

      We don’t really pay any attention to “him” though. He doesn’t seem to exist. Those that belive in him are the ones we pay attention to since they want to legislate on what they think he wants.

  13. RichardC says:

    I found the ad more ignorant than rude. For example, I would describe marcel x’s remarks as more rude–and more ignorant too–than the ad. They should call themselves the The American Robot Association. Why? Something purely material cannot be free and, so, by denying the immaterial they are calling themselves robots. I don’t say that to be rude, but for the sake of accuracy.

  14. Nathan says:

    This seems to be standard operating procedure with the “new” atheists, substitute argument and reason for insults and caricatures of the their opponents views. I suppose they aim such ads at children simply because no one older could possibly be persuaded by what they have to say. Is it rude, of course it is, but honestly if this is the best they’ve got then the New Evangelization ought to be easier than expected. Merry Christmas!!

  15. Steve M says:

    The Internet must be down. Just the word on a blog usually brings out the anti-theists. Maybe the comments on silence in preparation for Christmas are having an effect. Thank you Msgr. Pope and have a blessed Christmas.

  16. MikefromED says:

    But there are already plenty of people who ridicule Earth Day. Just go to the Watts Up With That website and type in Earth Day. You’ll find umpteen comments from people who ridicule the whole thing.

  17. Cynthia BC says:

    The atheists I’ve known find tactics such as those used by the AHA to be reprehensible. They feel no need to “evangelize” or to make the case for non-belief by portraying believers as stupid.

  18. Robbie J says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope. Your article reminds me that we need to pray constantly for those who do not yet believe in God. They are much in need of God’s mercy just as I am. God bless !

  19. GABRIEL says:

    Atheists & Humanists are simly plain and ordinary Judases.

    Seen them before.

    Heard them before.

    Nothing new under the sun.

  20. Raul says:

    I remember the first time I read Mark 16:16 where it says: “He that believeth not shall be damned.”
    As an atheist, I found the line quite rude. I guess I could have decided to get offended and blame all of my Christian friends who consider the bible a good book.
    Thankfully, as a humanist, I took a moment to think about it and decided that there was no need to get offended. The bible is simply a book that is not for me and it would be rather childish of me to get offended by it since I am clearly not its target audience.

    The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is growing rapidly. In the last five years alone, the number of people that claim no religion has increased from just over 15% to just under 20%. More significant is the fact that that for people under 30, the number jumps to 32% while for people over 65 it’s only 9%.
    It is not hard to recognize a trend.

    Msgr. Charles Pope, I could explain to you why this is happening but I fear you would consider me rude. Let me just offer that many atheists have become so by reading the bible.

    So, Msgr. Charles Pope, I beg you: Don’t be so quick to find offense. Maybe consider that you are not the target audience of a message that you find rude. Perhaps take a more humanist approach and learn to turn the other cheek.

    • The trend you cite is recent, of less duration than 20 years, at least here in the states. That said, the trend is noted, what is uncertain is if it will be of lasting duration or just one like so many modern things: ephemeral. The Scriptures, as Paul wrote, go in season and out of season. They are ancient documents that have stood the test of time are clearly are not ephemeral. They and the Church will be here long after various trends will come and go. The Church has endured while whole empires have risen and fallen. The modern West, esp in Europe seems to be on its way out and the Church is shifting south. THere is a 7000% increase in the Numbers of Catholics in Africa. We are also growing in Asia. Overall our numbers are up, not down. Even here in America our numbers not down, they are up, thought just slightly. The number of Church-going Catholics is steady or slightly declining. They are numbers to be sober about.

      Time will prove where wisdom lies. Unbelief is not the natural state of man and so your movement though on a current ascendency will wane as surely as it now waxes. The Catholic Church has seen far worse crises that this current one, yet here we are.

      The cited Ad is and remains rude and insulting by indicating that the billions of people on the planet who believe are childish and immature. Citing this has nothing to do with failing in turning the other cheek which is not about being silent. The ad is rude it is also uniformed. And I think your “many” atheists who become so by reading the Bible is inaccurate. It seems very clear to me in my dealings with them that they are criticizing a highly partial understanding of Scripture and the Church, more often than not a fundmentalist one. It might surprise you for example to learn that there is more to the Bible than the single verse you quote and that the Catholic Church does not teach what you imply, namely that all unbelievers will be damned.

      Funny too that you quote an archaic translation of the text, also indicating to me that you are probably dealing with dated, and/or fundamentalist notions of the faith you condemn. We Catholics “readeth not” the King James Version and “haveth not” a Calvinist theology as thou implieth, neither a “Once saved always saved” view as haveth they, the “Evangelicals.” Readeth thou Lumen Gentium, forasmuch thou must needs gaineth a better understanding of whast thou speaketh and errantly condemneth.

    • Dan Tracy says:

      “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is growing rapidly”

      But are they better off for it?
      As Americans have moved away from religion (this is not equal to atheistic belief, but a move away from “organized” religion) over the past decades we’ve become: a nation more deeply in debt (as individuals, families, municipalities,…); a society of growing obesity (gluttony); more imperialistic (how many countries do we have our military located in? well over 100?); more materialistic (we as a nation consume a disproportionate share of the planet’s resources); the disparity of rich and poor has increased; the number of children living in single parent homes has sky-rocketed; etc.

      It is not hard to recognize this trend.

      “Perhaps take a more humanist approach and learn to turn the other cheek.”

      The modern mind may think so, though the act of “turning the other cheek” is not silence or acquiescence. It is a statement of non-violent defiance.

  21. Meg says:

    Don’t forget true evil is not so obvious. Satan was God’s most beautiful angel and this ad is wrapped in the simpleness of its message delivered by a child. The simplicity in it is what is so diabolical. True evil slithers in “innocently”, and then it pounces. Be on your guard and pray. God bless you, Monsignor.

  22. Scott W. says:

    But acting, as many of them do, at the times of our sacred feasts is just plain rude, it is shameful behavior.

    Utter lack of honor as well. Something sorely missing in this day and age.

  23. richT says:

    so much to comment on….wonderful conversations going on…
    first of all, thank you Msgr, for running this thing which gives us a chance to question and jump into the pit itself.
    to: jamie reynolds-surprised by your comments-if your mother were declared a hoax on the side of a bus, would you still have no emotional response?
    to:marcel x- i ‘felt’ as confused as you noted, but my faith reminds me-God is always there-He too was ‘shot’ along with the little ones-but He has overcome death so He lifts them up to his kingdom-does it bother you so much that He allows us to fully engage in our material world so as to reap what we sow? along the way persons allowed sin by sin to enter into the life of that gunman-until he had enough evil around him to encourage him to do what we can’t ever imagine…i’m confused as to why you blame god rather than the gunman….why don’t you revisit the story of how Jesus died when He came to earth to make sure we don’t invent whatever we want to believe…

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