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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Atheists, Buses and Advertising

I have been following (I have to confess, mostly via Facebook) the saga of the nascent advertising campaign of the NEPA Freethought Society.  To provide a 20 second summary...

...local Atheists wanted to place an advertisement on the local public transportation system
...those in charge said no, chiefly because they said the advertisement was controversial
...Atheists appealed
...those in charge said no

What's the fuss about?  Well here you go, and be prepared to be shocked...

Has your faith in an old white guy living on a cloud been shocked out of existence yet?  Do you feel as if your way of life is being attacked?  Have the barbarians arrived yet at the gate?

On a more serious...and less snarky...note, basically what the COLTS board is saying is that just the word "Atheists" in and of itself is controversial and offensive.  Now I'm not going to argue any religious points here, because I've found that arguing about religion is like arguing over ice cream flavors:  namely that the right answer is highly subjective anyway, and mostly based upon one's interpretation of "facts".  What's more, and as I have mentioned to others, religion is about FAITH, and FAITH by it's very nature is something that often times exists DESPITE proof (rightfully so I will add, speaking as a person who has some faith himself).  Anyway, the real issue here is one of a word, and the interpretation of it as being offensive.  To that and in response, I offer the following word of my own:


Not even on Planet Santorum, I suspect, would the word "Atheist" be considered offensive or controversial.  It is no more offensive than the words...

... Pentecostal
...Muslim ( least in places like Texas) is, when all is said and done, just a word.  Sure, it is a word that might stir some debate, but is that really such a bad thing anyway?  My answer is no.  So what is the REAL issue here?  It's more a question of tolerance and acceptance of what is different in an area, Northeastern Pennsylvania, that is infamous for being intolerant and non-accepting of most things that fall outside of what is considered to be "normal".  Now if you are in Scranton, "normal" means white and Roman Catholic.  If you are in Wilkes-Barre, that means white and Protestant.  See a pattern developing?  Darn good thing the advertisement didn't say "Black Atheists", or I am sure that heads truly would have exploded.

Yes, this isn't about protecting bus riders from being offended.  It's about protecting the perception that the outside world...that is anywhere south of Luzerne County or north of the state...doesn't really exist. Atheists?  Well they don't live HERE...they live out THERE!

My personal opinion is that the Roman Catholic Church should be free to advertise on COLTS buses.  So should the Episcopal Church.  And the Baptists.  And the Jews.  Oh, and so should the Atheists.  We are talking about words here folks, and while powerful, words only have the power that we assign to them.  Don't want to have your religious thinking questioned by those darn Atheists?  Then don't talk to Justin Vacula, at least not about religion.  Don't read the Atheist advertisement either.  But let's stop pretending that the outside world, and outside ideas, don't exist in the pristine ethical and religious ecosystem that we call Northeastern Pennsylvania (and in other news, yet another local politician has taken a plea deal and goes to jail...)

Additional Resources:
You can find a video about the controversy, courtesy of WNEP, HERE.

You can link to NEPArtisan's commentary on the issue HERE.

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