It has become an annual tradition: The days grow shorter, the holidays approach, and the American Humanist Association rolls out an ad campaign promoting atheism and disparaging religion.
Last year, the organization placed ads reading “No god? No problem!’’ on billboards and buses in more than a dozen cities. Its theme in 2008 was: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.’’
This year, the association is taking a more combative tone. It is spending $200,000 to “directly challenge biblical morality’’ in advertisements appearing on network and cable TV, as well as in newspapers, magazines, and on public transit. The ads juxtapose violent or otherwise unpleasant passages from the Bible (or the Koran) with “humanist’’ quotations from prominent atheists. For example, a dreadful prophecy from the Hebrew prophet Hosea — “The people of Samaria . . . have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open’’ — is contrasted with Albert Einstein’s comment that he “cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation.’’
Of course anyone can cherry-pick quotes to make a point. And of course it is true, as the humanist group’s executive director Roy Speckhardt maintains, that there are “religious texts’’ that “advocate fear, intolerance, hate, and ignorance.’’ Religion has often been put to evil purposes or invoked to justify shocking cruelty. Then again, the same is true of every area of human endeavor, from medicine to journalism to philosophy to the law.