Some days, the billboard garnered a little scoff or chuckle from me. Others resulted in a mere roll of the eyes. And, at least once or twice, it got me to audibly say, “No,” in my empty car.
Some thousands of people pass it any given day. An attention-grabbing billboard reads, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” in white block lettering against a background of the bluest sky and the fluffiest clouds.
Is it effective advertising by the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason, the secular organization that posted the ad? Not any more effective than a billboard about Catholicism.
But, in a sea of other advertisements for everything from nose jobs to Corona, Caribbean getaways to hair plugs; would a billboard asking passers-by whether or not they believe in a higher power even make a difference?
It’s tough to rationalize why any sort of religious or atheist propaganda lining the highway would profoundly strike anyone, especially during a commute that would involve Interstate 95 (a frustrating rush hour commute). Sure, sitting in the amount of traffic highways see, you’d have at least 20 minutes to ponder the philosophical question posed, but still, why bother? Commuters have better things to do.
But, Barry Greenstein, the vice president of the Secular Society of Temple University and a committee member of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason said the billboard was effective. Furthermore, he said that the Coalition of Reason, a union of atheist, humanist and secular organizations, got a lot of positive attention from the advertisement on I-95 and a similar one in New Jersey by Freethought Action.
“There was a great response,” Greenstein said, adding that the ad was in no way intended to be a jab at the religious. “Membership went up, I have no exact numbers, but [there were] hundreds of e-mails sent by people who really had no idea that atheists and secular people were being so active getting their voice out, so I’ve been very pleased.”
So it did get people’s attention for more than that quick second they took driving by. Go figure.
Regardless of the success of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason’s advertisement, meant to grab attention and even shock some of its audience, Greenstein and Austin Wulf, president of the Secular Society of Temple University, agreed that advertising such a society, especially on a college campus, can be a challenge.
Greenstein said that despite a seemingly ever-present struggle between the agnostics and atheists of the world and the religious, he thought the response to the billboard came from nonreligious people not knowing there was an organization for them, too.
In fact, he likened the nonreligious’ position to one akin to the former struggles of the LGBTQ community, that is, a fundamental lack of just that – community.
“The nonreligious have somewhat of a disadvantage, which is that historically, we have been unorganized,” he said. “But that is changing.”
Morgan A. Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.