The season for reason?

Coalition of atheist, agnostic groups buys king-size bus advertisements

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Dr. Tony Houston, coordinator of the newly formed the Rhode Island Coalition of Reason, said this week the group’s campaign to bring awareness of non-theists is not timed to offend Christians or others who believe in God.

On Tuesday, the coalition of atheist and agnostic groups announced it has bought 10 king-size bus advertisements reading “Godless? So are we” superimposed over an image of a curling surf. Houston said the ads weren’t purposely timed for the beginning of the holidays.

“It was just our turn. It’s just how it worked out,” Houston said.

According to the release, the ads are part of a coordinated nationwide program that began in 2009. Since then, 60 similar campaigns have been launched in 37 states and the District of Columbia by the United Coalition of Reason (UnitedCoR). UnitedCoR provided the $6,200 in funding for the Rhode Island campaign.

But the fact that it came at the holidays may not be all that bad, Houston said, since it is a time when people get together and talk. And that’s the way the Rev. Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island Council of Churches, sees it, too.

“If any place, it’s appropriate in Rhode Island. This is where religious freedom was born. This is what the state is about,” he said in a telephone interview.

Anderson called the campaign an opportunity for dialogue, and he sees there is room “to find common ground” on issues such as racism, helping the poor and the widening gap between the very rich and all others.

Anderson acknowledges some will have “fundamental disagreement about theism,” but quoting the late Dr. Carlton Gregory, he said, “Your faith needs to stand in the marketplace of ideas.” Anderson came to know Gregory when he was teaching at Barrington College.

Anderson said he would have issues with the coalition if they were organizing to diminish religious liberty. But he doesn’t see that from what the coalition released.

“I’m sure people are going to get upset and rant and rave,” he said. He feels there’s a problem “when people close off their hearts” and cease looking for solutions.

“This is what the lively experiment is all about, fining common ground. It’s more about action than trying to prove points.”

“Non-theistic people are your family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We may not believe in a deity or the supernatural, but we are compassionate, ethical members of this community. We would like to encourage local atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics, secularists and humanists to stand up and be counted. If you are a Rhode Island non-believer, know that you are not alone,” Houston said in a statement.

Expanding in a phone interview, Houston said data shows there are a growing number of atheists.

“People assume you are a believer unless you ask otherwise,” he said.

Dr. Jason Heap, national coordinator of UnitedCoR, said in the release that the point of the national advertising campaigns is to reach out to the millions of atheists, agnostics and humanists living in the United States.

“Non-theists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them because they’re flooded with theistic messages at every turn. So we hope our efforts to raise awareness will serve as a light in the darkness to let them know they aren’t alone.”

This campaign is the latest in a nationwide effort to reach out to non-theists. There have been similar billboards, bus ads or Internet campaigns in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

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