American Atheists Billboards and Ridicule of Religious Ideas

Prior to my earlier posts on American Atheists’s billboards, an atheist, whose opinion I respect, mentioned his support for the ads. To paraphrase, his argument was something like this.

Religious beliefs should not get special protection from ridicule and doubt. They have had this protection for far too long and this needs to stop. Our society needs to get used to cherished religious beliefs being subject to the same kind of criticism and ridicule as that faced by any other belief. For example, socialists and capitalists regularly use ridicule and criticism when speaking of each other. 

I agree that religious beliefs should not get special protection from ridicule and doubt. If by “special protection” one means “special legal protection,” I agree. I (obviously) don’t think there should be blasphemy laws. My point was (and is) different. Even if/when there is a legal right to ridicule religious beliefs, atheists would be well advised to think twice about whether and when to exercise that right. If an atheist’s goal is to increase the social acceptability of atheism, I’m pretty sure that mockery and ridicule of widely held religious beliefs isn’t an effective way to achieve that goal. If an atheist’s goal is to convince people that atheists can be just as moral as theists, then it’s downright stupid to waste $15,000 on a billboard ad which, in the minds of many, will only show that atheists are rude (=immoral).