An item appeared in yesterday's Detroit Free Press. Headline: "Atheist bus ads are desecrated." It's a story about how ads placed on city buses by a coalition of atheist and agnostic groups have been defaced. There are two things that strike me:
First is the misuse of the word "desecrate" in the headline. Since the whole point of the ads is to proclaim that God does not exist, how can the vandalism of the ads be counted as desecration, which is to make unholy something that is holy? This is not the first time I've been irked at newspaper writers who regularly misuse the English language, and it further reinforces for me the counsel I received from a high school English teacher (back when dirt was new) that if I continued my plan to study journalism, I should do it through an English department and not a communications department. (I ignored that advice and studied journalism in a communications department until I got bored; I eventually found my way to that English department after all).
But the second issue is far more important. Who is defacing the ads purchased by the coalition? One assumes, since they're being "modified" to read "believe in God?" instead of "Don't believe in God?" that it is a group of believers. Now of course maybe it's a group of kids just misbehaving. Or the conspiracy theorist in me might wonder if it's the atheists again, seeking yet another chance to get in the paper (first article was when these ads appeared). But in my gut I worry that it's believers who are taking it upon themselves to modify the message.
I hope it's not the believers. And here's why:
First, we do have freedom of speech and freedom of religion in this country (even the freedom to be absent religion). So trying to stop atheists from spreading their point of view is akin to preventing us from spreading ours. The ads on the buses are purchased. This is not about what happens in school or some government office. This is public discourse, and there should be a place for everyone in that discourse.
Second, religious folks should understand that we don't destroy private property. It's part of the common decency my parents taught me and I have tried to teach my kids. Aside from its being illegal, it's wrong. The Savior taught that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Do we want someone else tearing down our property? Of course not. (Some might argue that others have vandalized our sacred places. The Savior had an answer for that, too: turn the other cheek.)
Finally, what influence would believers have doing such a thing? Is there reason to fear the non-believers among us? Surely the message of the ads comes as no surprise: there are many who do not believe in God. But that does not deter us from our belief, nor does it change the fact that God lives and He loves his children. There have always been non-believers, sometimes more vocal than others. That they exist will not change God, nor will it stop His work from progressing