I get a hoot out of that gigantic atheist billboard at IH 10 near 410.

It says:

Don’t believe in God? Join the club.

First off, let me say that I don’t give a shit what anybody believes or disbelieves, and I reserve the right to be wrong, and sometimes off-color, with various and sundry longhaired redneck predilections that I?harbor.

If Cornerstone Church preacher John Hagee can legally advertise his ministry with a gargantuan billboard on North Loop 1604, then the non-believers should be afforded the same right. And I reserve the right to fleer and jape at the modern-day Robert Ingersolls as I do John Hagee’s hellfire and brimstone delivery.

Why all the trouble?

But why, I wonder, do the two sides go to so much trouble?

There either is a God or there is not a God, and “theists,” as the believers are called, feel they have a spiritual obligation to spread the message of a creator to those who might be ignorant of this devine presence. I believe the term is proselytizing.

The atheists, on the other hand, seem hell-bent (pun intended) to convince the rest of the world that no God exists, although the new breed of non-believers advance a mantra that suggests otherwise.

Once again, the well-worn and all-encompassing word “discrimination” rears its ugly head, and much like gays who are finally being recognized as fellow human beings, the atheists are talking about “coming out of the closet.”

I don’t believe the level of abuse can be compared. Being vilified, ostracized, murdered, physically abused, and denied membership and leadership positions in religious bodies of their choice, gays seem to have much more to complain about than some kid who was smitten by the mention of “God” in some public school function.

But atheist leaders like Jim Parker feel very strongly about their non-belief. And it must be daunting at times to feel very strongly about something you really don’t believe in. Parker is president of the group that erected the atheist billboard. It is called Freethinkers Association of Central Texas. He is also coordinator of the San Antonio Coalition of Reason.

A headline over a Parker column on the Express-News religion section May 19 read: Atheists should stand up and proudly join the club.

Billboard’s purpose

In the article, Parker said, “The purpose of the billboard is to let other non-believers know that they are not alone. In fact, there are several groups in the San Antonio area, each serving a specific niche, that people can join in to be with other like-minded people.”

Then Parker engages in a bit of believer-bashing of his own, noting that atheists, agnostics, Mormons, and Jews all rated higher on a U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey than did evangelicals and mainline protestants.

Parker says a friend of his became a non-believer only after he read the Bible. Referring to findings by the evangelical organization Barna Research Group, Parker says divorce rates are highest in the Bible Belt, and he goes on to say, “It is particularly interesting given the fact that the Christians getting divorced in the highest numbers are among the Christians who are most likely to raise an alarm about the state of marriage in society.

The Atheist Mission

Since erection of the atheist billboard, Parker said, additional groups have expressed interest in joining the coalition. And membership in all of the atheist groups has jumped about 15 percent in just a few days, prompting Parker to say, “We are accomplishing our mission.”

Parker’s newspaper article quotes him as saying: “Of course, not all non-believers find it safe yet to come out. In this city of a thousand churches, it is easy for us non-believers to be ostracized by friends, family, and employers. Some of us are very open about our non-beliefs, but others can’t afford to be. Even some of our kids have to be careful at school lest they endure the ridicule of students and teachers alike. Yes, teachers.” If Parker is “accomplishing” his “mission” with the atheist billboard, I reckon that’s just hunkydory and too cool for school, but the big sign challenges those who do believe in a power greater than themselves, and I happen to be among this number.

On the subject of God or no God, my favorite scribe was a 1930s stock hustler by the name of Bill Wilson.

A former agnostic who drank himself to death’s very door before undergoing what he called a spiritual awakening, Wilson wrote the legendary book which probably saved more lives in the 20th Century than Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Known today by millions of recovered alcoholics as “The Big Book,” Wilson’s journal is simply titled Alcoholics Anonymous.

Answer these questions

Without embracing any religious doctrine, or even trying to define anyone’s conception of God, Wilson’s fourth chapter in the book is titled We Agnostics. Acknowledging that most alcoholics coming into the AA program are of the non-believing persuasion, Wilson asks some questions that neither science nor the greatest theologians of modern times have been able to answer.

On the book’s page 54, Wilson wrote: Imagine life without faith. Were nothing left but pure reason, it wouldn’t be life. But we believed in life–or course we did. We could not prove life in the sense that you can prove a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, yet there it was. Could we still say the whole thing was nothing but a mass of electrons, created out of nothing, meaning nothing, whirling on to a destiny of nothingness? Of course we couldn‘t. The electrons themselves seemed more intelligent than that.

While writing for the Express-News, I interviewed renown atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, finding nothing about her non-belief to be particularly offensive. What was offensive about Madalyn were the wasp nest wads of black curly hair in her stinking armpits.

As for me and my beliefs, I know there is a God, and I know that I’m not Him. And that’s all I need to know.

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