God smites

A billboard conveying an atheist message has been taken down in Rancho Cucamunga:

The billboard, at the busy corner of Archibald Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, says “Imagine No Religion” in large letters on a stained-glass background. Underneath is the name of the group, “Freedom From Religion Foundation,” and the group’s Web address…

Judy Rooze, administrator of First Baptist Church of Rancho Cucamonga, which is two blocks from the billboard, was relieved it was coming down.

Rooze said it was unsettling.

“I understand people have freedom of speech, but this is taking it too far,” she said. “It’s very jarring.”

The request to remove the billboard came from the city, which had received 90 complaints from tolerant people of faith like Judy Rooze. It’s not clear from the reports how voluntary that request was, but that’s getting dangerously close to censorship. Cities have no business asking a billboard companies to take down signs just because they have an anti-religious message.

I wonder if Ms. Rooze was offended by the clever “God speaks” billboard suggesting that non-believers will spend eternity in Hell? I’m guessing not, and it’s hard to imagine a city asking that it be taken down so as not to offend secularists.

Unfortunately, this isn’t even the dumbest anti-atheist prejudice I came across today. That dubious honor goes to Wall Street Journal editor Dan Henninger, whose columns I’m embarrassed to admit I enjoyed in college.

Comments

  1. Matt says:

    See, this is the kind of thing that makes me angry. Sometimes I wish I practiced civil rights law, so that I could represent folks like the atheists here. Especially because, arguably, both their speech and free exercise rights are being subverted.

  2. Roger Ream says:

    Jacob,

    Henninger makes a valid point in his article. A free society does indeed require virtue. Without standards of conduct, trust, and honesty, exchange and contracts are not possible. Government comes in to fill the void when people don’t conduct themselves with high moral standards. Character, even a sense of shame, once kept people from accepting the corrupting handouts of government. Whether you like religion or not, unless people live by the Ten Commandments or some such similar moral code, society will not remain free and markets will fail.

    I hope you are enjoying the Left Coast.

    Roger

  3. sabrina says:

    I wish I could say this was unbelievable… I also wish I understood what was so threatening about atheists. I feel pretty non-threatening myself.

  4. Jacob Grier says:

    Roger,

    Good to hear from you. I agree that virtue is necessary, but Henninger makes some very big assumptions in his article to lay blame for the financial crisis at the feet of atheists. Namely that religious people are more virtuous than secularists and that if Wall Street executives and bankers were religious they would have acted differently. He doesn’t give any reason for supposing his explanation offers a better way of understanding the crisis than by looking at economic incentives.

    As for keeping people within the chalk lines, the only explicit fraud he mentions is that of borrowers lying about their income and assets on loan applications. Given that secularism is correlated with wealth, it seems a good bet that the people lying to get loans were generally more religious than the lenders they were dealing with. If I wanted to be intellectually lazy I could cite that as evidence that religion corrupts. But again, the better explanation is economic: These people had poor credit, saw an opportunity for getting a loan from uncareful lenders, and took it. Religion or the lack thereof had very little to do with it.

    Or I could be really intellectually lazy and compare the United States, one of the most religious Western democracies, with the banking sectors in much more secular European countries. The crisis is centered here, therefore it’s religion that makes us dishonest! If I wrote that op/ed, would the Wall Street Journal publish it?

    I would be interested in a conversation about the Protestant work ethic, virtues of self-reliance, and how their decline have contributed to society’s willingness to fund this bailout bonanza. Unfortunately, Henninger seemed more interested in lashing out at secularism than in making any serious contribution as to how to address the problem.

  5. Matt says:

    As you may have seen my comment on Jeff’s blog regarding the Protestant work ethic and all that, I’ll refrain from putting it in here. I think it’s a theory worth more explanation, but Henninger certainly doesn’t make the case.

    I want to comment regarding the people who lied on their loan applications. Because more often than not individuals weren’t the ones doing the lying; brokers and mortgage companies were lying on their behalf, inflating incomes and such, so that (the very thin) underwriting requirments were met. The loan applications were usually filled out by hand, and then the “final applications” were typed up by brokers (and sometimes banks) who altered statements (usually as to income) made by those seeking the loans. The reason for this was simple; brokers only got paid if the loans were made. In my work I’ve heard dozens of first and second hand stories of how borrowers would try to correct the “final applications” only to be told by brokers that the borrower was complicit in fraud, was opening themselves to suit, didn’t know what they were talking about, would lose all the money they’d agreed to pay if they didn’t go along, or, – perhaps the worst – would get deported if they didn’t sign anyway. It was a rare case when it was the borrower who was lying. It was much more frequent for the broker to lie – both on the application (on behalf of the borrower) and to the borrower to get them into these loans.

    Of all of Henninger’s missteps, that was the one that angered me most. To blame the borrowers who were more often victims shows a complete ignorance of the realities on the ground.

  6. Roger Ream says:

    I stand by my post, but I also agree with the several points you make in your comment. We libertarians can’t be too quick to dismiss the importance of virtue and honesty to the maintenence of a free society. Whether you can have virtue and honesty in a society absent religious belief (and practice) is an argument for another day.

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