I've never really gotten into billboard and bus campaigns. Occasionally I will read blog posts about how a new atheist or skeptical billboard has gone up in some location. The stories are usually about how a billboard was vandalized or prohibited or allowed, or about how a skeptical or atheist group has raised or is raising money to erect another one.
Believe it or not, despite my love of ideas and conversation, and despite my skeptical blog on the Internet, I don't generally seek out religious discussion with people I hardly know. Or rather, I don't do it nearly as much as I did when I was religious. So billboard campaigns as a concept have never really done it for me. Dueling billboards seem too much like a shouting match, and I'm not interested in shouting.
But tonight something happened. I stepped off the train in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I saw this:
My first thought was, "Wow, that's awesome!"
My immediate second thought was, "What is that doing in Utah?"
And then it hit me. There are people like me here. Not in Ohio, not in Virginia, but here. There are enough people like me, apparently even in Utah, to put up a billboard and say, "Hey, we're here!" And I finally experienced what everyone says the billboards are there for: I felt like I was not alone.
Unexpectedly, tears came to my eyes. It felt like what the Christmas spirit is supposed to feel like. It was like hearing O Holy Night for the first time, but without any religious baggage. I wish I had a better way to describe it. It didn't feel like shouting, and it didn't feel like making a point. It just felt like a hug from someone who understands. Sometimes that's all you need, you know?
I know I'm not alone in Utah. There are groups of skeptics and atheists, and I have been to a few events and made some friends. But I'm not particularly close with anyone who shares my views. I don't attend events very often, and I don't hang out with anyone on a regular basis. Nearly everyone I know is religious. Being an atheist and a family man in Utah can be a very lonely road, and much of the time I do feel alone.
So thank you, FFRF. Thank you for reaching out. I didn't even know I needed that, but I really needed it. About the billboard campaigns... I think I get it now.
Astronomy Cast Ep. 378: Rutherford and Atoms
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