I was innocently making my way though one of the more heavily-traveled streets in town, when this confronted me out of nowhere. It is a billboard, part of a national campaign, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation announcing that we should “Imagine No Religion.” It made me chuckle, because I instantly guessed it was deliberately placed and timed. It is probably not a coincidence we are close to Christmas, and certainly not incidental that is it just a few minutes away from two megachurches and Focus on the Family. Then , viola!, our local paper runs a small article.
"This is an alternative message that people need to hear in Colorado Springs, the hotbed of the Christian right," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the billboard's sponsor, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit association with 12,000 members.
"The purpose is to bring free thought and alternative view of religion to people."
I love that people believe Colorado Springs is a kind of evangelical Mecca complete with our mass gatherings, dress codes, and theocracy. By the latest statistics I saw as a church planter here, about 85% of the city is technically “unchurched.” For those bad at statistics, that means they are “not churched.” And no one let me in on the “hotbed” part of it. A lot of the Christianity I am aware of is pretty luke-warm. Sure, some of the politics are a little rabid, but the Christianity does not always run as hot.
I was right about the product placement.
The foundation chose the North Academy Boulevard site because it's minutes from Focus on the Family, and the nonprofit's members hope the billboard will influence the religious views of Focus staff and visitors, Gaylord said.
And for some reason, the author of the article was concerned about the Christian taggers out there. “The billboard could be a lightning rod for vandalism,” he wrote, probably thinking about the rabid homeschoolers who sleep on hotbeds. (Of course, I’ll have to eat my words if one of them makes it out there after curfew.)
In all seriousness, I used to work with the freethinkers when I was a campus minister, and though they were great folks it turns out they were free to think about anything except the possible truth of or value of religion. Ironically, a nation with Christian roots (however deeply you want to send those roots), has produced a social and political climate where people are free to imagine any religion or lack thereof they want and carry those convictions into the public square. If the free thinking group at FFRF is to be taken seriously, we might not be able to imagine any kind of religion in the public square. It seems that the “free thought” and “alternative view of religion” proposed by FFRF is actually quite myopic and restrictive.
FFRF has an online Bible quiz. I hope to take it and report the results. Have fun!