The American Humanist Association has launched a $40,000 ad campaign to generate interest in their non-religious cause. The campaign will run Washington, D.C. bus advertisements which read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake.”
"We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you," Fred Edwords, spokesman for the humanist group, told the Associated Press. "Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."
The ads and posters will include a link to a web site established to connect and organize like-minded people in the D.C. area.
Edwords explained the campaign’s purpose is not to argue that God doesn’t exist or to change people’s minds, but claimed his group is “trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds.”
According to the American Humanist Association, humanism is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.”
In a press release, the group predicted the campaign “will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.”
"Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be good," Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, remarked in a press release. "So that's the point we're making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn't come from religion. It's a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience."
Edwords added that they expect the campaign to generate “a lot of public interest,” but insisted its purpose wasn’t to offend.
“We just want to reach those open to this message but unaware how widespread their views are,” he said.
CNA spoke with Edwords in a Wednesday phone interview.
Edwords estimated that in the United States, humanists number “probably in the millions” between five and ten percent.
“Probably closer to five [percent] would be humanists in our sense of the term, but they don’t usually join groups. We’re just letting them know they’re not alone,” Edwords told CNA. He noted that Humanist numbers vary in other countries, with a higher presence in Europe in particular.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported in 2008 that 92 percent of Americans believe in God.
Asked why people should be good “for goodness’ sake,” Edwords said the phrase was “just kind of a stand in, a quip, to point out that human moral values come from humanity.”
“Just as we develop our laws with consent of the governed, our moral values do too,” he argued. “They come from who we are as a species, who we have become, through the process of civilization.”
Explaining that “goodness” is “a term of art,” he said it did not exist as “some sort of independent entity or thing.” “We call these things ‘good’ because we are drawn toward them, and we call things ‘bad’ because we are pushed away from them,” Edwords explained.
“There are these inclinations that are a product of evolution,” he claimed, arguing that similar phenomena are at work among other primates.
American Family Association president Tim Wildmon, was dismissive of the Humanist campaign.
"It's a stupid ad," he told the Associated Press. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."
Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, was also critical.
“It's the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ,” he said. “Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want but this is insulting.”