U.S.

Are Jesus’ Birth and The Bible Fake News? Atheists Unveil Billboard Challenging 'Virgin Birth and Talking Snakes'

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The American Atheists launched a billboard equating nativity scenes to fake news. Courtesy of American Atheists

A group of atheists is challenging the nation's most powerful figures: President Donald Trump and God.

The American Atheist's annual Christmas-themed billboard went up on December 1 with a nudge at the president in Washington and the Lord above: "Just skip church it's all fake news!"

The group says it's not trying to offend people with its billboards in Texas and New Mexico—and members say they're a little confused why people keep threatening them with hell and eternal damnation—because the goal is just to start a conversation about the nexus of religion and politics in American life.

"We want people to think about what they mean when they say 'fake news,'" the group's National Program Director for American Atheists Nick Fish told Newsweek. "Does that include talking snakes and virgin births? We want to spark that conversation and get people thinking. Think about what they're being told and seeing in the media. Think about what they hear from politicians — and don't stop doing that for an hour or two on Sundays."

Fish added that he hopes the billboards will encourage people to think about their values during the Christmas season and evaluate whether their subscribed religious stances truly align with that. The billboards are designed to spark conversation during the travel-filled season in Texas, which favored Trump by 9 percent, and New Mexico, which selected Hillary Clinton by 8 points.

1204_AmericanAtheists The 2017 holiday billboard for the American Atheists will be posted through December in Texas and New Mexico. Courtesy of American Atheists

Every year, the organization braces for the rush of holiday hate mail that inevitably follows the billboard posts. In 2015, it championed a "Make Christmas Great Again" slogan while pushing people to skip church. Another more blatant advertisement simply read: "Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody." Yet another display positioned Santa next to Jesus and said, "Keep the merry! Dump the myth!"

The goal is to create a culture of acceptance for people who genuinely do not identify themselves with religion. The posts are designed to be "cheeky" and grab attention, Fish said, but they are not an attack on Christmas — more of a challenge.

"When people are brought down to being just equal after occupying a position of privilege in the country, when they're made to be equal or just another one of the multitude of religions, I can understand how they think it's an attack," Fish told Newsweek. "But it's not. It's equality. The government not giving special treatment to you is not an assault on your rights."

The organization is wary of increasingly partisan divides in the government — like Trump's vow to end the "War on Christmas" during his term — but Fish said it made the group "even more excited to sound off" this year. Staffers collaborate each year on a message they believe will capture the season and give people acceptance to leave the church behind — if that's their choice.

Christian leaders, however, were not too pleased. Richard Mansfield, a senior pastor at New Beginnings Church in New Mexico told The Christian Times that some church members believe the organization is trying to "give a slap in the face to not only the Christian community, but people that have faith and people that have hope."

But, Fish said, the point of atheist group's billboards is to remind people of faith that organized religion sometimes betrayed that faith.

"People leave religion because they examine what they're being told and say, 'Wait a minute, this doesn't make sense according to my morals. This anti-LGBT and anti-woman stance that some churches take is really incompatible with people's morals and values," Fish told Newsweek. "You don't have to be a religious person to be a good person."

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