A local atheist chapter in New Jersey is bashing the Pope and other religious leaders for suggesting Christians pray for victims of natural disasters. The group has launched a series of digital billboards that read "Disaster victims need prayer [...] real help."
New Jersey's American Atheists chapter will be posting digital billboards with that phrase and others throughout the center of the state, the organization announced this week. The six billboards will include the same phrase with the words "bible" and "religion" crossed out instead of "prayer," and they will be erected on three major highways with the help of the advertising company Clear Channel Outdoors.
In a press release by American Atheists, the organization argues that following the massive destruction of Typhoon Haiyan earlier this month in the Philippines, Catholic leaders, including the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines and Pope Francis, have responded to the disaster in "non-helpful ways" that include sending bibles and rosaries to disaster victims and tweeting for Christians to pray for those affected by the Typhoon.
"Imagine if the Pope had asked for people to send money to victims or to send needed supplies. How much more useful would that have been to the people of the Philippines? This is insulting," said American Atheists President David Silverman in the press release. "Over 5,500 people have died, so Pope Francis leads people in prayer, and they send bibles and rosaries. This is repugnant; natural disasters should not be viewed as opportunities for proselytization." Silverman continued, "Religion is not charity. It's business masquerading as charity, and it needs to be recognized as such."
The billboards include a link to atheists.org, where visitors will then be directed to three secular groups who have set up campaigns to aid Typhoon victims and those recently affected by the tornados in the Midwest. The Los Angeles Times was quick to question if American Atheists found it hypocritical that they are accusing Christians of allegedly trying to use disasters to convert nonbelievers, when they are using their billboards to drive viewers to their website.
"If somebody thinks that, they clearly haven't visited our website," Dave Muscato, a spokesperson for American Atheists, told The Los Angeles Times. Moscato argues that those who visit the website will find options for donating to secular relief organizations, not an atheist agenda.
Although the atheist organization is quick to criticize Christian relief efforts with the new set of billboards, it fails to mention the tens of thousands of dollars the Vatican has donated to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, or the many Christian aid organizations who have dispatched teams of aid workers on the ground in the Philippines to provide immediate relief efforts, such as food and water, as well as prayer and spiritual support to victims. In many instances, Christian relief agencies have been among the fastest responders to disaster aid efforts.
The Vatican has donated $150,000 to the Catholic Church in the Philippines to be distributed to each diocese, as well as set up a special relief fund to collect donations, according to Rome Reports. In addition, groups like Integral Alliance, an international network of 19 Christian relief organizations and an affiliate of the World Evangelical Alliance, have been involved in on-the-ground relief efforts for those affected by the typhoon, delivering food, water and medical supplies and preparing for a long reconstruction period in the island nation.