Atheists Promote 'Good Without God' Message in Big Apple

"A million New Yorkers are good without God," according to one atheist group.

Those words will be plastered in a dozen subway stations in the most populous city in the country beginning next week.

The United Coalition of Reason says the New York ad campaign is intended to reach out to nontheists and let them know that they are not alone. At the same time, the organization wants to break stereotypes and let the public know that atheists are good people too.

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"We want everyone to know that people can be good without religious beliefs," said John Rafferty, a spokesperson for Big Apple Coalition of Reason, which is affiliated with the United coalition. "There is a lot of misinformation out there about us. But we humanists, agnostics and atheists are part of society. We're your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members."

The $25,000 campaign is funded by an anonymous donor and will run for a month. The ads state: "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"

The one million New Yorkers is an estimate based on findings from surveys on religion, said Michael De Dora Jr., the executive director for the New York branch of the Center for Inquiry, according to The New York Times. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released in March, revealed that 15 percent of the U.S. population claims no religion.

Ads will be launched in the Big Apple just before the release of Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein's new book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. The United Coalition of Reason teamed up with the Harvard Secular Society for the first ever National Secular Service Day this past Sunday where nontheistic people volunteered for community service. The service day was aimed at promoting the message that secular groups are committed to "leading full and ethical lives."

Christian apologists have asserted, however, that true morality comes from God. William Lane Craig, a Biola professor and one of the world's leading philosophers of religion, argued in a debate earlier this year with renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens that without objective morality being rooted in God, man is left with subjective relativism. He further contended that life is objectively meaningless for the atheist because he is heading toward emptiness and death.

Hitchens, meanwhile, said there is no proof that people closer to a supernatural being act better than people who are not. He also claimed that being free from false belief and helping others to do the same brings meaning to his life.

The New York atheist ads are part of a nationwide effort by the United Coalition of Reason, which aims to improve the way nontheists are perceived by average Americans. The MTA New York City transit told NBC New York that as long as advertising doesn't contain nudity or four-letter words, it's protected by free speech.

Since the coalition went public in March, the group claims that local Coalitions of Reason are being organized across the country. Billboards and other ads have gone up in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Phoenix, Ariz.; and other cities. Ads are slated to appear in California later this year.

The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard announced that it will award the United Coalition of Reason with the 2009 "Harvard Humanists of the Year" next month.

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