Allergic to religion

Coalition of Reason kicks off godless billboard campaign

Local atheists pose under a billboard that went up on Cohasset Road last week.

Local atheists pose under a billboard that went up on Cohasset Road last week.

photo courtesy of Butte county Coalition of reason

George Gold began feeling queasy during the introduction to a recent community function in Chico. At first, he couldn’t pinpoint why.

“[The speaker] spent the first 10 or 15 minutes talking about Jesus,” said Gold, a longtime Magalia resident. “The woman sitting next to me asked me if I was all right, and I said, ‘Gee, I don’t know. Maybe I’m allergic to religion.’ She burst out laughing, but I realized I really am—if you talk too much religion to me, I’ll start feeling ill.”

Gold is president of Atheists of Butte County and organizer for the newly formed Butte County Coalition of Reason, a local arm of the national organization that paid for a dozen “godless” billboards that have popped up around the Chico area.

The billboards went up Dec. 5, will remain through the New Year, and serve as the official kick-off for the coalition’s local branch, which is a union of three pre-existing community organizations—Atheists of Butte County, Chico Skeptics and the Secular Student Alliance at Chico State. So far, public response to the billboards has been overwhelmingly positive, Gold said.

And, although he doesn’t anticipate having to do so, he knows what he would say to someone who disagreed with the coalition.

“I’d say we live in America, where the president takes his oath of office with his hand on the Bible—which is another discussion—and swears to uphold the Constitution,” he said. “He does not put his hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

Although Gold was reared in a Jewish family (and, in fact, “loves” being Jewish), he maintains he’s been an atheist all his life, relying on “reason and logic” to set his life course. He recalled when his family lived in the Bay Area, and one evening their next-door neighbor approached as Gold and his 3-year-old son watched a sunset over the water.

“She says, ‘Oh, isn’t that great? The sun is falling into the ocean,’ ” Gold said. “Not to offend her, I didn’t say anything. But as soon as she left, I told my son about the planets and the solar system, where the sun is going and how the Earth is turning on its axis.

George Gold, president of Atheists of Butte County.

Photo By howard hardee

“I think if you asked him now, he appreciated the truth.”

Gold applies the same no-nonsense attitude to matters of faith, and he is not alone in his godlessness, according to a survey released in October by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey found 20 percent of American adults don’t identify with any organized religion, up from 15 percent five years ago. More than 13 million Americans described themselves as atheistic or agnostic.

If those numbers are translated to Butte County, Gold calculated, there are tens of thousands of residents who could potentially identify with the Coalition of Reason’s campaign. But Gold doesn’t expect a flood of new members; he recognizes it can be difficult for people to openly declare themselves atheists.

“Just like my gay brothers and sisters, coming out of the closet is often a life-changing event,” he said. “At one point in time, I decided that if people asked, I would tell them I was an atheist.”

The real goal of the billboard campaign is to establish the coalition’s position in the community, he said.

“One of the things religious organizations do offer is a sense of community,” Gold said. “That’s what we have too. We want to participate in daily life, politics and government, just with a secular voice.

“I have no objection to somebody being religious,” he continued, “as long as they are doing it of their own free will and they’re not asking me to do it.”

So, has he been confronted by someone who strongly disagrees with his stance?

“Sure, they always quote the Bible,” he said with a smile. “You might as well quote Harry Potter to me. They have the same level of relevance, as far as I’m concerned.”

Editor’s note: Just before it went to press, the CN&R learned that one of the billboards had been defaced.