It's been more than two weeks since a provocative billboard paid for by an organization devoted to defending and promoting reason went up near Interstate 44 west of the Arkansas River, and the coordinator of the local group admits he's a bit surprised at how little attention it's drawn.
The billboard, located at West 51st St. South and South 4th W. Ave., features the slogan, "Are you good without God? Millions are." Bill Dusenberry, coordinator of the Tulsa Coalition of Reason--the local affiliate of the national United Coalition of Reason, which paid for the billboard--said the sign is an attempt to let passing motorists know that humanists, atheists and agnostics, a group Dusenberry categorizes as nontheists, embrace goodness for its own sake, not out of a sense of religious obligation.
"We don't need the threat of hell to keep us from going out" and engaging in bad behavior, he said.
Dusenberry said there hasn't been much reaction to the billboard so far, though he noted there were several callers to a local radio station that devoted a program to the sign recently. The United Coalition for Reason has paid to have the signs erected in several cities around the nation, Dusenberry said, and he admitted the location of this billboard is not the most high-profile site in the city, which may have contributed to its modest reception.
The billboard's unveiling was designed to coincide with a program at All Souls Unitarian Church on Dec. 10 featuring Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard. Dusenberry said so many people showed up to hear Epstein speak that the event had to be moved to the main building at All Souls to accommodate the crowd of 300 to 400 people.
"It's hard for me to really gauge (what the reaction to the billboard has been)," Dusenberry said. "But from what I've experienced personally, it's either somewhat restrained or supportive."
Dusesnberry argues that religion and a belief in a higher being are not necessary to maintain social order.
"It's in everybody's interest to (embrace goodness)," he said. "We don't want those bad things happening to us, and most of us have a sense of empathy. We do good because it makes you feel good. It's one of the byproducts of being alive."
The Tulsa Coalition of Reason--which counts the Humanist Association of Tulsa, the Tulsa Athiest Organization and the Tulsa chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation among its members--intends to take a higher profile in the coming months, according to Dusenberry. He's already sent a certified letter to each member of the Tulsa City Council questioning their reasoning for reciting a prayer before the start of each meeting, and he intends to mount a campaign for a new specialty license plate in Oklahoma that would feature the slogan "In Reason We Trust."
Dusenberry said the license plate campaign would be conducted in response to a specialty plate featuring the words "In God We Trust" that will be available in Oklahoma in January. The state currently features dozens of specialty plates in such categories as branches of the military, civil servants, schools, Indian nations, the Boy Scouts, breast cancer awareness, Pro Life, even NASCAR.
Dusenberry said he needs commitments from 500 individuals to buy a "In Reason We Trust" tag before the state Tax Commission is obligated to offer it. He said if he had been able to convince a state legislator to sponsor the tag, he would have needed only 100 such commitments, but Dusenberry said he was unable to secure a sponsorship from either his state representative or his state senator.
"We want to show that there are people who have a different point of view of how we arrived at a polite society besides through trust in god," Dusenberry said of the specialty tag campaign.
A retiree who moved to Tulsa a few years ago after living in such states as New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Hawaii, Dusenberry said he mounted a similar specialty tag campaign in South Carolina during his time there and was successful.
"I used it on my car for three years," he said.
Dusenberry acknowledged that the billboard and specialty tag campaigns, along with his letter-writing effort, might be viewed as inflammatory to some. But he said they are necessary to let people know there are points of view other than a Christian perspective in Oklahoma.
"It seems like the only way we can get any discussion going in public is to do things that will be newsworthy, to a certain degree," he said.
Dusenberry said there is a number of nontheist--or "free-thinking," as he likes to say--groups in the Tulsa area, and the Coalition of Reason was created to link those organizations. He hopes the billboard will pique the interest of motorists, perhaps encouraging them to seek out one of those groups.
"If anybody is driving by and sees it and wants to find something in their area, they can do that" by visiting the coalition's Web site (HYPERLINK "http://www.tulsa.unitedcor.org"www.tulsa.unitedcor.org), which is listed on the billboard, and finding a list of member groups, he said. Dusenberry believes nontheist groups can magnify their effectiveness in northeastern Oklahoma by banding together.
"That would make them much more effective than they could be as individuals," he said.
Dusenberry insisted he's not trying to take away anyone's right to believe what they want. But he is trying to engage them in a discussion of why they believe those things, something he said he has a fair amount of success at when he is able to speak with people on a one-to-one basis.
And despite Oklahoma's Bible Belt reputation, Dusenberry said he and his wife have been very pleased with their experience in Tulsa.
"The people are delightful, probably the nicest of anywhere I've ever lived," he said. "As long as you don't bring up anything about religion, the people are fantastic."
Share this article: