Poland exposed to a fresh wave of atheist billboards

Poland exposed to a fresh wave of atheist billboards

Today I learned via an email from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (Fundacja Wolnosc od Religii) in Poland that they have again gone on the offensive against the country’s theocrats with a new billboard campaign.

Posters with slogan “You have right not to believe”, against a background of the Polish national flag, began appearing on 47 billboards in 29 towns across the country from January 1.

The purpose of the campaign, says the foundation, is shatter the image that all Poles are faithful Catholics, and demand equality in all aspects of Polish life for non-believers.

The foundation pointed to open hostility shown towards Polish atheists by a number of politicians. MP Krystyna Paw?owicz, for example, said in an interview for Fronda in February 2014 that atheists have no right to organise events in the Polish capital, and former deputy Prime Minister Ludwik Dorn, in an interview for Du?y Format in October last year told atheists they should go to France.

A total of 535 people supported the billboard campaign with 1% of their taxes for 2014. In total the foundation collected almost £8,000.

October 2012 saw the launch of the foundation’s first billboard campaign, which ran until to January 2013. Slogans included “I don’t kill, I don’t steal, I don’t believe” and “You don’t believe in God? – You are not alone”, pictured above

From October to December 2013 a double campaign took place with slogan “Atheists are divine”.

When the first campaign was launched, The Scotsman reported that he arrival of the billboards had generated:

A whirlwind of publicity in a nation where more than 90 per cent of the population still classifies itself as Catholic, and is also the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, one of Poland’s most famous sons.

It quoted Jacek Tabisz, President of the Polish Association of Rationalists, as saying:

In a country considered to be Catholic, it’s very hard to be an atheist … The billboard action is not aimed at believers. It is to show people that in a country where the stereotypical Pole is a Catholic there is a large group of atheists.

The campaign fed into a widening and in many ways unprecedented debate in Poland over the position and power of the Catholic Church in the country.

Long revered as a bastion of Polish culture and mores, when communism collapsed in 1989 a combination of widespread belief and gratitude to the Church for its role in the downfall of Communism led to the state granting it a number of privileges.

Despite being an officially secular state, priests can give classes in “religion” from kindergarten age upwards, and the Church benefits from the “Church fund”, a raft of supportive financial measures from tax relief and help with pensions, to state funding for ecclesiastical property.

For the best part of two decades these rights, along with the Church’s revered status, have gone almost unchallenged but now times are changing.

In 2014, the Palikot Movement, the third largest party in the Polish parliament and one with a clear anti-clerical agenda, called for an end to religious instruction in schools, claiming it contravened articles in the Polish constitution ensuring equality of all faiths.

Even the Polish government has courted a share of criticism from the Church, with talk of reforming and reducing the “Church fund”.

Going one step further in the same year the Government also ignored strident objections from the Catholic Church when it approved state funding for in-vitro fertilisation programmes.

Sociologists quelled talk of an anti-clerical revolution in Poland, pointing out that despite the challenges to the Church’s position the Central European state remains a robustly Catholic country.

But they also stressed that as Poles travel, work abroad and are exposed to a more cosmopolitan and more secular lifestyle the once formidable power and influence of the Church has begun to wane.

• A while back I wrote a piece for the Freethinker about conversations I had with Poles living in the UK and Spain who expressed delight over their escape from theocratic Poland.

7 responses to “Poland exposed to a fresh wave of atheist billboards”

  1. Broga says:

    The BBC, the church and the politicians know that it is essential to keep Christians, often nominal and unthinking, away from rational thinking which questions religious belief. I have recently had a personal example.

    In an exchange of emails with a mildly Christian friend he mentioned the different opinions of so many Christians – specifically in this case abortion and assisted dying. He wondered whether religion offered any sure guidance. He had never, in the past, mentioned religion.

    I said I was surprised that an omniscient Being was so poor a communicator that his followers could never agree on what he wanted. Added to that so many were certain that they knew in detail what God did want although their certainties were different from other Christians’ certainties.

    Such comments on this site would be so unsurprising that they were banal. My friend was enthusiastic about such an “interesting” thought. So much so he intended to discuss it with his vicar. I realised that many of us who have been atheists for decades, and read atheist authors, do not appreciate just how uninformed are so many casual Christians.

    Getting a challenge to some of them is like shining a light in a dark room.

  2. Lucy1 says:

    It is, but the vicar will turn it off again. ‘Free will’ will be the first line of defence. There is no merit in doing right if it is obvious and therefore easy. The xtian god is a tricksy minx and seems to like playing games with his creations, And if this doesn’t play well with your friend then the ‘mysterious ways’ line. It is not up to us to question the infinite being.
    I do hope he gets back to you following the discussions.

  3. Broga says:

    @Lucy 1: I have met a Christian who said the contradictions in the bible were deliberately placed there as a test of faith. Didn’t somebody (Thomas Aquinas?) say that the more incredible the belief the more likely it was to be true?

  4. Lucy1 says:

    Exactly, they get you coming and going…

  5. Peter Sykes says:

    “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” – Thoma Aquinas
    Says it all really, sadly.