Joel, President of Metro State Atheists, was interviewed by for an article in the Rocky Mountain News regarding the the Colorado Coalition of Reasons secular billboards. The article, qouted below, was written by Bill Johnson.
The message is but eight words divided into two short sentences set against puffy white clouds on a blue and black background.
One of the men behind the billboard message says his life has been threatened because of it, which seems an odd thing since those doing the threatening all profess to be Christians.
Just eight words:
“Don’t believe in God?” the upper left of the billboard reads. “You are not alone,” the lower right says.
I have no idea how many times I have passed the sign in the days since it went up at Colfax Avenue and Quebec Street on Nov. 17, but I never noticed it until someone pointed it out the other day.
I don’t get the fuss. And yes, I appear to be alone in this.
The billboard is one of 11 in Denver and Colorado Springs paid for by a group that calls itself the Colorado Coalition of Reason, a self-described coalition of “freethinker, atheist and humanist” groups.
The sole purpose of the ads, the group maintains, is what it says: to let other freethinkers, atheists and humanists know there is a group out there for them.
Two of the 11 signs were supposed to go up in Fort Collins and Greeley, the group said. This was so until the moment the media company that owns the two billboards read the message.
The hate mail and nasty, threatening phone messages began almost immediately.
Much of it has been directed at Joel Guttormson, who mostly has been serving as a spokesman for COCORE, as they call it.
Twenty-two and a Metro State junior majoring in theoretical mathematics, Guttormson also is president of the Metro State Atheists, one of the 11 groups that make up COCORE.
“It’s been kind of wild, kind of outrageous,” he says of days since the billboards went up.
“It has been mostly Christians who’ve been calling and e-mailing,” Joel Guttormson said, “which is strange since the message is not directed at Christians or anyone from any religion.
“You know, if you see an ad for migraine medicine and you don’t have a migraine, why would you care?”
Almost all of the feedback, he said, has been from people who say the billboards denigrate Christians. He says he still has no idea how that is possible.
“We are not out to anger people,” Joel Guttormson said. “I don’t know why people think that. So much of it says we are evil and that we hate everybody.
“Have you seen the billboard? Tell me where any of them mentions evil or hate. Why is everyone so mad?”
John Matson, of Denver, was so mad after seeing the Santa Fe Drive sign that he dashed off an angry letter to the billboard’s owner.
“It is a despicable act to allow that sign,” the 60-year-old man said in an interview, “and for just a few pieces of silver.”
He went on COCORE’s Web site, and it made him even angrier, John Matson said. It is trying to gather, he said, “a constituency of what I call mob rule.”
“I know they’re atheists, and my opinion is they want others to believe the same thing. The billboard misrepresents their purpose,” he said. “Their agenda is wolf-in-sheep’s clothing political. Why don’t they just say it.”
Yes, he is a Christian, John Matson said.
“I also understand free speech. And I can also stand up and tell them that they are wrong.”
He has yet, he said, to hear back from the billboard company.
That is about the tone of much of what he has heard, Joel Guttormson said. He saves each call, files the e-mails in a folder.
“I read them, put them away and forget about it,” he says. “My sister keeps telling me I need to watch out for myself.”
He began investigating religion and faith early on, he said, and by high school he was a confirmed atheist.
People ostracized him. It is rare now that he even mentions it outside of his group, he said.
“I don’t tell people at work. I keep my mouth shut.”
Atheism, he said, scares people, the mere possibility that God doesn’t exist.
He remembers one woman running away from an event his group sponsored, “saying that if she listened to us, she would go to hell. I just sat there thinking, ‘Wow! We’re really that awful?’ “
He is braced for the next few weeks. It is what he calls the radical Christians that are making the most noise, Joel Guttormson said.
“I’ll spend more time defending this than anything else,” he said. “I’ve already learned that anything we do is not going to satisfy them. Anything we do or say is only going to make them more angry.”
I had only one more question:
Have the billboards, which will remain up through Dec. 14, worked?
“We’ve gotten fairly good response from a lot of like-minded people, including some people from out of state who heard about what we are doing,” Joel Guttormson said.
“The cool thing is we’ve even had some Christians step up and defend us. They know our message is no more offensive than one that reads:
“Believe in God? You’re not alone.”