Today we have yet another example of the law of unintended consequences. This is the process in which certain people don’t think certain things all the way through. Usually the opposite of what they desire ensues.
It concerns a Roanoke resident, Justin True. He’s 32, an ex-Marine, a full-time student and a self-employed lumber grader. He’s married, is the father of two and he’s an avowed atheist. Back in September he founded the small group, Southern Virginia Atheists.
The term “small” is probably an exaggeration. Itty bitty teeny weeny was more like it when True called their first meeting. Six people showed up. He also garnered a little attention appearing before the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, and perhaps in some other forums.
In that process True learned it can be lonely being an atheist in a western Virginia city where there’s almost a church on every street corner. He could see that almost every day, as messages from other nonbelievers trickled into his email account.
“That’s one of the very first things I saw” in emails from other nonbelievers, True told me. “They were like, ‘I can’t believe you guys are here! I’m so glad I found you guys.’” He was glad they found him, too.
The group grew slowly — a person here, a person there. They headed into early December with about 33 members.
Then last month an umbrella group for nonbelievers, the Blue Ridge Coalition of Reason, rented some billboard space from Lamar, an outdoor advertising company, to exercise their First Amendment rights. The signs cost $3,500, and were paid for by the Washington, D.C. based United Coalition of Reason. They will be up until Jan. 16.
There put up four around the Roanoke Valley: in Salem; in Southwest Roanoke near Shaffer’s Crossing; along U.S. 220 in South Roanoke County; and on Dale Avenue near Fallon Park in the city’s southeast quadrant.
The message was designed to be inoffensive, said Paul Hoyt, coordinator of the Blue Ridge Coalition of Reason. It didn’t say “God is Dead,” or “Jesus is a jerk,” or “Christians are crazy.” Instead, it simply and elegantly reached out to other nonbelievers.
“Don’t believe in God?” it read. “Join the club.” It was signed by the Blue Ridge Coalition of Reason.
And that’s when the fat hit the fire, so to speak.
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