The image above was designed as a billboard to be put up during the Christmas period by Cyprus FreeThinkers. From left to right, it shows Isis and Horus, Devaki and Krishna, and Mary and Jesus. The slogan reads, “The myth repeats itself,” as a reference to accepted historical and anthropological scholarship concluding that the stories and associated symbolisms of such mythical figures are recycled from culture to culture.
With €400 secured from member donations, we contacted five billboard companies: Niche, Megapanel, Megaprint, Superad, and Philandreou. All of them refused our billboard design, either on hearing that it will be religious-themed coming from us, or upon seeing the design.
The reasons given were obvious: this billboard is considered offensive for this time of the year; and they are afraid of vandalism. Both these reasons are disgraceful and unacceptable.
Offence is a meaningless complaint in a free and democratic society, as any European country is supposed to be. Any attempt to limit offence goes against the very idea of freedom – especially freedom of speech and freedom of expression. If anyone gets irritated by our billboard, they are free to discuss it with us – we don’t hide online or in real life.
But this is all beside the point, because this billboard can only be considered truly offensive by those who wish to remain wilfully ignorant about their beliefs. Such people do not deserve intellectual respect and their feelings should be disregarded as irrelevant.
And therein lies the problem. The Eurobarometer Poll 2005 found that 90% of Cypriots believe in God (mostly the Greek Christian Orthodox version of him). A 2007-2008 Gallup Poll found that over three quarters of Cypriots find that religion is important in their lives. These are the people that are ignorant about their beliefs, and they’re the product of a society that systematically brainwashes and indoctrinates its children from birth through socially-mandated baptisms and regular church visits; through compulsory religious education that encompasses nothing more than the parroting of Christian Orthodox dogma; and through the political and cultural power of priests working in untaxed churches dotted on every street corner, or living in lavish gold-draped monasteries and preaching the value of humility and worldliness while wearing bejewelled hats.
This is a country where the ridiculous irony of that last sentence escapes the general population. This is a country that is in the midst of an economic crisis, but still insists on protecting and donating money to its parasitic holymen (no, there are no women priests to be found). This is a country where a priest can set the public school biology curricula, make an entire section on Noah’s Ark to teach 12-13 year olds, and get away with it with not a whisper of a protest.
This state of affairs is pathetic, and it can all be traced back to the zombie-like hordes of blind believers. Of course this billboard was going to be offensive to them – it’s supposed to be a slap in the face for them. But then again, any commentary that’s not praising their religion will offend them. They cannot be accommodated for, unless we bow down to their precious feelings and sensibilities.
This is exactly what the billboard companies that refused us have done. They have let the tyranny of the masses dictate the limits of what a minority like us can do: don’t make ourselves known. Be invisible. Don’t speak up, lest we cause an altercation and hurt some ignorant sheep’s feelings.
This brings us to the second reason they have refused us: they’re afraid of vandalism, partly due to past incidents with offended religious people, such as an advertisement showing the usual half-naked lady, but on a billboard near a church. Such a display is an offence unto the Lord, and the billboard was promptly destroyed with paint.
In a way, the billboard companies are acting logically by refusing our billboard. It would most probably have gotten vandalised, costing both us and the company a lot of money. But this is exactly how freedom of expression gets curtailed: by automatically bending over to the will enforced by the majority.
There is a silver lining to all of this. While this travesty is damning, it’s emblematic of a much deeper issue that affects all of us in Cyprus, and we have an excellent case to highlight it with now, a case that can also be applied to many other countries where freethinker groups face the same type of discrimination.