Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Getting the message out

From the NY Times. Too good not to share.
LONDON — The advertisement on the bus was fairly mild, just a passage from the Bible and the address of a Christian Web site. But when Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer, looked on the Web site in June, she was startled to learn that she and her nonbelieving friends were headed straight to hell, to “spend all eternity in torment.”

That’s a bit extreme, she thought, as well as hard to prove. “If I wanted to run a bus ad saying ‘Beware — there is a giant lion from London Zoo on the loose!’ or ‘The “bits” in orange juice aren’t orange but plastic — don’t drink them or you’ll die!’ I think I might be asked to show my working and back up my claims,” Ms. Sherine wrote in a commentary on the Web site of The Guardian.

And then she thought, how about putting some atheist messages on the bus, as a corrective to the religious ones?

And so were planted the seeds of the Atheist Bus Campaign, an effort to disseminate a godless message to the greater public. When the organizers announced the effort in October, they said they hoped to raise a modest $8,000 or so.

But something seized people’s imagination. Supported by the scientist and author Richard Dawkins, the philosopher A. C. Grayling and the British Humanist Association, among others, the campaign raised nearly $150,000 in four days. Now it has more than $200,000, and last Wednesday it unveiled its advertisements on 800 buses across Britain.

“There’s probably no God,” the advertisements say. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Spotting one of the buses on display at a news conference in Kensington, passers-by were struck by the unusual message.

Not always positively. “I think it’s dreadful,” said Sandra Lafaire, 76, a tourist from Los Angeles, who said she believed in God and still enjoyed her life, thank you very much. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t like it in my face.”

But Sarah Hall, 28, a visitor from Australia, said she was happy to see such a robust example of freedom of speech. “Whatever floats your boat,” she said.

Inspired by the London campaign, the American Humanist Association started running bus advertisements in Washington in November, with a more muted message. “Why believe in a god?” the ads read, over a picture of a man in a Santa suit. “Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

Although Australian atheists were refused permission to place advertisements on buses saying, “Atheism: Sleep in on Sunday mornings,” the British effort has been striking in the lack of outrage it has generated. The Methodist Church, for instance, said it welcomed the campaign as a way to get people to talk about God.

Although Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Church of England, Britain is a deeply secular country with a dwindling number of regular churchgoers, and with politicians who seem to go out of their way to play down their religious beliefs.

In 2003, when an interviewer asked Tony Blair, then the prime minister, about religion, his spokesman, Alastair Campbell, interjected, snapping, “We don’t do God.” After leaving office, Mr. Blair became a Roman Catholic.

More recently, Nick Clegg, a member of Parliament and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, announced that he was an atheist. (He later downgraded himself to agnostic.)

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, alluded to a popular radio station when he joked that his religious belief was like “the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes.”

Still, since Sept. 11, 2001, religion has played an ever more important role in public discussions, said Mr. Dawkins, the best-selling author of “The God Delusion,” with the government increasingly seeking religious viewpoints and Anglican bishops still having the automatic right to sit in the House of Lords.

“Across Britain, we are used to being bombarded by religious interests,” he said, “not just Christians, but other religions as well, who seem to think that they have got a God-given right to propagandize.”

Next week, the Atheist Bus Campaign plans to place 1,000 advertisements in the subway system, featuring enthusiastic quotations from Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams and Katharine Hepburn.

An interesting element of the bus slogan is the word “probably,” which would seem to be more suited to an Agnostic Bus Campaign than to an atheist one. Mr. Dawkins, for one, argued that the word should not be there at all.

But the element of doubt was necessary to meet British advertising guidelines, said Tim Bleakley, managing director for sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor in London, which handles advertising for the bus system.

For religious people, advertisements saying there is no God “would have been misleading,” Mr. Bleakley said.

“So as not to fall foul of the code, you have to acknowledge that there is a gray area,” he said.

He said that potential ads were rejected all the time. “We wouldn’t, for example, run an ad for an action movie where the gun was pointing toward the commuter,” he said.

But Mr. Bleakley said he had no problem with the atheist bus ads. “We do have religious organizations that promote themselves,” he said. “If somebody doesn’t believe in religion, why wouldn’t we carry an ad that promotes the opposite view? To coin a phrase, it’s not for us to play God.”


Jen said...

“There’s probably no God,” the advertisements say. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Oh wow, that just made my day.

You know, though.... in the U.S., the Christians would mount a protest and the bus companies would pull the atheist ones. Not the God ones that are the exact same thing, of course....

Christie said...

Preaching to the choir, my friend.

Andrew said...

There's a big freedom-from-religion billboard down the street from our house. I was surprised when I saw it--you don't see many openly atheist or anti-religion messages out there, but it's kind of nice to see something balancing out the constant messaging from the various religious organizations. Freedom of speech for all. Yay.

Elizabeth Prata said...

the rest of the story is...

an amazing revival is occurring in London, thousands of British youth in their mid to late twenties and early thirties have come to Jesus. This skeered the Secular Humanist Society, a coupla doors down, so actually the seeds of the campaign headed by straight-to-hell Dawkins was the successful conversion of so many Londoners
according to Time mag:

"Finding Jesus in London"


"an unexpected spiritual awakening among London's high society has gone unnoticed in recent years. Long considered an aggressively secular city, London has quietly become one of Britain's most Christian areas, going from the least observant region in Britain in 1979 to the second most observant today."

"Concerned about the influence of Holy Trinity Brompton on Britain's future ruling class, the British Humanist Association recently partnered with Richard Dawkins, secularist Oxford professor and author of The God Delusion, to raise funds for advertisements to counter the Alpha course's own advertising campaign, with posters on buses carrying an inscription with a similar font to the Alpha's posters: "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," they state."

So I'd pleadingly ask you and Darr to reconsider your position on the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If the atheists were so sure, why didn't they make ads saying "There's no God." It's the 'probably' that gives them away. But what a chance to take, eh? Hell is forever. So's heaven

Christie said...

They had to use the word "probably" because of British advertising guidelines.

I don't think I can fake a belief in God to avoid Hell. If God exists, I'm pretty sure it'd pick up on that. Also, I might be able to believe in God but I'd never be able to put my faith in the bible.

Andrew said...

I was just reading today and came across the name for that particular type of belief. It's called "Pascal's wager". Believe in God because if you do and you're wrong, you have nothing to lose, but if you don't and you're wrong, you burn for eternity.

If I were God and was all-knowing and somebody showed up in Heaven who was pretending to believe for the sake of avoiding Hell, I don't think I would appreciate it much.

Elizabeth Prata said...

Advertising guidelines...

This just in: "An atheist advertising campaign claiming 'there's probably no God' has been reported to the regulator...There is plenty of evidence for God, from people's personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world."

"'But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it,' said Mr Green."

said the litigant. LOL, there's a suit behind every corner no matter what the issue!

No, definitely faking belief is not good. A person has to be open to the Holy Spirit, which draws person toward conviction and belief. My prayers are with you that this would occur.