Monday, February 9, 2009

The Trouble with Religion and Buses

A storm has been brewing in Britain, and it is starting to spread. Last month, in response to a newspaper article by comedy writer Ariane Sherine, the British Humanist Association raised £140,000 (a little over $200,000 US) and launched a poster campaign on the sides of buses. The posters read, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." This slogan cleverly used the same "probably" device Carlsberg beer used years ago in its "Probably the best beer in the world" campaign, avoiding litigation. The Advertising Standards Authority immediately received complaints from Christians, and a story about a Christian bus driver refusing to drive an "atheist bus" made the headlines. The driver eventually agreed to drive the bus if there was no other available, and complaints about the campaign were recently overruled.

Just a few days ago, the campaign ended, and several religious groups have stepped up with their own campaigns. The Christian Party (who are planning to run in June's European Parliamentary elections) have "There definitely is a God; so join the Christian Party and enjoy your life." They also aim to raise money by encouraging people, for a $2 fee, to text "Amen." The Trinitarian Bible Society has "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." (from Psalm 53.2), and the Russian Orthodox Church plans ads that read, "There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don't worry and enjoy your life." In addition, several weeks ago, the British press featured a story about a nurse in North Somerset who had offered to pray for a patient during a home visit. The patient had complained, and the nurse was suspended from duty pending a review. Atheist organization The National Secular Society supported the decision to suspend her. The nurse, who was previously asked to go on a diversity and equality course after a similar incident, was just reinstated.

Three out of four people in the world consider themselves religious. Nevertheless, atheism and agnosticism has gained ground in richer countries, especially in Europe. Some say this is a reaction to the increase in religious fanaticism and faith-inspired terrorism.

Now I see that Humanist organizations want to try the bus campaign in other countries, most notably Canada. Vancouver nixed the idea.

As I noted in my blog article about his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama mentioned non-believers together with Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Now, religious groups are angry that President Obama has been reaching out to atheists.

The issue of atheism and religion is not going away. In the USA, where the First amendment to The Constitution supports a separation of Church and State, it is notable that non-religious Presidential candidates stand little chance of being elected. Contrast this with Britain, where Tony Blair very publicly embraced Catholicism only after his term as Prime Minister had ended.

Where do you stand on this issue? Please do post your comments.


Anonymous said...

I got a laugh when I saw the "God probably doesn't exist" buses, but I also knew that it would just spur a ton of rebuttals from the much-better-funded Christian groups of the world.

*sigh* I wish everyone could just believe what they feel is their truth, and not shove it in anyone else's face, or laws. Write about it, sing about it, have conversations with people who are curious, celebrate it with a group of other like-minded people, but just... fer chrissakes, relax!

Graham said...

I just find it amazing that this all started with a newspaper article. A load of people all chipping in a little money got the atheist bus going.

I'm with you on the believe what you will, but relax about it. More people need to talk about this stuff, without shoving it in people's faces.

And by the way, folks, somechicksings is Arjuna Greist, a folk singer-songwriter and poet with a "queer-happy, anti-establishment, freakazoid, punk-ass manifesta", and an all-round sweetheart! Check her out!

Leora said...


I'm just happy you only mentioned Jews once in this post, and that was in reference to Obama's statement, which was fine with me.

If Jews had a similar logo, it would probably be something like:
"There's a God, and we've got plenty to worry about."

Or from Jewish atheists:
"There's no God, and we've got plenty to worry about."

Nice to meet you!

Graham said...

It's a pleasure meeting you too, Leora. Always great to find another blogger in the locality!

Thanks for sharing the Jewish perspective.