Remember the atheist bus advertising campaign I posted on here and here? It’s since spread from the UK to other countries, encountering opposition from advertising regulators and a variety of church responses. It’s a way of taking the temperature of how faith and culture sit together around the world.
It all started with a British atheist suggesting that buses carry humanist advertisements as antidotes to religious posters on public transport. Her online article led to tens of thousands of pounds in donations, which were then matched by Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins. The money was spent on hundreds of buses and underground trains in the UK carrying posters during January which declared: "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".
No one minded much (this is Britain, after all), although an evangelical bus driver in the south of England refused to drive one of the buses.
The advert generated complaints to the UK advertising watchdog, which was asked to rule on the accuracy of the statements. (The "probably" was added in order not to fall foul of the guidelines). So far, they’ve resisted.
In Spain, atheists put the message on Barcelona buses in both Castilian and Catalan (Probablement Deu no existeix. Deixa de preocupar-te / Gaudeix la vida), prompting the Archdiocese of Barcelona to respond, a little joylessly, that "faith in God is not a source of worry, nor is it an obstacle to enjoying life".
In Italy, the Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics has run bus ads in Genoa, because that city is the episcopal seat of the president of the Catholic bishops’ conference. But their planned message -- La cattiva notizia e che Dio non esiste. Quella buona, e che non ne hai bisogno -- "the bad news is that God doesn’t exist. The good news is, you don’t need him" (*) -- was turned down by the advertising regulator, prompting an old-fashioned accusation by the UAAR that "pressure from the local Catholic Church" was behind the surprise ruling (in fact, local conservative politicians).
But a new slogan has been given the green light. It reads: La buona notizia è che in Italia ci sono milioni di atei. Quella ottima è che credono nella libertà di espressione - "the good news is that in Italy there are millions of atheists. The fantastic news is that they believe in freedom of expression". (Hmmm. Is there no better news?)
In Australia the campaign ran aground when the country’s biggest outdoor advertising agency rejected a bid by the Atheist Foundation of Australia for ad space. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, planned messages included "Sleep in on Sunday mornings" and "Celebrate Reason", which have a laid-back, barbie-on-the-beach feel to them. (Full marks, incidentally, to Fr Peter McGrath of St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Paddington, Sydney, who supports atheists’ right to advertise.)
Also rejected was a bid by the Freethought Association of Canada -- at least in Halifax, Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, B.C., London, Ont., and Ottawa. But Toronto and Calgary - land of cowboys, oil wells, and freedom of expression - have allowed the ads. In Calgary, a group calling itself "God Exists" has fired back with ads on eight buses which read, "God cares for everyone … even for those who say He doesn’t exist!", which is cute.
And no problems with the ad in Montreal, where the Quebec Humanist Association has placed the slogan Dieu n’existe probablement pas. Alors cessez de vous inquieter et profitez de la vie on 10 buses. According to the Association, the campaign is "a call for discussion and rationality" -- which seems an odd thing to pay to promote on a bus.
South of the border, let’s hear it for the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign -- branding: pink and yellow tulips -- which has got as far as teaming up with the American Humanist Association. Not a lot has happened yet, but the AHA is campaigning with the slogan: "why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’s sake." In Seattle, there are plans for an ad campaign on 1 April, the "atheists’ holiday".
(The Seattle Atheists were horrified, it turns out, by a rogue ad that went up in the Capitol last December, which read: "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds". "That sign wasn’t pro-critical thinking and it wasn’t pro-questioning the status quo. That’s not who we are," says a representative of the group, who prefers to use quotes from the founding fathers - see a sample here.)
Back in Europe, the German buskampagne -- their choice: lavender-colour daisies -- has got a flat tire after transit authorities in Berlin, Cologne and Munich turned down their choice of ad. As Tom Heneghan at Reuters reports, the campaign asked contributors to choose among different suggested formats. The successful slogan says in the first line --
ES GIBT (MIT AN SICHERHEIT GRENZENDER WAHRCHEINLICHKEIT) KEINEN GOTT
-- which translates as: "It is a probability, bordering on certainty, that there is no god*
How dour of the authorities to turn this one down. It would have brought Teutonic rigor to humanist doubt.
Incidentally, you can generate your own bus slogans here.
(*Should that be ’Him’? Discuss.)