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Christians respond to atheist ads on UK buses

It started early this year when buses started appearing in London with advertisements plastered on the side telling people ‘There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life’.

Welcomed by some Christians and condemned by others, the controversial campaign was sparked when comedy writer Ariane Sherine – reportedly annoyed by Christian ads on buses which included a warning that people who reject God will go to hell – wrote about wanting a countering ad on the side of a bus on an online forum.

The idea was then taken up by the British Humanist Association and has received some high profile support, including from avowed atheist Richard Dawkins.

The concept now appears to be spreading. While a similar campaign hasn’t hit Australia – the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s bid to copy their British counterparts was stymied when their ads were rejected by ad company APN Outdoor – in Canada a group called the Freethought Association of Canada has started fundraising with the aim of funding a campaign using the same wording on buses, initially in Toronto, while the Humanist Association of Canada is also looking to run a bus campaign with its own message – ‘You can be good without God’.

Some Christians have called for the calls for the ads to be removed – this lead to the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK ruling they don’t contravene the advertising code – and there have been reports that one Christian bus driver has refused to drive buses carrying the adverts. In the latest salvo, a coalition of Christian groups have responded with campaigns of their own.

The Christian Party, Trinitarian Bible Society and the Russian Orthodox Church have joined in running pro-God campaigns for two weeks in London this month. These will carry a series of three slogans – that created by the Christian Party’s Rev George Hargreaves – ‘There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life’; that of the Russian Orthodox Church – ‘There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy life’; and, that of the Trinitarian Bible Society, which draws on Psalm 53:1 – ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’.

Meanwhile in Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination – the United Church of Canada – has also launched it’s own campaign, running ads which run the wording of London’s atheist campaign alongside those of its own – ‘There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ – and directing people to a website where they can discuss faith matters.

“We thought it was a good opportunity to talk about God,” Rev Keith Howard told Ecumenical News International. “It seems particularly appropriate at a time when God is being called upon to sanction everything from football to wars.” 

Simon Barrow, of the UK-based religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, says that ads simply reflect the reality that people lived in a “mixed-belief society”.

“Being offended that other people think differently to you achieves nothing. We need to learn to talk and listen to one another better,” he says. 

“The larger issue in all this is the way that beliefs, religious and otherwise, are increasingly being ‘commodified’ in a consumer culture – sold like products. But what convinces people of the value of a way of life or belief is its fruit in good lives, not an endless endless cycle of propaganda and anti-propaganda.”

“Given the suffering, conflict and injustice in the world, one would hope that people of faith and people of general good will would want to find common purpose through investing in humanitarian causes rather spending a vast amount of money sloganeering.”

– with LEANNE LARMONDIN, of Ecumenical News International.


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