What’s an Atheist Bus Campaign?

In short, it’s putting advertising messages on buses that promote in a positive and friendly way a Rationalist/Humanist view of the world. Also, to act as an alternative voice to religious advertising in New Zealand and around the world.

How did the Atheist Bus Campaign start? Is this like the UK one?

Yes, the original campaign started in London, England. It all began when the UK writer Ariane Sherinesaw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

Taken back by this, Sherine decided to write a comment piece for The Guardian about the experience. In this article, she suggested to her readers:

[if all atheists reading this] contribute £5, it’s possible that we can fund a much-needed atheist London bus ad with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and [enjoy] your life.”

This idea was met with positive and enthusiastic replies in the comment section, and after an informal period of fundraising, the UK Atheist Bus Campaign launched on Tuesday October 21 2008 with the initial fundraising target of £5500. This was surpassed in a matter of hours. The UK campaign has so far raised more than £135000 and has been featured widely in the press and the buses have been seen on the streets of London and cities across the UK since January 2009.

Like good ideas have a tendency to do, the campaign has spread around the world, with similar campaigns being run in the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia, Finland and Germany.

Now it’s New Zealand’s turn…

Why only “probably” no god?

We decided to stick with the original UK campaign’s message and design. Quite simply, we like it and want to support it.

The UK Campaign used “probably” for two reasons. The first was for legal reasons associated with the use of “probably” in other public advertising campaigns, such as the famous Carlsberg ads – “probably the best lager in the world”. Here “probably” helped to ensure the ads didn’t breach advertising codes in the UK.

The second reason, and the more interesting one, is that “probably” is actually a great word. The use of a modifier such as probably supports the view that although there is no scientific evidence for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist – just as it is impossible to prove anything doesn’t exist.

As Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, saying “there’s no God” is taking a “faith” position. He writes: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”. His choice of words in the book is “almost certainly”; but while this is closer to what most atheists believe, “probably” is shorter and sweeter, which is helpful for advertising.

Why say ‘stop worrying’?

It’s a catchy, ad-friendly way of expressing the idea that you do not need to feel any of the worry or guilt that may exist in your life associated with religion. Especially in regard to such things as the Christian ads to which the UK Campaign was a response to, which linked to a website that promised non-Christians and eternity of torment in a lake of fire.

Why say ‘enjoy your life’?

The best answer for this comes from the UK Campaign’s FAQ: People who do not believe in gods or other supernatural things, do not usually believe in life after death. Humanists believe that death is the end of our personal existence, that we have only one life and must make the most of it – as Robert Ingersoll, a nineteenth century American humanist said, ‘The time to be happy is now!’

How are you funding this?

The ads on the buses will be entirely funded through donations by individual donors.

Where will the buses be?

We hope to start the campaign with ads on buses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Depending on our donation success, other cities will hopefully be next.

Once the buses are out there on the street we will be sure to publish their numbers and routes so you can track one down to see.