Earlier in January 2009, in the United Kingdom a £140,000 campaign to advertize on behalf of atheists and agnostics across the country was permitted after the advertising review board approved the British Humanist Society’s ads earlier this month.
In an article last summer, Ariane Sherine, a comedian, had suggested the campaign to readers of THE GUARDIAN.
Sherine had explained how she had felt a bit too pressed and stressed-out after she had witnessed two successive buses pass her—with both stating: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)
Sherine noted that a website had been provided by the writers of the bus advertisements and she later checked out the website.
The website warned her against her unbelief in Christ and noted, “’You will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell. Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire which was prepared for the devil and all his angels (demonic spirits)’ (Matthew 25:41)”.
In her article, Sherine pondered, “Now, 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. But apparently you don't need evidence to run an ad suggesting we'll all face the ire of ‘the son of man’ when he comes, then link to a website advocating endless pain for atheists.”
NOTE: Not all drivers of buses in the UK agreed to drive such an advertisement.
On the other hand, some churchmen, including the Methodists, appreciated the thought-provoking ads.
What Are Limits To God Speech And Advertising?
In her June 20, 2008 article, entitled ATHEISTS, GIMME FIVE, Sherine states that she had already been busy investigated advertising law in Britain and Europe after her run-in with what she perceived to be a jarring billboard claim about God and the apparent demand to turn from one’s ways.
For example, she had checked out the Advertising Standards Authority and Carlsberg Beer ads. Sherine soon thus discovered that by simply using the word “probably” whenever making one’s advertising claims, one could basically say whatever one wants and not get sued for it.
In this way the firm, Sherine noted, Carlsberg Beer could claim something like “their lager” is "probably the best lager in the world".
Therefore, Sherine in THE GUARDIAN article last June proposed a campaign for atheists and/or agnostics with a sign which states something about hope in it. This could be contrasted to evangelical advertisements which she considered might actually really lead a “just-made redundant” someone to throw himself under a bus next time he loses his job or the next time the stock market crashes, i.e. with him losing his life’s savings.
NOTE: What Sherine really stated was, “Imagine you've had a really bad day and it's only 8.30am. You've spilt killer orange juice all over your crucial work documents, you're pressed up in a tube train against a commuter whose armpit smells like a biological weapon, you're late for work and your only excuse is “I glued my hand to a dog”. You stumble out of the tube and are confronted with the number 168 bus. It tells you that, along with your boss, a man with a beardy face is going to be upset with you forever because you've refused to acknowledge his existence, despite the fact that he's too antisocial to come down here and say hi. You promptly throw yourself under the number 168 bus.”
Later, in 2008, the British Humanist Association and hundreds (or even thousands) of donors got involved in a campaign to realize Sherine’s suggested advertising campaign.One of the bus slogans chosen for the campaign is "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".
According to a recent GUARDIAN article, the advertisements “can already be seen on buses in central London. A total of 200 bendy buses in London and 600 buses across England, Scotland and Wales will carry the slogan from today and tomorrow following a fundraising drive which raised more than £140,000.”
Moving On European-Wide
According to press reports across Europe, the atheist campaign has caught on and there will be similar advertisements on public transports in other cities in Spain, France and Austria.
While this trend appears at first glance to be a big boon or success for humanists, agnostics and/or atheists in Europe--and their rights to free public expression--I am not certain it will catch on nor will it be remembered for what campaigners, like UK’s Richard Dawkins, anticipate.
For example, in the tiny bilingual Church I attended in Wiesbaden, Germany this weekend, the British advertising campaign by atheists became the focal point of the explicative sermon.
First, the German preacher displayed a slide of one of the red double-decker buses in London bearing the sign: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".
That German-speaking minister then proceeded to tell the story of how the author, Ariane Sherine, had first gotten the idea for the campaign (i.e. as outlined above).
The German speaker then noted that Jesus Christ had been quite a reveler in his days on earth.
Jesus had not only made wine from water as a guest at a friend of his mom’s wedding party, but this same Jesus of Galilee had been known to drink lots of wine and hang out gaily, celebrating life with even the most disreputable folk.
NOTE: Many musicals have been written about this man’s life. One joyous one is called CELEBRATE LIFE.
Furthermore, the German preacher continued, citing verses related to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” that life wasn’t only just about what food one eats or the clothes on one’s back. The message for this group of bi-national Christians was the same as what the agnostics in the UK were, in a way, expressing on their bus-bound sideboards, i.e.“Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.
By the way, those “Sermon on the Mount” texts come from the book of Matthew and state something like, “The Lilly of the Field has not thought a moment about what it might wear, but in all its poverty, that flower is nonetheless dressed in finery.”