You’ve probably been following the story behind the atheist bus adverts which are currently running in London, but just in case, here’s a quick precis.
It all started with an article in The Guardian concerning religious advertising on the side of buses. The author was irritated that while normally you need to provide evidence to back up your claims for adverts, it was apparently acceptable for this one to point people to a website which proclaimed that unless you accept God into your life:
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).
Apparently quoting from the Bible on an advert is fine and since the rest of the content was on a website, that’s out of the Advertising Standards Authority‘s (ASA) domain. The author then suggested that if you could raise £23,400 then you could run an atheistic advert on the side of a bendy-bus for two weeks in London. The phrasing
There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life
was proposed, since the use of the word ‘probably’ protected Carlsberg from litigation and a Just Giving campaign created to try and raise the money. The British Humanist Association agreed to administer the scheme, Richard Dawkins agreed to match all donations up to a maximum of £5,500 pounds and a target total of £11,000 was set, enough to run two sets of atheist adverts on 30 London buses for four weeks.
From there, to say the campaign was successful would be slightly understating it. To date, they have raised £150,485, just slightly over the original target (by 2400%!) and the adverts have now spread across the UK and onto the London Underground.
The campaign hasn’t been without detractors however. One bus driver in Southampton has refused to drive any buses carrying the commercial and is being accommodated by his employers (I hope for their sake that they don’t have vegetarians refusing to drive buses advertising animal products, pacifists with buses advertising the army or even atheists refusing to drive around religious adverts or they could be facing a scheduling nightmare!).
The most entertaining objections have come from the Christian Voice and their representative, Stephen Green. They launched an objection, to the ASA saying that ‘the advertisments (sic) break the ASA’s codes on substantiation and truthfulness‘, presumably completely missing the irony inherent in that statement. That left us with the potentially fascinating eventuality of the ASA being required to determine the existence or not of God, a trial which would have topped even Scopes.
Wisely, but disappointingly for those of use looking forward to seeing the proofs of God’s existence, the ASA declined to get involved, saying that the advert wasn’t in breach of the code.
The ASA Council concluded that the ad was an expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation. Although the ASA acknowledges that the content of the ad would be at odds with the beliefs of many, it concluded that it was unlikely to mislead or to cause serious or widespread offense.
The Christian Voice’s response to this was eyebrow raising by any standards:
‘If the ASA had thought the humanists could provide evidence for their claim, they would have asked them for it. As they know there is no evidence for the proposition that ‘there is probably no God’, they have let their secularist friends off the hook. ‘I debated this issue secularists five times in recent days, and despite repeated challenges, they could not once come up with anything to back up their claim that there is ‘probably no God’.
‘We always knew the ASA was just another tool of the politically-correct secularist establishment, but here’s the proof. Their ruling is a good example of how the deck is stacked against Christians today, and the Church needs to wake up to the anti-Christian agenda right now.
I’m not exactly sure how Stephen Green expected the ASA to prove either the existence or non-existence of God, but to say that by not upholding his complaint they are ‘letting their secularist friends off the hook‘, you have to wonder how he was planning to prove that God does exist. I can’t prove that there isn’t an invisible elephant (which is undetectable by all known means) sitting in my front room at the moment, but I’d say that the balance of probabilities suggests that there isn’t.
However, rather than just leave it there, he manages also to get a dig in at homosexuality
‘On ‘taste and decency’, the ASA have simply taken a subjective decision to dismiss the complaints of offensiveness. On planet ASA, complaints from people of faith are not given the same weight as those from secularists. But what do you expect when the ASA council is appointed and run by a campaigning homosexual, Chris, Lord, Smith of Finsbury?’
And what about all those pesky teenagers who might want to protect themselves against cervical cancer?
Last week, it ruled against an advertorial Christian Voice placed in the New Statesman, after just one solitary complaint that a prediction that every Government initiative on teenage sexuality would increase teenage infertility could not be substantiated.
That ‘advertorial‘ said:
‘There is a Biblical principle that we reap what we sow. It applies to nations as well as to individuals. What politicians sow, the people reap. When politicians sow evil, the people reap misery, and the poorest reap it the worst”. The ad went on to describe the detrimental impact of government policies and legislation on society. It included the text “Now we have the disaster of teenage infertility. Every government initiative, including the HPV vaccine, will increase it, but as all the targets revolve around pregnancy, no-one in power knows how many young people they are making sterile and nobody cares”.’
Those interfering secularists at the ASA demanded
‘robust, scientific evidence that the HPV vaccine caused infertility in teenagers’
Scientific evidence? How unreasonable. After all, look where we’d end up if we relied on that:
‘It is a good job the Advertising Standards Authority was not around when the Old Testament was written, or we would be missing half the Christmas story. The ASA would have wanted Isaiah to substantiate his claim that ‘a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son’ (Isa 7:14). They would have demanded ‘robust, scientific evidence’ that virgins can conceive.
Yep, that one might have come up in the Atheist bus ruling too, except of course that’s a mistranslation anyway. Funny how atheists seem to know more about the Bible than many believers, but we’re getting off the point.
According to the Christian Voice:
the secularists will take us further down the road to their hell on earth.
But it seems to me so far in this campaign, all the atheists have done is encouraged people to
Stop worrying and enjoy your life
Whereas Christian Voice seem to be the ones doing all the condemning. In any case, the campaign seems to be spreading worldwide now, so Stephen Green had better get used to it.
It’s only fair to point out that other, more sensible, religious groups have welcomed the campaign:
..the Methodist Church said it thanked Professor Dawkins for encouraging a “continued interest in God”.
Spirituality and discipleship officer Rev Jenny Ellis said: “This campaign will be a good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life.”
She added: “Christianity is for people who aren’t afraid to think about life and meaning.”
That’s having confidence in the robustness of your belief at least.
Bus advert photo: © Jon Worth / British Humanist Association
Tube advert photo: Loz Flowers / Flickr / Creative Commons