BRITAIN: Churches say 'atheist buses' promote discussion about God

January 13, 2009

Major Christian denominations in Britain have said a month-long poster campaign on buses throughout the country promoting atheism will encourage debate and interest about God.

Oxford University evolutionary biologist, Professor Richard Dawkins, in early January launched the first of 800 buses on regular routes throughout Britain bearing the slogan, "There's probably no God -- now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Further advertisements are scheduled to follow on underground metro systems quoting religious sceptics such as Albert Einstein, Katharine Hepburn and author Douglas Adams.

Comedy writer Ariane Sherine told broadcasters she devised the Atheist Bus Campaign, paid for by public donations mainly in small sums and organized by the British Humanist Association. She said she did this partly because she objected to a religious advertisement on a bus, which directed the public to a website, which threatened those who rejected God with "torment in hell."

Christian Voice, an advocacy group, has called for the advertisements to be taken down on the grounds that they breach the Advertising Standards Authority code. Many Christian denominations, however, say they want to encourage debate about the view displayed on the posters.

"I think there should be more conversation, not less, between atheists and agnostics and believers," the Rev. Stephen Wang, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales, told Ecumenical News International. "We're all trying to ask the big questions about the universe, and about human life; and despite what some people think, we should all be trying to use our minds as well as our hearts to find some proper answers. When people say that there is a battle between science and religion, between reason and faith, it's simply not true."

A unidentified spokesperson for the Church of England said it defended the right of any group representing a religious or philosophical position to promote its views.

"However Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life," the church spokesperson added. "Quite the opposite: our faith liberates us to put this life in proper perspective. Seven in 10 people in this country describe themselves as Christian and know the joy that faith can bring."

The Rev. Jenny Ellis of the Methodist Church, said, "We are grateful to Richard [Dawkins] for his continued interest in God and for encouraging people to think about these issues. This campaign will be a good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life."

The Advertising Standards Authority says it received about 50 complaints during the first week of the campaign.

Further information about the Atheist Bus Campaign is available here.

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