The Atheist Bus Campaign

Over at the New Republic Issac Chotiner offers up the following worthy thought:

As a respite from all the talk on cable television yesterday (and today) that the New York plane rescue was in fact a “miracle,” it is nice to see more coverage of the atheist ad campaign currently centered on London buses. (As a side note, and to answer a question asked by Rod Dreher and the great Alex Massie–namely, why are these atheists so “preachy”–the reason might be because every time something like a plane rescue occurs, we are subjected to 48 hours of nonsense and superstition).

Exactly right! See the original for relevant links.

Chotiner was blogging about this article from The Christian Science Monitor describing the recent pro-atheism ads appearing on 800 buses throughout England:

It’s the first mass marketing of atheism in Britain — and many in the community of faith say that’s just fine.

On Jan. 6 some 800 British red “bendy” buses carried the sign: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

The Atheist Bus Campaign organizer, a young comedienne named Ariane Sherine, took exception last June to several London buses swathed with biblical quotes, placed by Christian fundamentalists.

I’m not surprised that many in the British faith community have no problem with the ad campaign. Traditional Christianity is so weak in England that the faith community is already hard to distinguish from the atheist community. I suspect trying the same thing in central Kansas might provoke a less tolerant response.

The article is pretty interesting and worth reading, but it is rather long on the sort of highbrow theological musings so beloved by academics and so ignored by the general public. Here’s a representative sample:

The Lutheran Karl Barth, a leading 20th-century European theologian, wrote the forward to the English language version of Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach’s prominent atheist critique, “The Essence of Christianity.” Barth wasn’t worried about the atheism, says Herman Waetjen, professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, because Barth felt Feuerbach exposed many fault lines, mistakes, social and collective projections, and other falsifications of Christianity that had arisen around the 19th-century church.

“Barth was happy to write a forward to a book that exposed the kind of Christianity he felt to be so unlike the radical God of the Bible he was reading. He saw the value of Feuerbach. So for a campaign like the bus ads that forces us to think — well, I thank them for it,” Professor Waetjen says.

You’re welcome! But while we’re all patting ourselves on the back for our open-mindedness and our thoughtful approach to religious faith, let us also note the existence of people like this:

Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, responded with “shock” and “horror” at the message and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest.

First Bus said it would do everything in its power to ensure Mr Heather does not have to drive the buses.

Buses across Britain started displaying atheist messages in an advertising campaign launched earlier this month.

Mr Heather told BBC Radio Solent: “I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror.

“I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven’t got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did.

“I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God.”

I suspect the Christian Science Monitor could have found a few more people like that to balance out their coverage.


  1. #1 Nalgas
    January 16, 2009

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations now has its ad:

    “ISLAM: The Way of Life of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”

    Americans Against Hate, led by Jewish activist Joe Kaufman, says the ad is misleading because it implies that Abraham, Moses and Jesus were Muslim.

    “That’s offensive to both Jews and Christians,” said Kaufman, a resident of Coral Springs.


  2. #2 Moopheus
    January 16, 2009

    Well, you must admit that for many, in this age of brazenly corrupt and inept politicians, corrupt and inept bankers, businessmen, etc., poor service and shoddy imported goods that don’t last even until the ink on the warranty dries, when a mechanical system and trained professionals do what they’re supposed to do in an emergency, it must have been a miracle.

  3. #3 Gold Dragon 1968
    January 16, 2009

    Living in one of the cities that these buses are running, I’m just watching the whinning and the bullying and the lies from the evangelicals build. The only evangelical that my local paper could find used the standard ALL ATHEIST ARE EVIL BECAUSE HITLER WAS AN ATHEIST lie.

  4. #4 AL
    January 16, 2009

    God may have saved the people on that airplane, but he did nothing for the bird that got sucked into the engine.

    Though I suspect the bird was probably an atheist, so I guess the avian infidel had it coming.

  5. #5 EricJuve
    January 16, 2009

    I live in Oregon, the reaction to the atheist ads was kinda nothing.

    As I had hoped it would be.

  6. #6 Raymond Minton
    January 16, 2009

    So, I’m not the only one who was pissed off at the constant invocation of the word “miracle” in regards to the impromptu jet landing on the Hudson! Listen people, this is 2009. Attributing people’s survival in a disaster to a “miracle” is as anachronistic as blaming witchcraft for crop failure. Those people survived because of a skilled pilot, a well-trained crew, and prompt action by emergency personnel from various government agencies. Their survival is wonderful, but there’s absolutelty no need to evoke the supernatural to explain it. It was refreshing, after getting hit on the head with this malarkey for a couple of days, to read about the atheist bus tour in Britain. At least “across the pond”, they aren’t as mired in superstition and eager to attribute the fortunate ending to a disaster by evoking the supernatural.

  7. #7 Pierce R. Butler
    January 16, 2009

    Aren’t there any buses that believe any more?

  8. #8 bad Jim
    January 16, 2009

    Jon Stewart did a bit on an Air France crash landing a few years ago, showing numerous news outlets calling the survival of the passengers a miracle. Stewart pointed out that it was due to the skill of the crew and that the only arguably miraculous event was lightning striking the plane, suggesting that the crew may have been defying the will of God.

  9. #9 J. J. Ramsey
    January 17, 2009

    Yeah, badJim, I thought of that, too. BTW, here’s Stewart’s bit: Miracle By the Highway.

  10. #10 Al West
    January 17, 2009

    I come from Southampton, and used buses frequently when I lived there. Strange that someone living some close to me, busing around, could have the exact opposite view to the one I hold. Silly man.

  11. #11 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    January 18, 2009
  12. #12 AndrewG
    January 19, 2009

    Every time anyone refers to people surviving a plane crash as a ‘miracle’, I simply point out that what they are saying is that every person who has died horrible, painful, fiery deaths in other plane crashes, could have been saved by god, but he just couldn’t be bothered…

    Oh, sorry, he works in mysterious ways, my bad….

  13. #13 Robert O'Brien
    January 19, 2009

    The atheistic message on the buses is false but fairly innocuous. As for the bus driver, I do not think he should be made to drive buses with those signs on them.

    Aren’t there any buses that believe any more?


  14. #14 Sgt Skepper
    January 21, 2009

    I always find the selective use of words like “miracle” fascinating. Traditionally, religious people believe that god controls nature but that humans uniquely have free will. So let’s get this straight: God sends a big enough flock of geese to take out both engines on a passenger jet, a skillful pilot manages to land the plane safely on water and the whole crew managed to escort everyone to safety and suddenly it’s god that’s done something great??? Pfft I say. Pfft!

  15. #15 Johan
    March 20, 2009

    Karl Barth wasn’t a lutheran, he was a calvinist. Major fail on part of the article writer.

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