Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Being in peoples faces

London bus with atheist ad, and Richard DawkinsHave you noticed how people often say that you have a right to your opinion or belief as long as you don’t shove it in their faces, while they, at the same time, shove theirs in yours and see nothing wrong with that?

Here’s a case in point. Perhaps you’ve heard about the atheist ads that’ve recently been placed on London buses. Highly toned-down atheist ads, mind: they allow that there may be a God, but they say there “probably” isn’t:


Here’s the, um, genesis of the ad campaign:

LONDON — The advertisement on the bus was fairly mild, just a passage from the Bible and the address of a Christian Web site. But when Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer, looked on the Web site in June, she was startled to learn that she and her nonbelieving friends were headed straight to hell, to “spend all eternity in torment.”

That’s a bit extreme, she thought, as well as hard to prove. “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,” Ms. Sherine wrote in a commentary on the Web site of The Guardian.

And then she thought, how about putting some atheist messages on the bus, as a corrective to the religious ones?

Hoping to raise on the order of $8000, Ms Sherine and other organizers started collecting donations. In just four days they got 18 times that, and they now have over $200,000. The bus ads went up in London on the last day of 2008.

As one might expect, there are those who approve, those who don’t, and those who are just amused. Going back to what I said at the beginning of this post, here’s one of the disapprovers:

Not always positively. “I think it’s dreadful,” said Sandra Lafaire, 76, a tourist from Los Angeles, who said she believed in God and still enjoyed her life, thank you very much. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t like it in my face.”
Indeed. Welcome to our world, Ms Lafaire. Walk around New York City. Or your own Los Angeles. Or nearly anyplace else. It’s hard to turn a street corner without seeing a church — a church that’s often sporting a message about God or faith. It’s hard to go a day without hearing someone, from a shop owner to the President of the United States, saying that God will (or should, or might, we hope) bless you. There are Christian billboards all over the place, telling us that we need saving.

Many of us don’t like that in our faces either. I don’t. But I accept it without much complaint, because it’s there, and it will be there whether I want it or not, because those who say it have a right to, and because I can ignore it if it bothers me.

And this isn’t really a “tit for tat” thing. Isn’t it nice to have an alternative view out there too, to stimulate discussion? Or is such discussion too threatening?

I wonder why that might be.


Michelle said...

I'm sure that the christians who are outraged at this won't see the irony of course, that perhaps those of the ungodly persuasion are a little tired of having their deity shoved in their faces on frequent occasions.. and people do get literally in your face about it, whether it's crazies or those youth group types, something you see almost never see from atheists. Except for Normal Bob Smith, in fact he's probably the only one and I think he's doing it somewhat ironically. So yeah.. what you said :)

Thomas J. Brown said...

We (atheists) are getting sick of it, especially because a lot of Christian groups seem to have launched unprovoked attacks against us. Oddly, their false claims from a few years ago that a massive war against Christianity was underway have led to the claims becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. The take-away, I feel, is push and we'll push back.

I'm the president of the Spokane Secular Society here in Spokane, WA. We have been talking with the Inland Northwest Freethought Society about trying to get some billboards up in the area, if only to add some balance to the "discussion."