Atheists vs. Church: May the Best Ad Win

Okay, I have to admit that I found this story (more here) highly amusing. Apparently, anyone spotting bus ads in Madison, WI is in for a treat: atheist and religious ads, each proclaiming their viewpoint. Apart from being amusing as all hell, this is such an incredible waste of money for both groups that it makes me cringe (okay, that’s too strong, but I did roll my eyes). What’s the point? I mean, I believe in God, no ad on the side of a bus (or anywhere else for that matter) will change that fact. Likewise, I’m sure that no atheist is going to be stuck in traffic, muttering about what a pain that is, see a bus with an ad proclaiming the existence of God and be converted on the spot.

I really don’t understand why atheists (and believers for that matter) insist on pushing their views on others. Yes, I get the freedom of speech thing, and of course the transit system in Madison must be thrilled by the ad revenue. But what’s the point? Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), both messages fall on deaf ears. Well, I guess other atheists (and believers) will see the ad and nod in agreement with whichever point of view they already hold, but belief in God, and I’m guessing not believing in God, isn’t something you determine based on an advertisement. I’ve had long (usually frustrating) conversations with atheists, and I’ve never yet agreed with their position nor have I entertained doubt about my own as a result of these conversations (though I have been angered by more than one atheist’s sanctimonious(!), poor you, don’t you wish you were clever and had all the answers like me attitude).

But perhaps it’s the celebrity endorsement that is meant to sway readers? I mean if Katherine Hepburn says there’s no God . . . .
Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Atheists vs. Church: May the Best Ad Win

  1. “I really don’t understand why atheists (and believers for that matter) insist on pushing their views on others.”Perhaps because there are supporters to be won and, in some cases, there is money in it. It’s odd isn’t it that we have not heard a thing over the years about the many numerous ads that have been in placed religious groups, but when a comedian in the UK, starting with nothing more than an idle musing on her blog, starts a campaign for an equivalent atheist ad campaign, suddenly there is all this media attention, which I have to say has been just great for the campaign, which has now gone global.The original bus ad in this country said something, “There probably is no God, so get on and enjoy your life”. Mildly mocking of religious ads that usually proclaim with such certainty, but on the whole a relatively innocuous message. I had not really given the campaign much credit though, until a fringe Christian movement challenged the atheist ad through the Advertising Standards Authority, on the basis that the ad could not be put out there as it could not be justified, as there was clear evidence of Gods existence.The Christian Party responded with an ad that said, “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life”. I was left bemused by the entire episode I have to say, as here is an ad making a positive claim and trying to drum up business. I sometimes think it would be better if both ‘sides’ just ignored each other. The Atheist Bus Campaign would not have gone global if there had not been such a hostile reaction from a certain section of the more vocal Christians. It column inches from Christian columnists saying what a daft idea it was, but yet here they are writing about it.I agree with you that ads such as this are not going to gain converts [or deconverts], but they may attract fence sitters sympathetic to the cause as it were. Religious groups and denominations have advertised for eons, so for them, I guess that is more about differentiating themselves in the hope of bringing in converts to their particular brand. The religious marketplace is very competitive after all, especially in the States.Beliefs about the existence or non-existence of God, should in my view be a personal matter, although I am not going to get upset about some inconsequential bus ads. Religion needs a voice in the ‘public square’ too, but where you and I are going to have disagreements is on where to draw that line in the sand [e.g. teaching creationism in schools]. There are issues worth arguing about where, depending on your view, religion goes too far or does not go far enough, and those are the things where attention should be focused, without, either side of the line lapsing in the language of victimisation that is all too readily employed these days.

  2. personally i’d really like it if people would talk less about their religious beliefs. i don’t really want to know. just like i can’t imagine why anyone would care what mine are. it’s a personal thing that i don’t think is anyone’s business.

  3. Hey Fabi, I’m not upset in the least by the bus ads, I think it’s funny as hell. I think it’s interesting that you talk about gaining fence sitters and supporters, though, as if personal belief in a higher power were some sort of contest to be won (like a political campaign). Personally, I don’t care who believes what, but I do know that this sort of ad can’t possibly make a difference to anyone (someone “sitting on the fence about their belief in God is already sort of a nonbeliever, no?).It’s funny, I don’t recall ever being “taught” creationism in a public school, but I didn’t go to a religious school (most of which are private here). I was taught Darwinism/evolution, though, not that it had any influence on my religious beliefs or spiritual practices. I don’t really see a problem with schools teaching both if that’s what the tax payers (who are, after all, paying for the schools) in that school district want. I have issues with the imposition of “atheist beliefs” (not that I think evolution is “atheist,” it’s pretty straightforward scientific hypothesis) on people, but then, as I’ve said here and elsewhere, I have issues with the imposition of Christian (or any other religion’s) beliefs on people. I don’t think that teaching creationism or putting up a Christmas tree really constitutes imposition, though. Likewise, these ads, actually, I just think they’re funny and ultimately pointless.

  4. I hear you, Kerry, I don’t really talk about my beliefs (other than to say that I am a Christian who doesn’t go to church ;)), either. Not because I don’t think anyone would care (but you’re right, why would they?) but because it’s personal to me. As you’re saying here, really. I definitely don’t get the need that some people seem to have to justify or defend their beliefs; again, I don’t see the point in it.

  5. And Fabi, I must live under a rock because I honestly can’t say that I’ve seen any religious advertising (outside of the sign on church lawns), so I’m a bit bemused by your sense that there is some kind of church ad war over here. I have seen ads for television shows by particular preacher-types, but I’m not sure that the sort of thing you are talking about really goes on in the general media (again, if you watch some religious network or read a religious site, I imagine you’d find that stuff, but you’d really have to look for it). At least, that’s my sense of it here in the States.

  6. Hey Fuzzy…Just a marginal note, here… Have you seen Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous”, yet? My understanding of this documentary is that he tries to explore a few side streets off the avenue you mentioned above (specifically pushing views upon others) by asking legitimate, direct questions. I quickly read an online review (which included quotes from Maher himself). Here’s one:“The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong.”

  7. GG!! Hiyas :)) No, I’ve not seen this movie, though I do like Bill Maher. Or I used to when he was on Politically Incorrect.I think that both sides, actually, suffer from “arrogant certitude,” don’t you? I mean the athesists I’ve spoken to and read are dead certain that there is no God. No room for doubt that there might be 😉

  8. Oh, absolutely! The extremists belonging to both groups in my opinion seem adamant to bash not only each other but also innocent bystanders (or observers of bus signage :P) over the head.I’m intrigued by Maher doing these interviews and think I’d like to see this documentary. 🙂

  9. “I think it’s interesting that you talk about gaining fence sitters and supporters, though, as if personal belief in a higher power were some sort of contest to be won (like a political campaign). Personally, I don’t care who believes what, but I do know that this sort of ad can’t possibly make a difference to anyone (someone “sitting on the fence about their belief in God is already sort of a nonbeliever, no?).”Not all believers or non-believers are engaged though. I agree that you are not going to change a particular persons already established belief, but is that all these types of ads are about? I think they are more about hooking in the already sympathetic, but not necessarily actively engaged person. If they ring your hotline or visit your website as a result, then they see what else you are campaigning on and may want to get involved. Indeed, the Atheist Bus Campaign started in this country has already succeeded on its own terms. It has become a significant talking point, thanks in part to the reaction of some Christians to it, and it now the initial money donated has been exceeded it is now another avenue of fund-raising for other charitable ventures pursued by humanist organisations. The media attention has helped the campaign to go global, having caught on with other humanist organisations around the globe. It has its own professional looking website and associated store [there’s the money grabbing aspect] – http://www.atheistbus.org.uk/It’s a bit like the alpha courses that were promoted quite heavily here, with some eye-catching ads and bold statements, which established as a very successful ‘brand’ (See here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1460552.stm). No strident atheist would be going, but by appropriating the language of the life improvement genre (‘The Alpha Course ­ an opportunity to explore the meaning of life starting soon at a church near you.’) it managed to draw people in.The Atheist Bus Campaign itself was a reaction to adverts from JesusSaid.org, which was running ads on London buses quoting scripture and linking to their proselytising website. I think such Christian ads will be successful, not in converting die hard atheists, but because almost three-quarters of the population remains nominally Christian, although the majority are non-practicing. This is a big potential audience for Christian advertising and with times getting tougher and people more anxious, there is always that human inclination to look for answers through something spiritual.

  10. “And Fabi, I must live under a rock because I honestly can’t say that I’ve seen any religious advertising (outside of the sign on church lawns), so I’m a bit bemused by your sense that there is some kind of church ad war over here.”Perhaps I am overstating the matter Fuzzy, but I do think churches, both here and over in the States, are looking increasingly to market themselves. There are marketing solution firms now that specialise in church advertising. There is an increasing sophistication also about marketing churches, so some of the more traditional advertising of billboard and flyers is being replaced by clever combinations of websites and online advertising. Radio and TV spots remain important too and the amounts of money being spent are not small.A couple of articles in CSM that refer to this trend:http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0316/p01s03-ussc.html?s=widephttp://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0819/p01s03-ussc.htmlI suspect the atheist/humanist ads will be more of a short-term fad and talking point, but I think as traditional aversion for marketing religion recedes, I would say religious advertising will likely increase in the next few years.

  11. Level-headed as always, Fabi! I have to say that talking to you about religion is decidedly painless (thanks for that). Your mention of the fact that a large percentage of the population is Christian but non-practicing is a good one. I don’t know for sure, but I would venture to guess that a good part of that is due to our dissatisfaction with organized religion rather than a dissastisfaction in God or any fence sitting on the belief issue. It’s always interesting to me that atheists (who are not you) point to those of us who don’t go to church or buy into the man-made crap that is most organized religion and say that we are hypocrites or “bad” Christians or whatever. I think it’s highly probably that organized religion is the problem that a lot of people seek to “solve” or escape in their embracing atheism, and I can see why. It’s a horrible mess. And you may be right about religious advertising taking off; again, I’ve not noticed any at all, but then, I don’t watch religious networks or surf those sites. I do, however, doubt that it hits mainstream audiences. We can’t erect a Christmas tree in a public place or allow our students to write religious notes (like “God be with”) at Columbine High School memorials (though I’m pretty sure “Allah be with you” would be A-okay).

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s