- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

LONDON | An atheist drive to convince people that God doesn’t exist is catching on in a surprising fashion - on the sides of buses in a growing number of countries.

With the concise message “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” the campaign took to the road in Britain this month, while similar drives are under way or planned in Spain, Italy, Canada and Australia.

The British campaign was floated by comedy writer Ariane Sherine in a newspaper column in June, and is intended to reach the majority of the country’s population in some fashion over the next three weeks.

“We could never have imagined it would have gotten this big and we would have raised quite this amount of cash,” campaign co-founder Jon Worth, a political blogger and Web site designer, told Agence France-Presse. “It’s astounding.”

Miss Sherine wrote her column after advertisements began appearing on central London buses directing passers-by to a Web site that told those who did not accept Christianity that they would suffer for eternity in hell.

Soon after the column was published, Mr. Worth contacted Miss Sherine to ask whether he could set up a pledge bank based on her idea. Shortly thereafter, the Atheist Bus Campaign began taking donations with an initial goal to raise $8,200.

To date, the campaign has raised upwards of $190,000, enough to pay for advertisements on 800 buses across Britain - 200 in central London - along with 1,000 posters in London’s Underground trains and two video screens in a popular subway station, all for a full month ending in early February.

In Washington, the American Humanist Association introduced the $40,000 ad campaign before the Christmas holidays. Ads featured on Metro buses proclaimed, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

In Britain, the campaign has struck a nerve among believers, prompting about 200 complaints to Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates commercials here.

The most complaints the ASA has received over an advertisement was 1,600.

The watchdog needs just one complaint to investigate an advertisement, but will wait to decide whether to probe the Atheist Bus Campaign. The ASA judges ads on factors including harm, offense, taste and decency as well as factual accuracy.

“A few religious people have complained to the ASA, which seems rather odd, as if [the ASA] will be able to make a judgment about the evidence on that sort of issue,” said Peter Cave, chairman of the Humanist Philosophers group, which advises the British Humanist Association.

Attempts to engineer a similar campaign in Australia have run into obstacles. The country’s biggest outdoor advertising agency, APN Outdoor, has rejected a bid by the Atheist Foundation of Australia for ad space.

Atheists in Italy and Spain, however, have had more success with their attempts.

Buses with a slogan similar to the Atheist Bus Campaign’s message, translated into Catalan, began appearing on two routes in Barcelona last week. The campaign is scheduled to extend to the rest of the country.

In Italy, meanwhile, buses with the slogan “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him” will begin traversing the northern Italian city of Genoa on Feb. 4.

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