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Dawkin 'bout a revolution

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Dawkin 'bout a revolution
Join me on the atheist bus, Cif readers. You have nothing to lose but your fear of hell

In June, I blogged for Cif about the rather unsettling religious adverts which were running on London buses. These ads featured a link to a website warning that non-Christians would "spend all eternity in torment in hell" if they failed to recognise Jesus Christ other than at the height of passion. A solution, I suggested, was for 4,680 atheists to spread reassurance by each giving £5 towards a bus ad saying: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life."

Given that the blog also featured killer orange juice, lions on the loose and a sticky dog, I didn't think anyone would take it very seriously. I thought perhaps there would be a few comments from theists saying I was a ridiculous human being, and a couple from atheists saying "they'll never let us do this". So I had no strategy or plan at all, and was very excited when dozens of comments began appearing under the article, saying things like "Stick me down for £50! Seriously, get the Paypal details up and let's do it" [batz].

I didn't want to collect people's money until it was clear that the atheist bus would definitely make it onto the road. I called Cif's editor Matt Seaton, who asked Terry Sanderson, head of the National Secular Society, for his thoughts. He posted a comment suggesting that atheists join the NSS instead of donating to the bus. And it would probably all have ended there, if a political blogger called Jon Worth hadn't Photoshopped a picture of the proposed bus slogan and asked if he could set up a Pledgebank page (meaning that people could just pledge their money instead of giving it immediately).

And so on June 20 the campaign began, with a deadline of Friday July 31 listed on Pledgebank — and very slowly, the wheels on the atheist bus began to go round and round. We had only 30 pledges to start with, no funding and no press (except for the original piece), but individual blogs began to report on the idea, with some creating their own slogans. Then Pickled Politics wrote about the campaign twice, Richard Dawkins' website publicised it, and last Thursday, Matthew Parris mentioned it in his column in the Times, suddenly giving us 200 more pledges. Over this period, despite many debates over what the slogan should be, the number of pledges jumped from 30 to 877.

The Daily Telegraph didn't think much of this when it reported the story on Friday, leaving out half the details. "Atheists fail to cough up for London bus ad" it announced, prematurely pronouncing the campaign "dead", while implying that the man on the atheist omnibus is tighter than the lid on a 40-year-old jam jar. "Too few non-believers actually put their hands in their pockets," the piece went on. "A specially-created website had attracted only 877 pledges when its deadline passed on Thursday, far short of the 4,678 people needed."

But while it's true that 877 pledges weren't enough to fund the ad, the fact that 877 atheists took the time to sign up to an unfunded PR-free campaign in just six weeks should hopefully be very encouraging to atheists everywhere. Thank you to all the Cif readers who liked the idea and signed up — although the slogan isn't on a bus yet, you helped it reach the national news, which has generated debate (on radio stations such as LBC as well as across the internet) and hopefully reassured a few people who are truly afraid of the idea of hell and retribution.

The wheels on the bus might have fallen off temporarily, but Jon Worth and I are planning to relaunch the idea in the autumn with a new website and a more proactive campaign. If you'd like to get involved or sign up, please email me at, and we'll email you when it begins. God knows how far we'll get with it, but we could be Dawkin 'bout a revolution.



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