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My week: Ariane Sherine: I'm a believer – in plastering buses with atheist slogans

UPDATE: Another article, from the Irish Times:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2009/0110/1231515455241.html?via=mr

Reposted from:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5488849.ece

ariane, RD, Toynbee & Bus

RED TAPE AND LIES

I haven’t had a conversation for two weeks which hasn’t featured the words “bus” and “launch” and a swear word. I’m the creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign, which was launched on Tuesday, although ordinarily I’m a comedy writer.

The slogan, which is going to be running on 800 buses across the UK, is: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. But before the launch I had so much to do that I was worrying loads and enjoying nothing.

In the days leading up to it, everything I had to do was dull: tasks included “Read public liability insurance policy”, “Amend risk assessment” and “Debrief contractors re erection” (this one sounds like it could be interesting – it isn’t). In addition, I’ve had to lie a lot – when the venue asked suspiciously, “What sorts of events have you organised before?”, I said, “Numerous corporate functions” instead of “My birthday party”.

SITTING ON EINSTEIN

On Monday, the day before the launch, I call all the celebrities, press, builders, lighting, audio, security, barriers, first aid, police, insurance, easels, lectern and bus suppliers. I crawl out of bed on Tuesday morning after a long night awake – I’ve forgotten how to sleep. The adverts we’re unveiling (quotes from famous atheist thinkers) are so large that they won’t fit in the van unless I sit on them. I worry that I’m creasing Einstein with my bum.

By 7am we are in Kensington Gardens. It was minus 5C and my launch outfit was a T-shirt and jeans. Graham Linehan, the atheist writer of Father Ted, warns: “Put a jumper on – if you get pneumonia everyone’ll think it’s the wrath of God.”

IN THE, LAAK, PUBLIC EYE

The press coverage on Wednesday is more positive than I had imagined it would be.

Before the launch I was so anonymous that I could have gone round people’s houses waving the Watchtower around and no one would have blinked. Nobody knew what I looked like – but not by Wednesday. This morning, when I went out, a group of teenagers gasped, “Oh my dayz! Was you, laak, on the telly talkin’ ’bout God?” When I lied and said “No”, they looked dejected and asked, “You got a light?”, which I didn’t.

I apologised for disappointing them in so many ways.

DAWKINS CHIPS IN

Being recognised feels very surreal: I’m used to making wry observations about the news, not being on it. When I wrote a comment article for the web back in June called “Atheists – gimme five”, I had no idea that it would take off. I decided to pitch the piece after seeing evangelical Christian advertisements on red London buses featuring Bible quotes (example: “Jesus died for your sins”) and a website. I visited the site because the adverts looked curiously apocalyptic – and learnt that, as a non-Christian, I was going to “spend all eternity in torment in hell”, burning in a lake of fire.

I’ve always felt truly exasperated at the idea of hell – I think it comes from having parents of two different religions. My family background sounds like the set-up to a joke: my father’s side are Unitarian Universalists, my mother’s are Zoroastrians, and there are a few Jehovah’s Witnesses thrown in, too. As a mixed-race kid, being brought up Christian, the thought that my mother was going to hell merely for coming from a different part of the world seemed nonsensical and cruel.

I couldn’t quite believe that ideas of eternal damnation were being spread from the side of a bus in 2008, so I suggested at the end of the article that all atheists reading it donate £5 to fund a positive, rational counter-advert. The response was phenomenal. Richard Dawkins offered to match the first £5,500 donated, the British Humanist Association offered to support the campaign and in October we launched officially. We expected to raise £5,500 and ended up raising £141,000 – and inspiring countries including the United States, Spain and Italy to launch their own atheist bus campaigns. Sadly, the Australians were banned from launching theirs and they had the best slogan: “Atheism – sleep in on Sunday mornings”.

MY GREAT-AUNT’S VERDICT

Although not atheists, my family have been broadly supportive of the campaign. My 83-year-old Zoroastrian grandmother sewed advert covers for the launch and told me that my devout Jehovah’s Witness great-aunt saw me on BBC News. “What did she say?” I asked nervously. “She said it was very nice,” my grandmother replied.

Maybe the volume on my great-aunt’s TV is broken . . .

Visit the campaign website at www.atheistbus.org.uk




The articles keep coming in: Taking on the believers, one bus billboard at a time - Globe and Mail

TAGGED: CAMPAIGNS, COMMENTARY


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