My week: Ariane Sherine: I'm a believer – in plastering buses with atheist slogans
By ARIANE SHERINE, TIMES ONLINE
Added: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 00:00:00 UTC
UPDATE: Another article, from the Irish Times:
RED TAPE AND LIES
I havenât had a conversation for two weeks which hasnât featured the words âbusâ and âlaunchâ and a swear word. Iâm the creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign, which was launched on Tuesday, although ordinarily Iâm a comedy writer.
The slogan, which is going to be running on 800 buses across the UK, is: âThereâs probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your lifeâ. 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 âRead public liability insurance policyâ, âAmend risk assessmentâ and âDebrief contractors re erectionâ (this one sounds like it could be interesting – it isnât). In addition, Iâve had to lie a lot – when the venue asked suspiciously, âWhat sorts of events have you organised before?â, I said, âNumerous corporate functionsâ instead of âMy birthday partyâ.
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 – Iâve forgotten how to sleep. The adverts weâre unveiling (quotes from famous atheist thinkers) are so large that they wonât fit in the van unless I sit on them. I worry that Iâm 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: âPut a jumper on – if you get pneumonia everyoneâll think itâs the wrath of God.â
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 peopleâs 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, âOh my dayz! Was you, laak, on the telly talkinâ âbout God?â When I lied and said âNoâ, they looked dejected and asked, âYou got a light?â, which I didnât.
I apologised for disappointing them in so many ways.
DAWKINS CHIPS IN
Being recognised feels very surreal: Iâm 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 âAtheists – gimme fiveâ, 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: âJesus died for your sinsâ) and a website. I visited the site because the adverts looked curiously apocalyptic – and learnt that, as a non-Christian, I was going to âspend all eternity in torment in hellâ, burning in a lake of fire.
Iâve 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 fatherâs side are Unitarian Universalists, my motherâs are Zoroastrians, and there are a few Jehovahâs 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 couldnât 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 Â£5 to fund a positive, rational counter-advert. The response was phenomenal. Richard Dawkins offered to match the first Â£5,500 donated, the British Humanist Association offered to support the campaign and in October we launched officially. We expected to raise Â£5,500 and ended up raising Â£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: âAtheism – sleep in on Sunday morningsâ.
MY GREAT-AUNTâS 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 Jehovahâs Witness great-aunt saw me on BBC News. âWhat did she say?â I asked nervously. âShe said it was very nice,â my grandmother replied.
Maybe the volume on my great-auntâs TV is broken . . .
Visit the campaign website at www.atheistbus.org.uk
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