Eugene Cho

atheist bus ads arrive in seattle

To support and amplify the already pervasive non-religious reputation of Seatte, the atheist bus ads are set to arrive in Seattle.  To refresh your memory, remember my posts from recent months about these bus ads from the UK:  There’s Probably No God and then of course the Christian response:  The Atheist vs Christian Bus Ads

I suspect that in the near future, some Christian group or folks here in Seattle will fund a set of new ads in response to these ads.

And then at that point, I’d like to launch my own campaign and website called:

http://can’twefindbetterthingstoinvestourmoneyinlike-homelesspovertywatereducationmalariaetc.com

Don’t buy that url. It’s mine.  Anyways, in an earlier post, I shared 3 reasons why I think these ads can be good:

1.  Christians shouldn’t feel entitled to anything.  We live in a larger marketplace – if you will – and we need to compete to have our voice expressed and heard.  Maybe it’s my upbringing in San Francisco and living the past 12 years in Seattle but while there are times it’s tiresome, I enjoy living in a culture and context where the culture isn’t dominated by the christianese subculture.  Being a follower of Christ isn’t part of the cultural expectation but a choice that one must live out…

2.  I find it funny that “atheiests” are identified by an opposition to the belief of God.  It’s a reactive belief system.    To atheists:  What is your purpose?

3.  Conversation.  They’ve invested tons of money on these advertisements and frankly, it’s probably been the greatest recent catalyst for conversation about God for many people and churches.  It’s like free advertisement for theists and Christians.

But seriously, we don’t have to go through this in every international city, do we?

From the Seattle PI: Atheists are about to take the city for a ride.

The bus is the pulpit and the bus riders the congregation. A group called Seattle Atheists is planning to display ads inside 40 different city buses. Its message: there’s a community for atheists, too.

“There is a group out there that get together and we talk. There is a sense of community for those who are atheists,” said member Paul Case.

Seattle Atheists are working to rally those who share their though. A Christian organizer suggested April Fool’s Day as the launch date for the ads.

“He said, ‘What these atheists need is their own holiday. How about April 1st? Yeah, April 1st sounds about right,” Case said.

The words on the ads are intended to stir thought, not controversy.

One carries the words of Susan B. Anthony: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

Another features an Albert Einstein quote: “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

“In fact, we do like to build bridges with people who are religious,” Case said.

Pastor Bill Berger of All Saints Church agrees the ads will open trigger conversations.

“I think it’s very honest and it’s an open dialogue,” he said.

Berger believes the bus stamps will likely preach to the choir.

“Much more nuanced than just saying, ‘Here’s what we believe.’ We’re going to do it in a nice way. Christians around the world are trying to be nice about what they believe in, as well its strategy,” said Berger.

Believers send missionaries. Atheist send messages.

“It’s a faith talk. They have faith to believe that there isn’t a God,” said Berger. “What would people think if Christians put up ‘This is what we believe in’ on the city bus, how would we be received? I think that would be an interesting take on this whole thing as well.”

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21 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    “Believers send missionaries. Atheist send messages.” ooooooh I like that!🙂

  2. Katie says:

    wow. i actually think they handled this pretty well. the messages they’re posting really are though-provoking and spur conversation. i was never vehemently against the atheist bus ads in the first place, as some were, but i don’t find any issue with these for sure (other than eugene’s great point of aren’t there other things we should be spending money/worrying about point).

    i will say this though, atheists and evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist christians have way more in common than i think the two groups realize. their tactics are so similar as are their goals (converts). try explaining that to either side. (which i’ve done, which took hours, which ended in them thinking i was stupid on the one side and faithless on the other) i guess as progressive social justice christians our couterparts are the humanists. interesting.

  3. Matthew says:

    Katie, I think you have a good point. You’re right to point out the similarities in tactics and goals, but more broadly, I think even the way they understand God and Christ is similar: in many of my discussions with atheists, the kind of theism they themselves rejected and object to is often the Big-Brother version of God – an old man in the sky watching your every move and recording your every slip-up. Thing is, that isn’t what I believe, and it isn’t (I think and hope) what most Christians believe. That said, though, I also don’t think we should be too quick to dismiss people who may also share some of our priorities in terms of social justice (which I think many atheists and humanists do).

    Best,
    Matthew

  4. mike says:

    a professor last year dropped this one in class regarding the atheist / christian divide:

    “you know what i tell atheists? i don’t believe in the same god you don’t believe in.”

    matthew, sounds like you agree.

  5. shamelesslyatheist says:

    We’ve had the ads running here in Calgary for a good week now. In general, the response has been positive. I wonder at the few that are ‘offended’ by the message we are trying to get out. It’s so innocuous, how can the faith of these people be all that strong if they are offended? The whole point of the bus ad campaigns is to show people that there is another world view out there and it has every bit as much right to be heard as theirs does. The counter ad campaign by religious groups don’t seem to get that and only see the message on the surface itself, not the deeper intent.

    I actually reject all theism, not just the Big Brother version. There is simply a complete paucity of evidence for anything supernatural. So, your professor would have to be an atheist himself to try that one with me. In response, I would simply quote Stephen Roberts –

    “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

  6. lauren e says:

    @shameless–

    I don’t think (for the most part) christians are offended by the ads due to a lack of faith. Faith is an emotional matter. You would be a liar if you told me you didn’t get annoyed or shake your head in dismay when you see some psalm written in a public place. Well, it’s the same feeling.

    As for your statement, “There is simply a complete paucity of evidence for anything supernatural.” To steal a point from my husband, the fact that you wonder, ponder, contemplate beyond basic instinct, in my opinion, is evidence of the supernatural. Where do you get your ability to hope? To love? To wonder?

  7. shamelesslyatheist says:

    “To steal a point from my husband, the fact that you wonder, ponder, contemplate beyond basic instinct, in my opinion, is evidence of the supernatural. Where do you get your ability to hope? To love? To wonder?”

    Simple. It is evolved behavior. Where would our species be without love? Extinct. And make no mistake – love, hate, jealousy, desire – these are all well understood in terms of evolutionary behavior. We are not the only mammalian species to express emotions. Not by far. Chimpanzees are known to express every emotion we do. They even show pretty much every aspect of human behavior, from love to politics. They even wonder, if in (probably) a more limited fashion and . This is exactly what we would expect from evolved behavior. Related species would show the same traits. Indeed, the majority of social mammalian species show such traits, even rodents. No god is required and it is a far more intellectually satisfactory explanation. Actually, chalking anything up to the supernatural is no explanation at all until the mechanism (the how) is answered, and so is intellectually vacuous.

    “You would be a liar if you told me you didn’t get annoyed or shake your head in dismay when you see some psalm written in a public place.” Call me a liar, then. I call it celebration of freedom of speech and I have no problem with that. Fancy that. Why can’t the religious see it that way as well? Or am I just being naive that I should expect respectful behavior towards what I believe? Or should we go back to hiding ourselves and allow the religious right to dictate what freedoms they will allow us? George Bush Sr. is on record for saying atheists should not be considered citizens. Is that the way you see things? I certainly hope not. Atheists are not something to be feared. We just want to be left alone with the same rights and respect that believers have. We’re here and we’re not going away this time.

    But I didn’t come here to get into that kind of argument. I came here because the author of this blog got it right in point 3 above and wanted him to know that. But the reaction to the bus ads in every city it as been initiated in tells me that every city should have this campaign going.

  8. lauren e says:

    So to wrap this up and not make it a bigger issue than it is…because I agree with eugene that we all have far more important things to worry about. Of course, I believe in freedom of speech. I will simply say, as a Christian living in Seattle, I do not know how an atheist does NOT have a voice in this town. I do not fear you.

    Lastly, I do not agree with Bush Sr. (or his son, on anything, for that matter).

    I appreciate your comments for the sake of conversation. It is always my hope that through conversation we can all understand one another a little better. Though maybe never agree. 🙂

  9. Tom says:

    Very entertaining thread. And, in retrospect, blog.

    Almost reads like somebody orchestrated the whole conversation.

    Sort of like a movie script or a novel.

    Very creative and cool. Good for you :^)

  10. Helen says:

    shamelessly atheist, I’m glad you stopped by to share your thoughts.

    I think Christians get offended at various atheist sentiments because they mistakenly think it’s appropriate for them to be offended at anything that they believe God is offended at.

    I think it would be better and they would be more pleasant people to be around if they left it up to God to take offense when he’s offended.

  11. Matthew says:

    Hi, shamelesslyatheist,

    I am in agreement with you that our emotional and rational development can be constatively explained in evolutionary terms. I don’t seek a supernatural explanation for that – that’s not how I roll as a theist. But – as Kierkegaard said – if we could chalk God up to some logical proof, or to some constative, rational explanation of natural phenomena in the universe, theism would be far less interesting and infinitely less fulfilling.

    Way I see it, belief in God and in the divinity of Christ isn’t a matter of explanation or proof, but a matter of choice. I choose to commit myself to a certain religious-aesthetic expression (the why, not the how) of the world which gives my own life choices meaning. If you do not choose to make that commitment, that is your choice and neither I nor anyone else can make it for you. Believe me, I support fully the right of atheists to freely choose what they believe, and to make public statements about it if they so wish.

    Best regards,
    Matthew

  12. shamelesslyatheist says:

    Helen, that was wonderfully said.

  13. Andy M says:

    What is interesting to me is that they chose Seattle, and like Eugene said, it is already a very non-religious place. Atheists may not agree with this statement, but in my reading and hearing, much of atheism is a response to the sins of the established, organized, institutional church (sorry to generalize, but that is how it looks from my perspective). Which is not nearly so prominent in Seattle.

    So why choose Seattle? Why not choose some city in the Bible Belt?

    In Ben Stein’s “Expelled”, he interviews Richard Dawkins and asks him what problems he has with people who believe in a loving God, and Dawkins insists that he doesn’t want to ruin it for people who believe things like that (though he obviously doesn’t believe that the bible shows a God like that). So it seems evident to me that it is against the establishment that an atheist like Dawkins is against.

    So really, why would the atheists choose to put those ads in non-religious cities? It just doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Past that though, they have their right to put ads wherever they want, and it doesn’t make any big deal to me. Actually, I would rather have the atheist ads, which might get people thinking and discussing, than an ad selling a cheeseburger or anything else for that matter. I’m definately more against consumerism than I would ever be against the atheists.

  14. Helen says:

    Andy, I know Seattle is less religious than various other parts of the US, but is it less religious than London?

    Maybe it’s more likely the atheist ads will run in less religious places because those places have more atheists to initiate the ads and more atheists to pay the cost of posting them.

  15. Katie says:

    Andy, I think it’s less about the city itself, as it is about the Christian community in the city.

    Growing up in Oregon (the least churched state in the US) and university in Seattle (least churched city in the US), all of the churches I was a part of and many of the Christians I interacted with were much more conservative evangelical than a lot of my friends who grew up in other areas. The west coast megachurch movement is incredibly strong, and Seattle is no exception. I have a theory that because the west coast is so non-religious/liberal, those in the more “moral” (in their words) and Christian communities in these areas feel the need to protect themselves to some degree and end up being more insulated, more personal relationship-centered (as compared to social justice/world centered), more conservative in general, and more intent on conversion. And it is these Christians that I think are outraged and threatened by the bus ads and to whom the atheists might be trying to reach. If you’re in an area that might not be as non-religious but is more predominantly progressive mainline protestant and or other religions, there’s already probably more open and tolerant dialogue. On the other end if they ran the ads in really conservative religious areas there is very little room for dialogue. Maybe Seattle actually ended up falling somewhere in between (like Helen said, enough atheists to get the conversation going and get support for the ads) but enough conservative Christians to have a target audience.

  16. pchou says:

    I bought that url 3 weeks ago. If you want it, it will cost you.

  17. Andy M says:

    Helen & Katie,
    Very possible, and I will admit my experience of west and east coast is pretty limited.

    Though I have reservations about the intent of at least some atheists for starting a dialogue. I could be wrong, but many of them (at least the most vocal of them) seem to think that the dialogue is already over and that we need to get past all of this. Which, of course, is how many church people act as well.

    If, however, the point of it is in fact to begin a dialogue, then I love it. Let us bring these ads to every city! I live in Oklahoma, and the Christian bubble is strong. I would love any chance to get anybody moving in or out of the bubble, because at some point it would pop.

    And I still think that Christians should begin the dialogue about how many ads we have to look at every day and how consumerism is a plague. But somehow that one gets a lot less attention than an atheist’s ad that has arrived in one more city.

  18. Andy M says:

    Shamelessly atheist,
    As a friendly suggestion, I think you and everyone else should read G.K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man”. In it, he talks about how something like art is what makes mankind a different type of thing, rather than just a different species.

    I know you said you didn’t come to this blog to get into an argument, I agree, I just loved this book and highly suggest it. The Wikipedia page summarizes the book fairly well, but reading the book is the only way to see how he works it out.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Everlasting_Man

    I definately agree with Helen’s statement about getting offended. It isn’t my place to be upset about someone not believing in God, and it is to our great benefit that God is not upset either, though I would say he is greived at the lack of relationship, as we all should be. If you look at the time the religious leaders brought the adulterous woman in front of Jesus, Jesus confronted the people who were angry and judging, not the woman.

  19. Quid Pro Gnome says:

    The behavior of organized Atheists and their opponents alike attests to the enduring American belief in the right to feel “offended.”

    The Atheist ads are classless. What better way to anesthetize Atheism of philosophical thought than to choose the medium of white noise and consumer culture. Jefferson and Franklin made some quotes one time, and now you’re posting them out of context for your own separate ideological goals? Good to know, I guess, and hardly interesting. But you’re not thereby “winning the middle” as we say in political-speak. You’re winning, well, imbeciles who actually find depth in random, mind-numbing advertisements and cherry-picked quotes. Likewise, the only folks who actually pay attention to what Atheists do or say is their opposition, making for a neat little enclosed box of cobras and charlatans.

    Let them entertain themselves with these intentional conflicts, but I think the rest of us will take a pass.

  20. […] 25, 2009 · 1 Comment I learned from a post on my pastor’s blog that a version of the Atheist Bus is going to be making a showing in Seattle and in the comments […]

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