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The Advertising Standards Authority has (sensibly, it should be said) decided not to get involved in an argument over whether God is likely to exist or not. Despite complaints by Britain’s leading Christian campaigning group/some bloke with broadband (delete according to one’s own prejudices), Christian Voice, against the so-called ‘atheist bus’ advertising campaign, launched by writer Ariane Sherine, scientist Richard Dawkins, and the British Humanist Association, the ASA has concluded that ‘the ad was an expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation … Although the ASA acknowledges that the content of the ad would be at odds with the beliefs of many, it concluded that it was unlikely to mislead or to cause serious or widespread offence.’
When one considers the amount of religious advertising one regularly sees on London buses and billboards (everything from Pentecostal megachurches to the Alpha Course), it’s surprising that this campaign has raised so much of a fuss. When religious types set out to bring people in to the fold, it’s considered par for the course. When atheists attempt to proselytise, they are immediately cast as ‘militant’ — and worse. In my own experience working at New Humanist magazine, hardly a day went by without an email, letter, or phone call denouncing me or the magazine as ‘fundamentalist’.
But who knows? Perhaps the out-and-proud atheists are in the wrong, and this campaign is horribly misguided. One of their leading lights (I’ll spare his name to spare his blushes) told me recently that he nearly got squashed to death between two bendy atheist buses while cycling to work in Gower Street, London’s most godless thoroughfare.