An atheist drive to persuade people that God doesn't exist is catching on in a surprising fashion,on the sides of buses in a growing number of countries around the world.
With the concise message "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," the campaign took to the road in Britain this month, while similar drives are underway or planned in Spain, Italy, Canada and Australia.
AdvertisementThe British campaign was originally floated by comedy writer Ariane Sherine in a newspaper column in June, and is hoping to reach the majority of the country's population in some fashion or another over the next three weeks.
"We could never have imagined it would have gotten this big, and we would have raised quite this amount of cash," campaign co-founder Jon Worth, a political blogger and website designer, told AFP.
Sherine wrote her column after advertisements began appearing on central London buses directing passers-by to a website that told those who did not accept Christianity that they would suffer for eternity in hell.
Soon after it was published, Worth contacted her asking if he could set up a pledgebank based on her idea, and shortly thereafter, the Atheist Bus Campaign began taking donations, initially hoping to raise 5,500 pounds (6,200 euros, 8,200 dollars).
To date, it has raised upwards of 140,000 pounds, enough to pay for advertisements on 800 buses across Britain, 200 in central London alone, along with 1,000 posters in London's Underground trains and two video screens in a popular Tube station, all for a full month ending in early February.
Unsurprisingly, the campaign has struck a nerve among God-fearing commuters, prompting around 200 complaints to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates commercials here.
By way of comparison, the most complaints the ASA has ever received over an advert was 1,600.
The watchdog needs just one complaint to investigate an advertisement, which are judged on a variety of factors including harm, offence, taste and deceny as well as factual accuracy, but will wait until next week to decide whether or not to probe the Atheist Bus Campaign's ads.
"A few religious people have complained to the ASA, which seems rather odd, as if they (the ASA) will be able to make a judgment about the evidence on that sort of issue," said Peter Cave, chair of the Humanist Philosopher's Group, which advises the British Humanist Association.
Along with opposition in Britain, attempts to engineer a similar campaign in Australia have run into obstacles, with the country's biggest outdoor advertising agency APN Outdoor deciding to reject a bid by the Atheist Foundation of Australia for ad space.
"Any company really has the right to refuse a service to a customer, but in this instance, you have to wonder," foundation president David Nicholls told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Atheists in Italy and Spain, however, have had more success with their attempts.
Buses with a similar slogan to the Atheist Bus Campaign's message, translated into Catalan, began appearing on two routes in Barcelona on Monday, with plans to extend the campaign to the rest of the country.
In Italy, meanwhile, buses with the slogan "The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him" will begin traversing the northern Italian city of Genoa on February 4.
Here in Britain, apart from opposition from religious groups, some atheists are unhappy with the inclusion of the word "probably", principally added so that it would adhere to British advertising rules.
Cave, though not in agreeance with the word's inclusion, noted that the campaign is trying to make a broader point.
"I can see no evidence for God just as I can see no evidence for pineapples floating around the moon," he said.
"I don't say there probably aren't any pineapples floating around the moon, I just say I know there aren't any pineapples floating around the moon. But, it's a piece of marketing, and I think it's good because it makes people think."