Ariane Sherine explains where the idea for the Atheist Bus Campaign came from and Polly Toynbee talks to Richard Dawkins about the word 'probably'
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Today, thanks to many Cif readers, the overall total raised for the Atheist Bus Campaign stands at a truly overwhelming £135,000, breaking our original target of £5,500 by over 2400%. Given this unexpected amount, I'm very excited to tell you that 800 buses – instead of the 30 we were initially aiming for – are now rolling out across the UK with the slogan, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life", in locations all over England, Scotland and Wales, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York, Cardiff, Devon, Leeds, Bristol and Aberdeen.
From today's launch, two hundred of the buses will run in London, because the campaign was originally started as a positive counter-response to the Jesus Said ads running on London buses in June 2008. These ads displayed the URL of a website which stated that non-Christians "will be condemned to everlasting separation from God and then you spend all eternity in torment in hell … Jesus spoke about this as a lake of fire prepared for the devil". Our rational slogan will hopefully reassure anyone who has been scared by this kind of evangelism.
In addition, we're running adverts on two further types of media. In my last Cif blog on the campaign, I asked Cif readers for ideas on alternative ways to spend the funds, and also for thoughts on different slogans. Commenters WoollyMindedLiberal, PaoloV and Catch22 suggested that we use quotes from famous freethinkers, and we've done just that: from Monday January 12, 1,000 tube cards will run on London Underground featuring atheist quotations from Douglas Adams, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Katharine Hepburn (see above), alongside the original campaign slogan.
An animated version of the slogan will also appear on two large LCD screens on Oxford Street (opposite Bond Street tube station), so that you can see the advert live without having to wait for an atheist bus. And, to thank all donors and show the strength of atheism in the UK, every ABC advertisement will contain the line "This advert was funded by public donations".
Amazingly, the campaign has now gone international. Spain's Union of Atheists and Freethinkers are launching buses across Barcelona today with a translation of our slogan, Italy's Union of Atheist, Agnostics and Rationalists are also planning to roll out atheist buses, while the American Humanist Association have been inspired to launch a campaign, and buses carrying their slogan "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness' sake" have now been running for over a month in Washington DC. Sadly, not every country has been so open to the idea: the Atheist Foundation of Australia tried to place the slogan "Atheism – celebrate reason" on buses, but were rejected by Australia's biggest outdoor advertising company.
The campaign's success is thanks to Cif and Cif readers. If Matt Seaton hadn't allowed me to run with the idea here, and so many of you hadn't been so enthusiastic about it and donated generously to it, it would never have happened. There may be further campaign developments, and the campaign website and Facebook group will be regularly updated with the latest news; but for now, I hope you enjoy seeing the adverts on the streets, and that they brighten these bleak January days just a little bit. As Charlie Brooker – one of the first people to donate to the Atheist Bus Campaign – says: "Public transport in Britain suggests there isn't a God anyway, but in case anyone hasn't noticed, or feels isolated for thinking such a thing, this campaign should help." I hope it does.