New Zealand Atheist Bus Ads Rejected; Atheists Fight Back

There was a time when you could expect to see atheist bus ads in New Zealand. Atheists had raised tens of thousands of dollars and everything was going as planned.

Now, the company NZ Bus — which had tentatively approved the ad — has said they will not accept it.

Apparently, that phrase is too controversial:

NZ Bus stated that they have received a number of complaints from the public about the proposed ads, which read “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Spokesperson for the Atheist Bus Campaign Simon Fisher says “It’s concerning that peaceful atheist messages are not allowed on buses while religious messages are often seen on buses and in public. Messages of atheism are rare in New Zealand and we aim to raise awareness for the one-third of New Zealanders who are unconvinced by the claims of religion.”

The Atheist Bus Campaign is fighting back, though.

Organisers of the Campaign tried to reach a resolution with NZ Bus, and later attempted mediation sessions through the Human Rights Commission. NZ Bus refused to participate in these mediation sessions. Because they are refusing to discuss the matter and reach an agreement, the organisers of the Campaign are now investigating the possibility of taking this case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Simon Fisher says “we’re disappointed at the response from NZ Bus and plan to look at options going forward. We owe it to the thousands of Kiwis who have supported this campaign with donations and messages of support.”

This is perfect and NZ Bus is playing right into the atheists’ hands.

Very few of these atheist ads get publicity for the sake of the message alone. They get publicity because of the controversy surrounding them.

The bigger the fuss that Christians make over them, the more bang for the buck the atheists get. (And we *love* it.)

A bus campaign can essentially be deemed a failure if there’s no press/controversy surrounding it.

In this case, Christians’ complaints are just backfiring and they don’t even realize what’s happening. It’s all great for the atheists.

So I hope the New Zealand atheists can keep up their fight. The more people talk about the whole affair, the better.

(Thanks to Nigel for the link!)

  • Eliza

    A bus campaign can essentially be deemed a failure if there’s no press/controversy surrounding it.

    …But wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a society so accepting of rationalism that these ads raised no controversy.

  • Derek

    Has the company ever put up advertisements that were specifically pro-God? You know … like those annoying “Blah – blah – blah. -God” adverts that used to be real popular? If so, I don’t see how they can claim the subject matter to controversial. Would you like me and/or other Christians with some sense to send a letter or something?

    Cheers and such. =)

  • Andrew Lovley

    I fail to see the point with these bus ads. Literally, the message implies that it’s directed toward someone who believes in God and is worried about getting into Heaven (and not Hell). Now do any of us seriously think that a single person will see these ads and ‘stop worrying’? Are they meant to convert people from theism to atheism? What if they believe in God and are not worried?

    Overall, I think these particular ads are not productive. I think they embolden atheists and theists alike. Perhaps atheists would be more likely to ‘come out of the closet’ after seeing these ads. At the same time, I can only imagine that theists who are fairly solid in their belief in God will become more certain of it. Lastly, the message can easily be seen as condescending and may even prove detrimental to improving the public image of atheists and other skeptical people.

  • http://www.theflightlessgeek.co.nz James

    As a kiwi I was surprised and disappointed to find this out yesterday. I’ve always believed and still do believe that New Zealand is a very accepting place for personal beliefs, even if I think a bit too accepting sometimes.

    While this is a setback the press that this will get may get more public discussion going then the ads themselves would have got. Especially considering most kiwi’s think of NZ as a welcoming place.

  • http://twitter.com/beyondmythology Beyond Mythology

    I sent a note to NZ Bus asking about their decision to reject the Atheist ads. Here is their reply:

    - – -

    Thank you for your email.

    Mr Fisher as spokesperson for the NZ Atheist Bus campaign launched his campaign in early December. This resulted in a number of press articles and broadcast coverage.

    As a result of the publicity the campaign launch received, NZ Bus fielded a number of enquiries from the public asking about our involvement in and support of this campaign, raising their concerns. Additionally, a number of emails were received from customers expressing their distaste for the campaign and their distress. Similar concerns were also raised by a number of staff.

    Mr Fishers campaign drew significant reaction from the travelling public and our people to be deemed controversial and divisive. NZ Bus has the right to decline advertising that may, in its perception, be considered controversial or divisive.

    We have said no thank you to Mr Fisher and have wished him well in his endeavors to secure a bus company to work with.

    Kind regards

  • Danny

    Mr Fisher as spokesperson for the NZ Atheist Bus campaign launched his campaign in early December. This resulted in a number of press articles and broadcast coverage.

    So NZ Bus is turning down the atheist ad because Mr Fishers started the campaign in December? That makes sense.

    Thank the FSM NZ Bus doesn’t represent all of us Kiwis! Pharyngula seems to think so.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/godless_monsters Godless Monster

    As NZ and Australia are close behind the US in regards to the number of fundamentalist creationist crackpots they harbor, I can’t say I’m surprised.

  • http://radicalatheist.com Jack Carlson

    They get publicity because of the controversy surrounding them.

    They get publicity when there is public opposition to them. It’s the belief of the religious that we should all live by their rules, open opposition is not allowed. Their dogma allows for illogical censorship, book burnings, prohibitions. They see nothing wrong with denying everyone the chance to make their own decisions and reach their own conclusions. They avoid being exposed to anything that challenges their beliefs. And since they’re in the majority in many countries, they have weight to throw around. Bullies always bully others out of fear.

  • Epistaxis

    The best thing that could happen is the company holds its ground, the atheists get even more publicity, the ad never runs, and the atheists never actually have to pay.

  • Derek

    Jack Carlson: They get publicity when there is public opposition to them. It’s the belief of the religious that we should all live by their rules, open opposition is not allowed. Their dogma allows for illogical censorship, book burnings, prohibitions. They see nothing wrong with denying everyone the chance to make their own decisions and reach their own conclusions. They avoid being exposed to anything that challenges their beliefs. And since they’re in the majority in many countries, they have weight to throw around. Bullies always bully others out of fear.

    Kindly do not lump all of the religious in one basket. It feeds ignorance for both parties.

  • Curious Atheist

    Andrew Lovley: NZ Bus should make it standard procedure in their written contract that advertisers are liable to pay for any damages due to vandalism to buses displaying their ads. That way special interest groups can’t pretend that it’s an instance of discrimination; if the likelihood of vandalism is high and SIGs are made to pay for it, the SIGs themselves will probably take their business elsewhere of their own accord, nipping any false pretense of “discrimination” right in the bud.

    This will sort corporate ‘anti-atheist bias’ from what’s likely the real reason for declining the ad – protecting your business interests. NZ Bus has no more obligation to paint a giant target on their backs than you do you put “An ATHEIST lives here” billboard in your front yard.

    The next person who complains that NZ Bus has a moral obligation to run the ads ought to seriously consider how much compensation it would take for them to walk 15 blocks through Harlem wearing a T-shirt with the N-word on it. A couple of hundred bucks might not be worth the medical bills for your stab wounds.

    I’m sorry if the analogy sounds extreme, but I get rather annoyed at how easily atheist organizations seem willing to sacrifice individual atheists’ ACTUAL lives for mere symbolic platitudes like the Out Campaign. Sometimes I wonder whether they would have any real qualms with arranging to have an atheist murdered if it would give them their “atheist Stonewall,” something that they apparently can’t get in real life unless they stage it.

  • http://melliferax.wordpress.com/ Melliferax

    Is the bus company state owned or private? Because if it’s private, I don’t see how throwing HRC in their face is gonna help. It’s their buses, they decide what goes on them, and if they think atheist ads are bad for business they’re well within their rights to refuse them, IMO.

    Andrew Lovley – The point is to let people (atheists as well as undecideds and theists) know there are plenty of atheists out there, people with enough drive to create an ad campaign. No one believes an ad is actually going to change anyone’s mind about anything, it’s just about publicity and awareness-raising.

  • Gibbon

    Hemant

    A bus campaign can essentially be deemed a failure if there’s no press/controversy surrounding it.

    What if it was discussed in the media for one day and then forgotten? That is what happened when the campaign was first announced in December, and it has happened again. On Wednesday news of the ads being dropped made it on to the breakfast programmes of both news channels, as well as the midday news on one channel, but wasn’t mentioned on the 6 o’clock news. It has now been one day and the media has forgotten about it already, instead they have turned to covering more important issues.

    The New Zealand media is not like the American media, they don’t hang on religious issues for days. Typically, it is covered for one day and then forgotten. I guess it symbolises the Kiwi approach to religion actually.

    James

    I’ve always believed and still do believe that New Zealand is a very accepting place for personal beliefs, even if I think a bit too accepting sometimes.

    We are accepting of personal beliefs, so much so that the vast majority of us keep them to ourselves. Those that don’t keep it to themselves, e.g. (or i.e.) Destiny Church, are barely even tolerated.

    Godless Monster

    As NZ and Australia are close behind the US in regards to the number of fundamentalist creationist crackpots they harbor, I can’t say I’m surprised.

    I’m surprised you actually believe that, considering it is not true. The United States has literally hundreds if not thousands of fundamentalist churches, as well as having roughly half its population denying evolution. With New Zealand on the other hand, roughly 75% of all citizens accept evolution, and there are only a handful of fundamentalist churches, with the only prominent one acting more like a business than a church.

    In addition, a non-believer in the United States could not be elected to public office, while both the current prime minister of New Zealand and his predecessor are agnostics. And the really interesting thing is that the vast majority of Kiwis are opposed to religious institutions interfering in politics, as evidenced by the 2005 general elections, despite New Zealand having no legally mandated church/state separation unlike the US.

    Overall, I have to express a similar sentiment to that of Andrew Lovley, in that the advert is unproductive, and more importantly that the message falsely assumes that anyone who believes in any deity is worried and is not enjoying life. In that vein, one can understand why religious people might be offended or why the message might be considered controversial.

  • TychaBrahe

    Personally, I don’t like these ads. It’s one thing to put up an ad that says “Are you good without God?” which I see as a call to like-minded atheists, agnostics, and humanists. This seems instead to be criticizing those who believe in a deity.

    If we want to be accepted for our freedom from belief, I think we have to accept that others have belief. Frankly, believing in supernatural things *is* a human trait. It’s one I hope we can overcome, but criticizing people for behaving in the way their brains are wired is like yelling at a baby for defecating in its diapers.

  • AxeGrrl

    TychaBrahe wrote:

    Personally, I don’t like these ads. It’s one thing to put up an ad that says “Are you good without God?” which I see as a call to like-minded atheists, agnostics, and humanists. This seems instead to be criticizing those who believe in a deity.

    I completely agree. I’ve always been ‘meh’ about this particular ad message. I’d much prefer to see something along the lines of that Seattle atheists ad Hemant posted about a few months ago:

    ‘kindness, charity and goodwill transcend belief, creed or religion’

  • Derek

    I’d have to also agree with TychaBrah.

    AxeGrrl Says: ‘kindness, charity and goodwill transcend belief, creed or religion’

    I really liked that one as well.

  • Mark

    I think the bus ads are important. I personally prefer “Don’t believe in God. You are not alone”. And that’s what I think the primary purpose of those ads are…to let atheists know they aren’t alone. Maybe they should change the message to “2 + 2 is probably 4. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. Everyone would still know what they meant :)

  • muggle

    I second that emotion, Eliza.

    Frankly, if they’re going to disallow the Atheist message, then they need to disallow all religious view points. If an Athiest group can’t mention god in their ad, then neither can a church in its.

  • teammarty

    Curious Atheist

    Are you really saying that being an out and public Atheist is like wearing a t-shirt saying “Nigger” in HArlem? That is the stupidest BULLSHIT I have ever heard in my life.
    OOOOO, we can’t offend the christians, they might think that we’re not one of them, they won’t like us. Boo Fucking Hoo.

    Go fuck yourself.

  • Curious Atheist

    teammarty: I appreciate your reasoned argument instead of letting your emotions get the best of you.

    My example was extreme, as I already said, but I used it because in some parts of America, particularly the gun-toting, confederate-flag-waving parts, the A-word is probably not far from the N-word in the sort of reaction that it provokes in some people. Am I wrong?

    It’s not that we can’t offend the Christians cuz they might shun us; it’s that we shouldn’t go out of our way to offend them cuz they might shoot us. Do you not mind being shot? Again, that’s an extreme negative result, but less extreme negative results are no less undesirable.

    Anyway, to get back to my original point – I despise the cheerleaders for the Out Campaign because they seem not to give a damn about what happens to the atheists foolish enough to out themselves. It seems to me that the campaign matters more than the people it’s aimed at.

    I’m not gonna sacrifice my life for anyone’s petty ideology and I would advise no other atheist do so either. What’s the point – to make your life harder for no pay-off?! Thanks, but no thanks.

    It’s easy for someone with the tenure, money, and influence of Richard Dawkins to come out of the closet as an atheist when he needn’t worry about possible negative consequences. But for the guy who has been laid off for a year and whose house is about to be foreclosed – that guy might have really needed that job from his evangelical employer.

    It’s not about offending Christians, it’s about actually helping atheists, or at least not going out of your way to coax them into harming their own interests.

    Need I remind you that only an employer foolish enough to say that your atheism was the reason for not hiring you, or terminating you, is likely to face any action, and even then might not? Some years ago a person was fired for having a John Kerry bumpersticker on his car — and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it because in America employment outside of government jobs is “at will” – you can be fired for any or no reason and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Again, it’s easy for those who don’t have to worry about money to risk making enemies by outing themselves — not so much for the rest of us living paycheck to paycheck.

    As far as your parting Dick Cheney quote goes – right back at ya. That’s exactly what I’d say to someone who is willing to ruin ACTUAL atheists’ lives for their own petty political agendas.

  • andrew major

    I’m a born again bible believing christian man. Any ad that speaks ‘we are all athiests’ is a lie of course.

    And I know one thing for certian – NO ONE is a true athiest. After you die – there are no athiest. Your soul will live for ever and for most of you guys that eternity will be in the lake of fire as written in the bible. You wont be an athiest then!

    Also you might like to know that Jesus said ‘that every knee will bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord’ – that includes you my athiest friends.


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