On The Buses – everywhere but Down Under…

…but do I give a toss?

Recently, atheist bus ads have popped up in the UK and the US to much acclaim from freethinkers and much tiresome bitching & moaning from the usual suspects. Buses are so hot right now! However, an attempt by an Aussie atheist group to have their own ads on our buses has been unsuccessful. The Atheist Foundation of Australia wanted to buy ad space, the ad company, APN Outdoor, refused to sell it to them. And it seems they didn’t explain why. I certainly don’t see the harm in slogans like “Sleep in on Sunday mornings” or “Celebrate reason”, but I guess APN have their reasons. Such as – they’re a pack of bastards with double standards higher than Israel’s separation wall. So, yes, it’s disappointing. Even annoying! And refusing to take someone’s freely-offered money is just goddamned un-Australian. Not to mention that glaring double-standard: the article explains that APN had buses in Adelaide plastered with the Bible verse John 3:16 – that’s the one about God loving the world so much that he had himself (in the form of his hippy son) tortured & executed to forgive us all of our sins, especially the original sin committed by Adam & Eve, the guilt of which apparently extends several millennia onto every last one of us, from birth – conception – no less, giving us no damn choice but to accept the hippy as our saviour. Nice. World’s oldest protection racket – “Say, that’s a nice soul you got there…be a shame if anything, I dunno, happened to it…”

Now, some people might find the public assertion that we’re all destined for eternal torment at the whim of a celestial tyrant, unless we accept that he had himself (his human avatar anyway) murdered to save us all from the Hell he created and could simply choose not to send us to, somewhat offensive. But an atheist wouldn’t try to stifle someone’s freedom to say so. They’d only ask for the same freedom to say something arguably less offensive – like “sleep in” or “celebrate reason”. If one group can buy an ad saying “God exists and is awesome and will roast your soul”, another group should have an equal right to ask “how can you be sure?” or “just be good!”

Anyway & however.

Apart from the 50-foot high, floodlit double standard on display from APN, I really don’t think I care. Yes, people should have the freedom to say what they want. Equally, advertising companies, like any seedy bar with a handwritten sign, may “reserve the right to refuse service”. Commerce isn’t an equal opportunity industry – people can sell to whomever they choose and refuse the money of whomever they choose. Although, in this case, it seems the Aussie Atheists aren’t able to buy space from anyone else, because it seems APN are more or less a monopoly when it comes to bus ads. And billboards. Which is a shame. Any time when one company has more-or-less total control of a particular medium, it’s very easy for that company to exercise unfair control of the messages people want to spread. I think if TAFA have a good case to sue then they bloody well should.

But I just don’t think a public awareness of atheism campaign is necessary in Australia. Most of the time when you hear religion in our media it’s either about some whiner from Family First having an tiresome, sky-is-falling crack about the sanctity of marriage and how the gays want to take it from us and make all our kids gay, some cardinal something-or-other droning on about other peoples’ sexual & reproductive rights (as if they have any first-hand evidence of sex with adults anyway) & reminding everyone exactly how out of touch his crew are with modern Australia and its evolving moral landscape, or some off-leash imam, comparing liberally-dressed Aussie women to uncovered meat (then failing to see what’s wrong with that). Most people in this country tend to keep their religious beliefs private, and we (because we’re such cynical bastards) tend to look on anyone who’s oh-so-earnestly preaching anything with a sideways glance – even those ostensibly on the same side as the preacher. That’s what I think would happen with this atheist campaign – people would see the atheist bus ads, go – derisively – “ok, righto, whatever mate, good onya” and get on with their day. Much as they do when they see a religious ad. Or an ad for oven cleaner. Much as I do when I see dreadlocked greenie ferals screaming hysterically at police when they break up a protest and start arresting people. Do yourselves, and the image of your cause, a good solid favour you stinky bastards – peaceful, non-violent resistance. Civil disobedience, not obscenity-laden tirades and throwing rocks and lighting fireworks to freak the horses out. Ghandi & MLK made enormous strides! I’m on your side and I love my planet too, but it’ll get you a lot more respect and public support if you quit the usual drum-beating chants, face painting and screams of “fascist!” You’re there to make a political point, not start a freaking roots festival on the steps of Parliament House.

Among my wide & varied circle of friends and family, religion doesn’t come up at all, even amongst my fundy cousins or the few of my friends that I know for sure are religious (there are probably more than I’m aware of). Not because we actively avoid talking about it, it’s just that it’s considered a private matter and really isn’t pertinent. My lack of religion is the same. My folks, brothers, friends & I have the odd cackle at nutters but we don’t sit around discussing the finer points of non-belief. We all have more important and more fun things to do and to talk about, especially considering we only see each other twice a year. It’s the same across the country. Put it this way: whenever a group of Aussies watch the Grammy awards, we play the “I wanna thank my lord and saviour Jesus Christ” drinking game and we’re usually blotto before they even get to the hip-hop/r&b categories.

So … back on topic: while I’m a tad miffed at APN refusing, for seemingly no good reason, to take money from the decent godless folk of TAFA, I didn’t really see the need for an atheist awareness campaign in this country to begin with. We’re not contending with a home-grown wannabe Taliban-for-Jesus like our Yank chums or with flamin’ sharia courts like our Pommy inferiors (sharia courts, you idiots? WTF?). We’re not fighting uphill against the active public bigotry & political marginalisation of the godless. We’re not battling for simple acceptance. We’re not the suffragettes or gays or blacks of our day (hell, the Aboriginals of right now are still getting screwed). We godless are already all over the place and most people wouldn’t even know who believes what in Parliament House anyway!

But hey, bugger it – get the ads up there. I’d just like to see the reactions from the usual suspects! If nothing else it’d make good blog fodder.