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Do Atheists Believe in Advertising?
By: Jeff Louis
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Once upon a time, I thought that I was an Atheist (deities do not exist). But, I was confused: I was an Agnostic (there is no verifiable proof of God). Now, I think that I'm simply a believer.

This all came flooding back today as I drove through the Loop on my way to lunch. I had just left a meeting outside the city, trying to pay attention while driving without much luck. It's illegal to use a cell phone while driving in the city, so there went half my entertainment. The other half, the radio, was already playing. Bored, I started people-watching while caught in stop/go traffic. They scurried about as I rudely cut off an angry cabbie edging in between my car and a bus. It was then that I noticed the banner on the side of the bus, and thought "Huh. I wonder what they are advertising." After a couple of minutes of thought, it hit me:

"Those are the Indiana Atheist ads!"

The Indiana Atheists (IA) actually picked up the idea from atheists in Canada and London, where pro-atheist bus campaigns have already run. In London, a month-long, 800 bus onslaught was derived by a comedy writer. Ariane Sherine, self-proclaimed atheist, came up with the slogan, "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The story was picked up by Time as one of the top religion stories of the year.

Unfortunately, the Indiana Atheists were late hitting Chicago...

The pious have been buying ad space from the city's decaying, cash-strapped public transportation system for a while. One recent religious ad read, "ISLAM. Got questions? Get answers. FREE Quran & Literature," followed by a toll-free telephone number.

Chicago was not the first target sought by the IA; Bloomington. turned the advertising down. South Bend ran the ads. (Pro-religion bus ads had already run in South Bend, so the city had little choice when it came to ad acceptance.)

Why do the atheists advertise? There's nothing to buy or go to, no real group solidarity, and they state that they're not out winning converts. Is this a branding campaign?

According to Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association;

"...you don't see [atheists] having a caucus in Congress or anywhere else. It's a group that's been in the closet. People are afraid to 'come out' to their families and say they don't believe in God." The ads are designed to show lonely atheists that they do not walk alone — and they can go on disbelieving.

The closeted atheists are reading two messages in Chicago; "You Can Be Good without God," and "In the Beginning, Man Created God." The campaign was fueled by donations.

Although I bleed CMYK, it would seem to me to me that donations could be spent in a much more effective manner to tell "lonely atheists" that they're not alone. People "good without God," could feed the homeless, help pay a mortgage, or build a park. This would actually deliver a stronger "Good without God" message due to effect on the community. Additionally, PR value would be high; news outlets are searching for "feel good" stories during trying times.

My one question is , "How did they determine that cadres of closeted atheists were searching for solace? Did I miss '60 Minutes,' or something?"

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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