that’s me told, then

In a previous post, I suggested that it didn’t take much courage to proclaim onself an atheist in most developed countries. I still think that’s basically true but I hadn’t counted on exactly how timid the public sphere has become.

Australia’s largest outdoor advertising agency, APN Outdoor, rejected an attempt by the Atheist Foundation of Australia to put slogans on buses. British atheists have 800 buses around Ol’ Blighty emblazoned with: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” So the Little Aussie Atheists decided to do their bit for the cause. The cause being freedom of speech, rational thought, intelligent discussion and consciousness-raising. In the same way religious groups try to spread the good news to help ease people’s existential pain, so too are the atheists. […]

The Atheist Foundation of Australia approached APN with a slogan and a fistful of cash. APN, a company that has run religious and political slogans in the past, initially said: “Sounds good, no problems.” So APN and AFA spent three weeks tweaking, diluting and compromising until APN abruptly pulled the plug. End of discussion.

How offensive was the message? Was it, “Sucked in, there’s no God. Ha, ha, ha.”? Was it, “Those hours in church bored out of your brain, those years of guilt and all those prayers? Wasted. God’s not real.”? Was it, “The look on their faces when they find out God doesn’t exist? Priceless.”?

No. It was, “Atheism — Celebrate Reason”. How scary is that? That was after “Atheism — Sleep in on Sundays” and “Atheism — Because there is no credible evidence” were knocked back. How flimsy does APN think people’s faith is if they’d be rocked by a gentle comment like that?

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Not surprising. Despite being a signatory to many international conventions which espouse ‘freedom of belief/non-belief’, Australia has no national (Commonwealth) legislation which prohibits descrimination based on religious belief (or non). If there was, say a Commonwealth Religious Freedom Act (which has it has been argued for a long time is way overdue) similar to the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, or even an enshrined Bill of Rights, then organisations such as the Atheist Foundation would not have to rely on the anti-discrimination legislation of individual states in circumstances such as these. In some states, the ground of religion is not covered by anti-discrimination laws. What redress is there then?

    Of course, the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act whipped up hysteria on introduction, and was (& still is) commonly misunderstood:

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