Christians and Atheists Battle in London Bus Wars

Christians and Atheists Battle in London Bus Wars

The word of God is on the move in London — literally. Beginning Feb. 9, three separate Christian groups will launch advertisements on more than 200 of London’s buses to convince pedestrians of God’s existence. “It may be unpopular and unpleasant,” says David Larlham, assistant general secretary of London’s Trinitarian Bible Society, a group that distributes Bibles worldwide. “But there is a whole lot of truth in the Bible that people need to get to grips with.” His organization has paid $50,000 to display posters on 125 of London’s red double-decker buses that quote Psalm 53: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”

The move follows a monthlong campaign by atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers that saw 800 London buses plastered with a less God-fearing slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Ariane Sherine, an atheist and London-based comedy writer, devised the scheme after seeing a Christian bus advertisement. “It basically said that unless you believe this, you’re going to end up suffering,” she says of a pro-Jesus poster that featured what she describes as a “fiery apocalyptic sunset.” “Our campaign provides reassurance for people who might be agnostic and don’t quite believe and worry what will happen to them if they don’t.” (See the Top 10 religious stories of 2008.)

Larlham dismisses the atheist’s effort as futile: “As if people losing sleep over God will suddenly be fine. If you’re worried about something, you need something more powerful than a phrase like that to stop it. You need a change of heart and a change of life that God’s words can offer.”

He has his supporters. The Christian Party, a right-wing political party whose policies focus mostly on moral issues, is joining the advert battle by displaying posters on at least 50 buses, though it is not working directly with Larlham’s group. “There definitely is a God,” its message reads. “So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.” Alexander Korobko, director of a Russian satellite-TV channel, says he is teaming up with the Russian Orthodox Church to place the message “There is God. Don’t worry. Enjoy your life!” on at least 25 buses from March. “We’re living in a difficult time, when crisis is being extensively promoted and people need some life-asserting message,” he told London’s Daily Telegraph.

Backers of the atheist bus campaign find the response flattering. “It just proves that we’ve had an impact,” says Hanne Stinson, CEO of the British Humanist Association, which helped comedian Sherine raise money for the campaign. When Sherine approached the group with her idea last October, the initial aim was to raise $8,000 over several weeks. But $74,000 flooded in on the very first day, with more than $220,000 raised by the end of January. (See pictures of a charity campaign.)

Similar atheist campaigns have run in Barcelona, Madrid and Washington, D.C. But since its Jan. 6 launch, the London scheme has been credited with inspiring atheist bus campaigns in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Italy, where next month posters in Genoa will read, “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him.” The Genoa campaign prompted Father Gianfranco Calabrese, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Genoa, to speak out against what many opponents of the campaign call blasphemy. “There are some methods which promote dialogue and others which feed intolerance,” he said. “Head-on opposition always demonstrates intolerance.” Marta Vincenzi, the city’s mayor, told reporters that officials will not “act as censors.”

And anyway, say the London atheists, it’s actually the Christian adverts that may be offensive to some. While the Humanist Association defends the right of Christians to air their views, many of its members object to the Christians’ choice of words. Richard Dawkins, the eminent Oxford biologist and author of the best-selling book The God Delusion, takes issue with a slogan that calls nonbelievers fools. “That’s a particularly obnoxious quote from one of the Psalms,” he says. “Ours was extremely gentle and respectful by comparison.” The use of the word probably in the atheist slogan, he says, does not imply any sort of dogma but merely encourages freethinking.

Even so, the Advertising Standards Authority, the British advertising authority responsible for screening ads, received more than 150 complaints about the atheist campaign in January, and at least one bus driver walked off the job. “This is a public attack on people’s faiths,” said Ron Heather, a 62-year-old bus driver and Evangelical Christian. “I have a lot of passengers who are over 90 or are seriously ill, and to tell them there is no God seems a bit insensitive when God is probably all they have left in the world.” Dawkins believes that’s neither here nor there. “It’s not the business of a driver to censor the advertisements that go on his bus. It’s his job to drive his bus.”

Although the atheist posters were taken down when the campaign ended on Feb. 1, this modern-day Crusade being waged on London’s transport system isn’t over yet. The atheist bus organizers say they are regrouping and will launch another campaign in April, knowing that Christian groups are likely to respond in turn. “I don’t object at all to the Christian ads that are going up, especially if they make people think,” Dawkins says. “If more people think for themselves, we’ll have fewer religious people.”

Thanks to Chuck for this.

Atheist ads on OC Transpo in limbo

“When statements are said that God probably does not exist, this is an implied statement of hatred towards all those who do believe that God exists.”

Someone needs to tell this moron that her belief in god(s) implicitly shows hatred towards all those who do not believe in god(s).

Atheist ads on OC Transpo in limbo

An Atheist advertising campaign will spend a few weeks in limbo after the transit committee deadlocked on a vote on whether to allow ads to run on city buses.

The ads by the Humanist Association of Ottawa, stating “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” were rejected last week.

Transit committee chairman Alex Cullen had attempted to overturn the decision and pledged to bring it to city council in early March as a separate motion.

Humanist Julie Breeze said she was disappointed that the decision was not overturned, but said she intended to keep fighting.

“The ads that we are proposing are not intended to offend,” she said. “We’re hoping that these ads will let other non-believers know that they are not alone. It’s not an easy thing to be an atheist surrounded by a sea of believers.”

However, Theresa Milligan argued against the ads, saying that it goes beyond freedom of speech.

“When statements are said that God probably does not exist, this is an implied statement of hatred towards all those who do believe that God exists.”

Mercier said OC Transpo permits run advertisements informing people of the date, time and place of religious gatherings or events. Ads promoting a specific dogma that might be prejudicial or offensive to other groups using the transit system are not permitted.

Mercier said they felt the language of the ads were specific enough to attract religious debate and likely polarize members of the community.

Atheist Revival in Arkansas

Atheist Revival in Arkansas

Hard to say what was more remarkable about the resolution that was read into the record and referred to committee Wednesday by a member of the 87th Arkansas General Assembly.

The resolution itself: HJR 1009: AMENDING THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION TO REPEAL THE PROHIBITION AGAINST AN ATHEIST HOLDING ANY OFFICE IN THE CIVIL DEPARTMENTS OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS OR TESTIFYING AS A WITNESS IN ANY COURT.

Or the fact that it was submitted by the Green Party’s highest-ranking elected official in America, state Rep. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock, who was elected in November winning more than 80 percent of the vote in his district.

Arkansas is one of half a dozen states that still exclude non-believers from public office. Article 19 Section 1 of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution states that “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled all such state provisions unconstitutional and unenforceable in a 1961 ruling in a Maryland case: “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’”

Carroll is merely trying to do some symbolic constitutional housecleaning, but it won’t be easy.

In 2005, state Rep. Buddy Blair filed a resolution to affirm Arkansas’ support for the separation of church and state. The resolution lost 39-44 in the House.

And last month, Rep. Lindsley Smith offered a resolution to declare Jan. 29 at Thomas Paine Day in Arkansas.

“I consider myself a very religious person,” Smith told the committee considering her bill to designate Jan. 29 as Thomas Paine Day in Arkansas. Paine, the colonial patriot who wrote “Common Sense,” a pamphlet that built support for the American Revolution. Paine also was a Deist who believed in God but not religion.

The proposal died in committee, even after Smith assured her colleagues that she was not an atheist. Which they would have known if they’d read the state constitution.

Meanwhile, in a related story, the Arkansas House passed a bill Wednesday allowing people to bring their guns to church.

“Due to many shootings that have happened in our churches across our nation, it is time we changed our concealed handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches,” said state Rep. Beverly Pyle.

The bill doesn’t say whether atheists can bring guns to church.

Savior of the Universe!

Tel Aviv man has 32 women and 89 children

A Tel Aviv man in his late fifties is living with 32 women with whom he has fathered 89 children, an Israeli television station revealed last week.

The women are subject to strict discipline, but say that they are all living with Goel Ratzon by their own accord.

They are not allowed to communicate with men, be in physical contact with their biological family, eat meat, smoke, drink alcohol or dress immodestly.

Ratzon is held by his companions to be the savior (Goel in Hebrew) of the universe, and is attributed godly and supernatural abilities. Many of the women have tattooed his name and portrait on their bodies.

The names of every one of Ratzon’s 89 children include his own first name. For instance, one of his sons is called Avinu Ha-Goel (our father the savior) and he has a daughter named Tehilat Ha-Goel (glory of the savior).

Ratzon told Channel 10 that there had been several attempts at collective suicide when some of the women thought he was going to leave them. Also in the film, some of the women said they would commit mass suicide if anyone tried to harm their leader.

They are all registered as single mothers, and live in separate quarters. Whenever Ratzon comes to visit, the children are required to kiss his shoes, and worship the tattoo of his portrait on their mother’s arm.

National Council for the Child Director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman said that the authorities have very little room for maneuver.

“The man is treading a fine line,” Kadman said. “As long as these children go to school regularly and are not suffering from neglect or flagrant abuse, there’s not much the authorities can do. The law does not permit to prevent people from living in a certain lifestyle just because it seems inappropriate to some.”

On Friday, one of Ratzon’s companions was hospitalized after claiming to have tried to commit suicide. She was brought to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot by Ratzon, who was accompanied by some of his other companions. The woman was released the next day.

She said that she had taken a large amount of anti-depressants and that she could not remember whether she had medical insurance or not. Ratzon, for his part, said he could not remember the woman’s name.

“As soon as they came I knew it was this guy from TV,” a hospital staff member said. “They walked in, and one of the women was supported by another. They really stood out.”

The Tel Aviv welfare services and the National Insurance Institute said they were familiar with the case. The woman’s apparent suicide attempt on Friday has been seen by authorities as a premeditated provocation to mitigate public pressure to clamp down on the cult.

An estranged friend of one of the women said that the group was very sophisticated and aware of the repercussions of being exposed to the public.

“They are not stupid, just very extreme,” he said. “Maybe they fear that the exposure might affect their way of life, and they’re acting tactically. I don’t think it was the TV report – they wouldn’t agree to do it unless they thought that it might benefit them in any way. Everything there is under control.”

According to one of the women’s friends, “they probably thought that if they make the first step, no one will harm them… That’s their way of dealing with the authorities.

Hindus plan cow urine drink to rival Western sodas

Thaaaaaaaaaaat’s gross.

Hindus plan cow urine drink to rival Western sodas

NEW DELHI, Feb 12 (Reuters Life!) – A hardline Hindu organisation, known for its opposition to “corrupting” Western food imports, is planning to launch a new soft drink made from cow’s urine, often seen as sacred in parts of India.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, said the bovine beverage is undergoing laboratory tests for the next 2 to 3 months but did not give a specific date for its commercial release.

The flavour is not yet known, but the RSS said the liquid produced by Hinduism’s revered holy cows is being mixed with products such as aloe vera and gooseberry to fight diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Many Hindus consider cow urine to have medicinal properties and it is often drunk in religious festivals.

The organisation, which aims to transform India’s secular society and establish the supremacy of a Hindu majority, said it had not decided on a name or a price for the drink.

“Cow urine offers a cure for around 70 to 80 incurable diseases like diabetes. All are curable by cow urine,” Om Prakash, the head of the RSS Cow Protection Department, told Reuters by phone.

Prakash, who is based in Hardwar, one of four holy Hindu cities on the river Ganges where the world’s largest religious gathering takes place, said the product will be sold nationwide but did not rule out international success.

“It is useful for the whole country and the world as well. It will be done through shops and through corporates,” he said.

Toronto mosque offers ‘detox’ for Islamic radicals

Toronto mosque offers ‘detox’ for Islamic radicals

In what is likely the first of its kind in Canada, a Toronto mosque is offering a “detox” program for young Islamic radicals who are sympathetic to the terrorist group al Qaeda.

Muhammed Robert Heft, a team member of the Specialized De-radicalization Intervention program, says the program is based on the idea that Islamic extremism can be fought by incorporating traditional teachings of the Qur’an into a “12-step Extremist Detox Program.”

Among the steps in the program offered at Toronto’s Masjid El Noor mosque:

  • Finding common ground, “not fighting ground,” with other faiths
  • In the “Open society of Canada,” how to reconcile “dogmatic idealism with pragmatic realism”
  • Seeing the whole as one, and take into account “global challenges that affect us all.”
  • Actively countering extremist ideology through “education, public speaking and writing.”

“As Canadians of Muslim faith, it is our ardent desire to become leaders in the championing of anti-terror values,” says a document explaining the program.

Heft told CTV Newsnet’s Power Play on Wednesday that among the young radical Islamic followers the mosque is hoping to counsel are members of the notorious “Toronto 18.” In 2006, a series of counter-terrorism raids in the Greater Toronto Area resulted in the arrest of 18 alleged members of a purported Islamic terrorist cell plotting a variety of attacks against targets in Ontario.

That case, along with that of Ottawa’s Momin Khawaja who was convicted for his role in a British terror cell, have raised concerns about home-grown terrorism.

Heft said there are many sects in Islam, and that “99.9″ per cent of Islamic leaders across the country agree they must work together to combat extremism.

But he did admit there are a “small number of firebrand preachers” who try to persuade young Muslims to jump onto the extremist bandwagon.

“Unfortunately, a few emotional, Internet-surfing, like-minded individuals who do what I call ‘Do-It-Yourself Islam,’ find themselves getting caught up in emotion and justify getting caught up in the hate that’s inside them,” Heft told Power Play host Tom Clark.

“They end up falling prey to people with deviant views of the religion.”

But he says if one studies the tradition of Islam, going back to the orthodox scholars, “you realize these are the teachings of Islam.”

And by incorporating these teachings into the mosque’s program, Heft claims he’s had success converting those who formerly held radical, anti-Semitic views into “productive members of society.”

He says the program has also helped disenfranchised Muslims get jobs, and to get off welfare.

“We’re winning,” said Heft.