Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Advertising Atheism

AtheistFollowing its debut in London, we’ve had a number of successful (if low-key) Atheist bus campaigns around the world.

The recent Rise of Atheism convention got me thinking … how we can keep the momentum going?

How do we engage the proverbial man-on-the-street with the ideas of Atheism? After all, religion is so pervasive in our society.

Sometimes it seems that no-one thinks twice about a man in a dress doling out flesh cookies to kneeling acolytes. But suggesting that this Jesus character and his cosmic Dad might not be real?

That’s just weird. Apparently.

Religion has been so successful in engaging the public because they elevate emotion above facts.

Demanding actual demonstrable truth hamstrings us from the get-go. It would be so much easier if, like religion, we could simply make shit up.

So let’s leave aside the anti-theological academics. Let’s advertise the positive emotions associated with Atheism.

One of the slogans originally planned for the Australian bus campaign was this:

Atheism. Sleep in on Sundays.

That’s along the right kind of lines.

What about this:

Atheism. Genuine Freedom.

Or this:

Atheism. Surely you don’t want to spend eternity with Christians?

So what do we think? Any other ideas for snappy slogans?


Quick Joe Smith said...

Atheism: We can be preachy too!

Damien said...

Theism needs- Your wallet

Atheism needs- your common sense

Damien said...

Atheism: For those who dont believe in Santa Claus either.

Damien said...

Atheist think for themselves.

Spamkaze said...

I strongly suggest against the third one. We are trying to spread the word that there are alternatives, not be inflammatory and bigoted.

Rob said...

I agree with Spamkaze. Otherwise you are on the right track.

Atheisms biggest enemy at the moment is its own reputation. Thanks (should that be no thanks) to the likes of Dawkins, atheism is seen has a "smug" reputation which even I, as a non-practising atheist, dislike. And it's not a necessarily fair rep, but as you say, Matt, even things like asking for demonstrable truth contributes to it.
So I think, for the moment at least, it is best to avoid that altogether. Same with the anti-anything slogans. Theists constantly say "you aren't really for anything, you're just anti everything" and I think that's the image to fight. So it definitely needs to be pro- statements.
I like the Genuine Freedom one. Sleep in On Sundays is a little anti (wrapped in a pro). It is still having a dig at xtians. (Many other faiths also get to sleep in on Sundays).
How about (just occurred to me, and I'm not sure what it's saying, but I think that's a good thing):

Atheists believe in dinosaurs.

Quick Joe Smith said...


It's going to be difficult to come up with something pro that isn't wrapping an anti, since that's generally what pros are.

Even the "Genuine Freedom" one (which I didn't like for the reasons you allude to: smugness, having a dig) is the same. The implication is that you're not truly free if you're religious. How does that work?

I think that advocating atheism itself is always going to be pushing water uphill, and in some ways I don't think it really deserves to be promoted. It is, afterall, essentially nothing. An absence of a particular kind of belief. Sure, it is commonly conflated with concepts like skepticism, "free thinking" over orthodoxy, science over superstition, and so on.

Perhaps it's those specific things that should be brought to the fore, rather than have them labour in support of an already damaged brand name.

The only thing that might not appeal to some is that those qualities can be (and are commonly) exhibited by theists. But is that a problem, and if so why?

One of my biggest complaints against theists is the way they divide the world into themselves and everybody else, rather than take people on their own merits, and I think the atheist camp is often guilty of the same.

Food for thought.

Anonymous said...

@Rob: How do you define "non-practicing atheist"? Do you participate in organized religion as a fun bit of cultural bonding and mythos? Either you believe there is something up there or you don't. Not much room wiggle room in my opinion.. just curious what you think this means.

Matt said...

All good suggestions. Thanks Damien and Rob. (Heh. Dinosaurs.)
And Joe, I quite like the "We can be preachy too!". It definitely dispels some of the smug.

Spamkaze, you're right. My third one isn't appropriate. Looking back, I'm not sure it's even in keeping with the point of my post. Hmmm.

Joe, I think atheism definitely should be promoted. The alternative is to have religion as a kind of default setting. In fact, we see this in a lot of communities, and it is hugely detrimental to individuals in those communities who find atheism on their own and feel excluded and alone because of it. Those people need to know there's a community out here for them.
This was actually the point of a recent billboard campaign in Texas:
"Don't believe in God? You're not alone."
That's quite a good one, I think.

Matt said...

I've thought of another one:

"We're all Atheists.
Which gods don't you believe in?"

Anonymous said...

Are you ready to kick your co-dependence?
Talk to us about it!

Didn’t your Mum say to tell the truth?
So did ours. Join us!

Need more time and money?
So did we. Join us!

Want to get away from that bad boss?
We did. Join us!

Tired of false advertising?
We were. Join us!

Ever have the feeling that you are alone in the universe?
We did. Talk to us about it!

Does your father always tell you how inadequate you are?
We stopped that. So can you!

the anti_supernaturalist

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

@Quick Joe Smith
I disagree that atheism does not deserve to be promoted, for pretty much the same reasons that Matt says. There is no reason for religion to be the default setting.

I REALLY like the "Don't believe in God? You're not alone". That is an excellent message, and the most positive thing I have heard coming out of the convention was the feeling of being surrounded by like minded individuals.

"non-practicing atheist" is a bit of a flippant joke, but is what I tend to call myself when the term agnostic feels a bit too wishy washy.
I am happy to say "I don't believe in god" cos I don't. I'm less happy to say "god doesn't exist" cos, well, who knows.

Also, if you compare Matt's activity in atheistic circles to mine (he blogs quite regularly about it, goes to various shindigs and suchlike, and has many opinions about both religion and atheism which he shares regularly, whereas I blog about silly things that may or may not happen in an office (shameless plug)) you would see there is at least some difference between a "practising" and "non-practising" atheist.

Also I don't believe that a religion free world is a necessary or beneficial thing. People get a lot from religion that they simply couldn't get from atheism. Not everyone is built the same, and some people have that need. Who are we to take that away from them, or to ridicule them for it?

And to bring it all back to Quick Joe Smith's comment, what being a long term friend of Matt has given me is the willingness to say "I don't believe in god" which I don't think I would have had earlier in life. It's been a long time that I haven't believed in god, but far far less that I have been comfortable saying it.

A campaign would help others like me "come out".
But as I have said many times before on this blog, it would have to be positive, and the smugness and the schoolboy glee that is taken in terms like "imaginary friend" would need to be cut right out. It helps no-one.

Dave ~ said...

Atheism: We don't believe in Thor either.

Atheism: We have extremists too, wanna swap?

The trouble I see with a catchy (or otherwise) phrase is that's NOT what raising a discussion on atheism is about. Nobody who believes in the great imaginary friend in the sky will read a slogan and go, 'wait....they're right! They're bloody right!' It just doesn't happen. Critical thinking and the ideas of atheism can take YEARS to get through the cultural baggage people carry.

I understand the idea of grabbing someone's attention, but they have to at least be partially receptive for it to get through the god force field.

Rob said...

@~ Dave
Yes and no. I don't think reason or catchy jingles will ever convert someone. In the same way that a door to door mormon is unlikely to convert anyone who calls themselves an atheist.

But I don't think you're necessarily looking to convert. As with any campaign, you're really going for the fence sitters.
You want people to know that there's an alternative, or at least, as matt said, that there is no "default position".

Anonymous said...

Here's one:
It doesn't take God to be a good person. Try it for yourself!

Probably not a perfect slogan, but you get the point. We need to attack the belief that atheist have no morals, and that morals have to come from god. Thats one of the biggest prejudices.

Rob said...

"It doesn't take God to be a good person." is really good.

Quick Joe Smith said...

Firstly, I take your point about espousing the community aspect to people who feel ostracised because of their non-belief. That's very important, and even moreso in places like America than it is in Australia. I have spoken to people that were disowned and kicked out of home as teenagers for revealing their atheism.

However, atheism and a support network for atheists are subtley but discernably different things. To me, disbelief in gods on its own is not particularly useful or interesting: it won't make anybody happier, smarter, more moral, more rational, more caring, more productive, or anything really. There are, however, a number of virtues that are bundled up with atheism that I mentioned previously, and I do think they deserve to be promoted.

I'm a bit unsure as to how to respond to the idea of a "default setting" for people. It may not even be a harmful thing, and it's dubious as to whether an atheist default setting would be better. In terms of atheism vs theism, I don't think the default setting matters at all. Attitudes are far more important. This is potentially a far bigger topic, so I won't dwell upon it further.

Finally, "Don't believe in God? You're not alone." is a fantastic slogan. I'd even contemplate it in bumper sticker form, and I normally loathe that kind of thing.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

I would like to add that converting fence sitters is not necessarily an aim of the "movement" more so than general acceptance.

To that end funny little quips on t-shirts etc. I think will normalize atheism

Rob said...

@Sean You're absolutely right. This should not be about trying to convert anyone, so much as raise awareness that there are people who live their lives this way and are happy to do so.

@Quick Joe Smith
You realise, of course, that as atheists we disagree with your point that a disbelief in gods won't positively affect peoples lives. Even if you look at atheism as a pure negative, if all you think is that it is to deny religion, then it could easily be argued that by denying religion, then you are denying the many negative and demoralising elements of religion, and in doing so could be (depending on the type of religious person you are) making yourself more rational, caring moral etc.

However that is not just what atheism is, and it's certainly not what is being discussed here.
I don't think the purpose of Matt's proposal is solely to provide a support network. It is not, as Dave and I suggested, to convert. It is simply to let people know that it is a valid belief system (and I do believe it's a belief system, it's part of my wishy washyness) and to address people's misconceptions (some of which you have illustrated).

How's this for long winded and cheesy (need one of those stretchy buses with the bendy bit in the middle):

Atheists believe you only get one life.
Let's do what we can to make it all it can be.

eider said...

Atheism - Just the facts, ma'am.

Quick Joe Smith said...


Hmm. Before I respond properly, I need to clarify a few things.

Firstly, what do you think atheism is beyond the non-belief in deities? I mentioned in my first reply to you that certain things are commonly associated with atheism (science, free thinking, so on), so I am assuming you're not referring to any of those.

Also, by denying religion, one is denying all elements of the religion; not just the negative ones. I think you realise this, so I won't labour the point.

I think the purpose of Matt's blog is more a "coming out" of sorts. A sort of "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" thing, if you will.

"...and to address people's misconceptions (some of which you have illustrated)." Are you saying that I have misconceptions of what atheism is? If so, which ones and why?

Rob said...

Yes, denying religion means denying it all. You seemed to be suggesting that this would necessarily be a negative thing to do. I was just suggesting that by denying religion you deny all of it, the good and the bad, and for some that would be an excellent thing to do.

So to answer your first point, what do I think atheism is? Well it is indeed different things to different people. But I think saying that it is simply "not believing in anything" sells it a little short. "Freedom from religion" (which alludes to someone's slogan earlier) might be better (although a little swayed in the other direction).

I think, regardless of Matt's purpose with this post, this has been an excellent discussion. He can let us know what his purpose was, though. It's his blog and I'm sure he checks in from time to time. I guess it's presumptuous for anyone, obviously myself included, to say "I think what Matt is saying here is...", so I will offer this instead. Any time I have said or implied that here, feel free to change that to "What I think an advertising campaign for atheism should want to achieve is..."

Misconceptions that I believe you have demonstrated? I was directly referring to this statement:
"To me, disbelief in gods on its own is not particularly useful or interesting: it won't make anybody happier, smarter, more moral, more rational, more caring, more productive, or anything really."
There's a belief among the religious that morals, almost by definition, come from (some) God. That by being an atheist you are essentially amoral. You seemed to be hinting at that.

(To be honest I thought there was somewhere where you had specifically said that, but I couldn't find it just now... Sometimes people calling atheists amoral doesn't bother me, at other times I'm hypersensitive to it (it is, I think you will agree, a rather insulting thing to say). Must have caught me on a hypersensitive day.)
There is also a belief that atheists are all cynical, smug and essentially cheerless people. (You'd think people with no morals would be happy all the time, wouldn't you?)
I have been known to be all 3 of those, but rarely in regards to atheism or religion. If anything (and if you look through my replies to matt's past posts) I am quite cynical towards atheism, rather than religion.

So while "atheism" means a belief that there is no god, or, perhaps a lack of belief in a god, people do tend to mis-perceive what an atheist is.
An advertising campaign addressing that would be grand.

Quick Joe Smith said...

I don't agree that I made the suggestion that denying religion was a necessarily negative action...or a positive one. As I remember it, you suggested it was a positive thing and I said that you had to take both positive and negative aspects into account. As to my alleged misconception, I think you have misunderstood me. There are some key words that you appear to have glossed over in my original statement:

"To me, disbelief in gods on its own is not particularly useful or interesting: it won't make anybody happier, smarter, more moral, more rational, more caring, more productive, or anything really."

In particular, the point of reference in all of those is "more than they would otherwise be if they were theists". Coming to the realisation that one no longer believes in a god will not cause an increase in IQ, in empathy with all living things, or so on. It may have that effect in time as one's views and perceptions change in accordance with their revelation. Or it may have the opposite effect. Or it may have no effect at all. It's all contingent on the individual. Some atheists are mean-spirited, materialistic and right-wing. Some Christians are generous hippies. There may be patterns, but it's all very diffuse if you've had much experience with people from all walks of life. Heck, I've even met pushy and dogmatic Buddhists, despite unsolicited preaching being a huge no-no in their beliefs.

As has been mentioned previously, atheism is wrapped up with various other characteristics that are undoubtedly positive and valuable. But, since there is only a non-exclusive and loose association, I do not accept that these qualities are inherently part of atheism. Correlation does not equal causation; this is a trap that theists fall into frequently and the atheist camp should be equally mindful of it as well.

Oh, and on a final note regarding Matt's blog (just for clarity), I was referring to the blog in its entirety rather than this one post. That's what happens when nouns become verbs and new words enter common usage.

And I agree that the discussion so far has been quite good. I look forward to the next round.

Quick Joe Smith said...

Yep, I sure know how to kill a conversation.

Rob said...

Sorry. Some stuff happened in the last couple of weeks that basically meant I wasn't in the mood to argue about this stuff. It's all good now.

I think I see where you're coming from.
I think religion brings different things to different people, and it's exactly the same with atheism. Matt made a point about the prominence of thought (the "no-one thinks twice" paragraph) that really struck me, and that's at the heart of the whole thing.

It's about getting people to think positively about atheism. So sure, for some it might not be a positive thing, but for some people neither is religion, and for others neither are nuts in food. You wouldn't say to Snickers "you can't advertise with the slogan "Get More Nuts" because some people have allergies to nuts, so nuts aren't good to everyone." Same here. Some people aren't going to find the comfort in atheism that others would.
But these ads, as hypothetical as they are, probably aren't going to appeal to those people no matter what. But then maybe they will. Let's show people that there is a positive side to atheism. Whether they agree, or whether they come out in anaphylactic shock, will be their own personal response.

(word verification on this comment is "troll"... is blogger trying to tell me something?)

Quick Joe Smith said...

I'd forgotten about this until a recent incident on YouTube involving Pat Condell spruiking for UKIP, which I made my own post about. It covers some of the same territory as what we've discussed here, so excuse the repetition if you do feel like reading it.

I would be interested to see what other atheists think about this, whether my views are out of line or I'm making too much out of nothing, or whether it is perhaps a timely reminder of what the atheist movement is supposed to be about. It's all very speculative, just so you know.

Sometimes I think that most of today's religions started out the same way: full of promise and new ideas, but then they get dragged down along the way and the message is tarnished or lost entirely.

I hope the same thing doesn't happen here.