Following the popularity of a bus advertising campaign in Britain saying God "probably" does not exist, a Canadian group is planning a similar campaign on Toronto's buses - writes Leanne Larmondin.
One Christian denomination is, however, responding by using the advertisements as an invitation to a dialogue about the existence of God.
The Freethought Association of Canada - a group that embraces various secular worldviews including atheism - began fundraising in mid-January with a goal of 6000 Canadian dollars (US$4800) to begin advertising on Toronto's buses.
By 30 January 2009, they had far surpassed the goal, raising 31 500 Canadian dollars (US$25 625). The extra funds mean they can expand the campaign to the western Canadian city of Alberta and Halifax in the east, earlier than planned.
The association will use identical wording as the British adverts that drew much publicity, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Justin Trottier, the 26-year-old president of the Freethought Association, said his group chose to duplicate the "positive" British wording.
"We're more concerned with living this life to the fullest and not being so concerned with salvation," said Trottier.
Reaction to the proposed campaign was mixed after the advertisements were approved in late January but before they appeared on buses. One evangelical leader said the campaign amounted to "attack ads" and should be banned.
The United Church of Canada, Canada's largest Protestant denomination, however, co-opted the atheists' slogan for its own campaign.
Its publicity uses atheists' wording, and adds an additional slogan, "There's probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". There is a check box beside each phrase. The advert directs people to a church Web site, wondercafe.ca, where visitors can join discussions of faith matters.
The Rev. Keith Howard, director of the church's outreach initiative, said its campaign would launch with a national newspaper advertisement.
"We thought it was a good opportunity to talk about God," said Howard. "It seems particularly appropriate at a time when God is being called upon to sanction everything from football to wars."
At the same time, the Humanist Association of Canada has begun fundraising for its own bus campaign - one with a different message. "Our slogan will be something along the lines of 'You can be good without God'," said association president Pat O'Brien.
Church Web site: wondercafe.ca
London campaign: atheistbus.co.uk/
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]