The fundraising campaign to procure money for a fleet of London buses that will tell people there is probably no God and they should get on with being happy has proved an instant hit - raising over five times its target in the first day.
The campaign organisers, who include anti-religion activist Professor Richard Dawkins, set their sights reasonably modestly, but even they seem surprised at the response from publicity for the Atheist Bus Campaign from readers of The Guardian’s Comment Is Free (CiF) website.
Comedy writer Ariane Sherine, aged 28, kick started the idea after seeing bus ads featuring the URL of a religious website which said non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity. Sherine suggested that atheists reading her article could each donate £5 to fund a reassuring counter-advert.
The campaign has also produced a lively debate on the web, with many welcoming it and others dubbing it a "be happy" vehicle "on the road to nowhere."
The Methodist Church put out a press release earlier today welcoming the attention to God the campaign will elicit. The religion and society think tank Ekklesia welcomed the fact that it was not "knocking" others, and said it could provoke a useful discussion about how people promote their beliefs in a mixed society. But it suggested that there was public resistance to being told what to believe.
Recently the Quakers in Britain held an awareness week to encourage reflection on a spiritual path based on peace and understanding. It included the poster, "Thou shalt... think for yourself."
Ms Sherine, Atheist Bus Campaign creator said of her fundraising hit: "This is absolutely brilliant and I’d like to thank everyone who donated for their support. The sky’s the limit for atheists even if we don’t believe there’s anyone up there."
Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association added: "We have met our target five times over... If the money keeps pouring in we can expand the campaign, not just to ads inside the buses as well as outside, but to ads on the tube or other transport, and in locations outside London."
Comments left by some donors on the fundraising website at www.justgiving.com/atheistbus  called for the campaign to be rolled out to Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and other towns and cities all over the UK.
Justgiving.com – the online fundraising website which the BHA is using to collect the donations – called the campaign’s success "amazing" and in a post on their site said: "This page is remarkable for the sheer speed that it’s raising money - we’ve been noticing that there are new donations every time we refresh the page."
The website, which also raises funds for humanitarian and religious causes, added: "Whatever you believe, it certainly shows the power of online fundraising. The campaign has not only smashed its target [..] but it’s gone from trebling the target to quadrupling it in the time spent writing this blog post."
Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion, which has been praised for its condemnation of religious extremism and criticised for its flawed pop philosophy, has already broken bestselling records for a book of its kind, and indicates that there is a strong backlash against religion as well as a mutation of religious and spiritual commitment towards the margins and to more vocal groups.
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow commented: "We no longer live in a society where institutional churches embody most people's convictions, if we ever did. We live in a multi-conviction society. The real issue is whether people on different paths of understanding can learn to talk together, cooperate and share the best of what they have to offer, or whether they will try to out-advertise each other and impose their ideological moulds on others. This applies to religious and non-religious people alike."
"In post-Christendom, the era beyond formal church power, Christians need to witness to a path which is about the power of love not the love of power - in the way they live, as well as what they say," Barrow suggested. "This would represent both a contemporary return to the subversive origins of Christianity in the Jesus movement, and an investment in the shared search for justice and peace."
Atheist evangelising, by Simon Barrow, on Guardian CIF: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/21/religion-advertising... .
Atheism evangelism campaign wants to take people for a God-free ride - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/7809 
Methodists welcome Dawkins initiative to get God on London buses - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7811/edit 
More thought about God from Ekklesia:
The God elusion - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6962 
What difference does God make today? - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/4921 
Three ways to make sense of one God - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5312