Bus Wars are a new front in the battle over God, goodness and freedom of speech. In Portland Oregon, king size ads are on 10 of the city’s buses asking: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” Similar signs are on subways in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and on billboards in Chicago, San Diego and other cities. Is this a strike against religion and spirituality or is it an invitation to what it means to be ethical? It might just be a reminder to get down from our perch and realize that we’re all made for goodness – no matter where we stand on the G question.
The Portland Coalition of Reason and its national umbrella group, United Coalition of Reason, want people to know that being a moral and ethical person has little to do with your belief-in-God credentials. President Obama, a practicing Christian, may have emboldened the atheists to expect more respect for their position. In his Presidential inaugural address he observed, “We are a nation of Christian and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers.” Along with Buddhists, Sikhs, Wiccans and a host of other Americans.
A similar ad campaign in Britain last summer unleashed a Bus War of ads for and against belief in God. In London it began with the ads sponsored by jesus.said.org. The atheists responded first with their own volley of ads. Not to be outdone, various Christian groups promoted their own viewpoints on these transit billboards. 800 British buses became a mobile chat room for sound bites about belief and God.
In Des Moines, Iowa, 20 buses carried ads asking”Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” They were not seen by many people in Des Moines. The transit authority removed them because they mentioned “God”. The ensuing conversation about free speech and civil liberties brought change to the policies of the transit authority in Des Moines. God may now be mentioned in an ad in Des Moines. Thanks to the atheists!
Are the Bus Wars just a silly distraction? Not to those involved in them! Surely God is not threatened by the ads? That question is of course a non-starter for those who do not believe in a deity. The ads invite discussion about civil liberties and free speech. They also invite awareness that we are not a monolithic or exclusively theist nation when it comes to the G question. Almost 25% of Americans claim to be spiritual rather than religious. Many who fall into this category have little use for what they see as the religious correctness or dogma battles of religion.
The Bus Wars mask a deeper question about what it means to each be ethical people who live with a moral code. Most of us have experienced a seismic breach in public trust about our financial system in the last few years. Many of us question the truth telling and ethics about going to war with Iraq. No matter what we think about the G question, we each spend our lives making sense of meaning.
We are each made for goodness. The Bus Wars are a reminder than in our diversity of opinions about belief we share a common quest for meaning and ethics. Wars are usually fought with the intention of winning. The victory of the victor always comes with a price paid by all. How much more life-giving to engage in conversations about what goodness means in our common life.
The Russian Orthodox, a religious minority in Britain, possibly understood the tragic cost of building walls between people or seeking to vanquish the perspective of others. They joined in the parade of bus ads with one that affirmed God and invited people to believe. The ad then declared, “Don’t worry and enjoy your life.” A reality check of that sort might be a helpful prescription for us!
The tag line from the Russian Orthodox ad serves as an invitation to the question of what it means to be good, to seek goodness for all. Goodness is measured not by what we chose to believe. Goodness is measured by where our own life connects with the common good.
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