United Church and Atheists Make Great Frenemies
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United Church and Atheists Make Great Frenemies

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Photo courtesy of Flex PR


If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a life stance war a’ brewing within Toronto’s ad spaces. In about two weeks, TTC buses will be adorned with a pro-atheist message that reads, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
But last weekend, in a crafty attempt to steal the campaign’s march, the United Church of Canada bought full-page national newspaper ads recasting the heathen message as a multiple choice question with a second option: “There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The counter-ads invite readers to vote for their preferred outlook on the Church’s online ministry, Wondercafe.ca. “They’re meant to get people to think about and talk about God in a manner that has kind of a respect and a sense of playfulness,” says Reverend Keith Howard, who heads Emerging Spirit—a project that aims to lure Sabbath-day-skipping Canadians to the Church through eyebrow-raising promos (see also: Bobblehead Jesus and the money-grabbing manger).
While the ads have definitely garnered a fair bit of attention, it may not be the kind the Church was hoping for. The latest Wondercafe poll results show the atheist position bringing down the house, with 53 per cent of voters agreeing there’s probably not a God, compared to 47 per cent insisting there probably is a God.
“It’s just kind of funny,” says Katie Kish, vice-president of the Freethought Association of Canada, the organization spearheading the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign. “They’ve put this huge ad in the Globe and Mail that links to Wondercafe. Then you go to their discussion and we’re winning, so that gives us more press and more people coming to find us.”
Kish says the campaign, which was inspired by similar transit ads in the U.K., seeks to cajole atheist freethinkers “out of the closet” and inform the public that many of them exist. The org, which plans on plastering the same ad on buses in other Canadian cities, also wants to reassure non-believers that they won’t catch hell for being Doubting Thomases.
Still, Kish hopes the FAC and UCC can be friends. “I think this opens up a lot of good opportunities to work with the United Church of Canada—if they’ll work with us—in holding discussion panels and creating a really big campaign that will have atheists understanding those with beliefs and those with beliefs understanding those without beliefs.”
Would the Church consider accepting this olive branch?
“I think that’s a possibility,” says Howard. “I think those kinds of events, as long as they’re done in a good manner, are kind of interesting events.” He adds: “Given the issues people are facing today, the old way of having polarized discussions about almost anything just doesn’t seem to be working for us… I think we’re trying to reach for a new way for people to have a respectful, civilized discourse.”

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