Atheist ad campaign set to hit Toronto streets in new year

  • December 16, 2010
athiest posterTORONTO - The new ad campaign from the atheist group behind last year’s “there’s probably no God” campaign suggests that Christ and Allah have the same amount of credibility as UFOs, Big Foot, psychics, Zeus and homeopathy.

“Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” reads the new campaign poster set to run on TTC vehicles in Toronto. While the ads are still pending approval, they are expected to make their debut on streetcars in January, said Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, the group behind the campaign. If all goes according to plan, Trottier said the ads will then run in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.

“Broadening our focus from just God, we’ll now call for skepticism and rational inquiry into any conceivable extraordinary claim,” said Trottier.

But the intent of the ads is not to offend, he said.

“The intent is to get people to join us in a conversation. They’re meant to spark debate.”

Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the archdiocese of Toronto, said it’s important the dialogue created is one of respect between believers and non-believers.

“We live in a multicultural, multi-faith city and we need to be respectful of those who don’t necessarily agree with us,” said MacCarthy. “But it doesn’t mean we have to agree with the content of the ads or this particular approach.”

The best advertisement for faith in the city is the work that’s being done by faith communities, said MacCarthy.

“And that’s not a billboard — that’s our hospitals, our schools, our social services, our churches, people of faith who live and work in this city. If you took a look at the city of Toronto and you didn’t have the involvement of not just Catholic organizations but people of faith, our city would be very different.”

MacCarthy said the archdiocese of Toronto has no plans to run counter-ads.

“We’ll let our witness be the best campaign that we have for the city and for the community in which we live,” he said.

Friar Richard Riccioli, pastor at Toronto’s St. Bonaventure Church, said he doesn’t see the campaign being an effective means of opening up discussion.

“It’s just words on a bus,” he said.

“There’s so much happening in our community that is evidence of faith and of God’s presence,” he said, giving the examples of the Knights of Columbus collecting socks for the homeless and some of his 80-year-old parishioners who volunteer at local food banks.

“Talk is cheap,” Riccioli said. “We’re too busy putting our faith into action to worry about head games… To me, it’s a waste of money.”

Last year, the United Church of Canada ran ads in The Globe and Mail countering the atheist campaign which read, “There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

But this year, they won’t be running any ads, said Mary Frances-Dennis, media and public relations representative for the United Church of Canada.

Frances-Dennis said this is because the ad initiative last year was part of a three-year program where the United Church and an advertising company were working together.

“But that program is wrapping up now so that’s where the budget came from.”

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