Those waiting by at bus stops in Berlin, Munich or Cologne later this year may be in for a surprise. In place of ordinary commercial ads, commuters will be greeted by hard-hitting atheist slogans. That at least is the plan of a new German atheism campaign, the latest European group to use buses as a vehicle for its provocative views.
Organizers are taking a leaf out of the book of Spanish and English groups that have run similar campaigns. Right now the German organizers are trying to raise money to embellish seven buses with their ads.
Atheists pledging a euro or more to the campaign can vote on a selection of slogans, some loosely based on the British signs. Phillip Möller, one of the campaign organizers, says the German group has collected €3,500 in the first four days of fundraising. They need €16,000 euros more to fund the project.
Möller, one of the six founders, doesn't see himself as any sort of missionary. "We just want to inform people," he said. "In an enlightened society you should be able to say something like that without being punished."
And many Germans do not subscribe to any particular religion, or even believe in God. Around a third of the population, according to official data -- in a country where official church membership is tithed through the tax office -- claim no religion. A survey carried out in 2005 showed that 22 percent of all Germans say they believe in God. Self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics accounted for 23 percent of the population. "We want to finally give these people a voice," said Möller.
Debate in the United Kingdom flared with the start of the world's first atheist campaign earlier this year. Around 200 buses caused a furore with their unconventional ads. Journalist and comedy writer Ariane Sherine unwittingly started the campaign last year with a blog on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian. She described her outrage after seeing a red London bus carrying a Bible quote, and details of a Web site. Non-Christians, the Web site pronounced, would burn in hell for all eternity.
Sherine wrote that atheists could each donate five pounds to counter the religious ad. The project was boosted by evolutionary biologist and public atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. It struck a chord, and donations totalled five times more than originally expected.
Similar bus campaigns are now planned in Italy, Australia and Canada.