Atheists Too Sing America! The Atheist Bus Campaign Comes to Indiana

I like the groovy hippie vibe the ad gives off. It seems to me a slogan less dubious and preachy than the British one (“Now stop worrying, etc.”). In fact, due to this particular ad’s curtness (“You can be good without God”) it has the quality of someone saying “The emperor has no clothes.” In other words, it catches you up short. It feels like an almost deadly Zen koan that takes your intellectual head off, and disorients you: “Oh, you don’t need God to live morally? I always thought I needed ‘God clothes’ to be good. When you think about it, I don’t!” It’s actually brilliant.

The ad’s visuals also seem to be suggesting some interesting things.

The rolling green field with white clouds and blue sky is evocative of bliss and harmony, a this worldly heaven, as if to suggest that being pro-social and enjoying the good can come naturally, and perhaps does come naturally, to most people. And there is a certain visual suggestion that being good and enjoying good things is a breath of fresh air, and that breath of fresh air does not require the presence or direction of a god to be taken in. It’s atheism coming out of the closet and into the open air.

It seems to contrast with the gloomy shadows and candle melting crevices of cathedrals. Outside is the atheist’s cathedral.

In short, this is a bit of atheist Rousseauian Romanticism and Whitmanian Transcendentalism. Nature is pleasantly on our side, or at least not hostile to our projects. You can imagine a similar visual background for an asthma ad, or an allergy relief ad. Something with the face-mask getting cleared up. Atheism as a move into visual, nasal, and vocal clarity. Walt Whitman sending a compassion voice over the American plains—or Langston Hughes saying: “I too sing America!”

The atheist too sings America.

In other words, the ad’s soap powder/allergy relief background adds a good deal to the message. As visual symbolism it suggests a coming out into the open, an entry into the light of day, a clearing of the senses, and bohemian freedom. This is the kind of visual symbolism that advertisers use all of the time, so we are innured to it, but obviously it is there, it is a symbolic language, and it fittingly assists the message.

For those who might not know the Langston Hughes poem I’m referring to, I’ve put it below. I think the bus ad gives off this poem’s vibe (of coming out of the back rooms and saying, “Hey, I’m not staying out of public view for your comfort anymore. Deal with me. I too sing America.”) Agnostic and atheist liberation, like feminism and gay and black liberation, is part of a broader historical movement of equality for all:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Atheists Too Sing America! The Atheist Bus Campaign Comes to Indiana

  1. me2watson says:

    Hello there!

    Flipping through tags on Richard Dawkins, I came
    upon your site. I’ve gone to see a few such sites
    this morning. That brought me to this question.
    Please, I don’t mean this in a derogatory way
    whatsoever. “To each his own weird.” Alan Watts

    .

    Which one did you lose first? Or,
    Which one came up to you first, as a truth?
    Which one did you have to deal with first?

    Atheism or Heterosexuality?

    .

    Just wandering. Delete, if you wish.
    But I’ll still wish you all the luck in the world.

    Uncle Tree

    “The War Beyond Belief”
    http://me2watson.wordpress.com/

  2. santitafarella says:

    Me2Watson:

    It’s a fair question—assuming I’m gay because I post a lot of things in support of gay rights and gay marriage.

    Actually, however, I’m straight and married with two kids.

    I just see gay rights as the civil rights movement of our time—sort of a culmination of full equality for all human beings. Gay people have always been in the world, and have been abused and ill treated. Sooner or later democracy had to hit upon an acknowledgment that if you are going to treat all races and both genders without discrimination, then you are going to have to treat gay people without discrimination. Christian fundamentalists think that gay rights is “radical” but it’s actually, in my view, a logical outgrowth of democracy. Once you acknowledge the rights of one historic group, you’re ultimately going to have to acknowledge them all.

    As for fundamentalist religion, that was a hurdle for me that I, in a wounded fashion, slowly overcame in my late teens. I read my way out.

    I don’t know how others, who are not readers, ever find their way out.

    —Santi

  3. me2watson says:

    Sorry for the assumption, Santi.
    The ass was me this morning, out looking for a squabble.

    There are fanatics on both sides of this equation,
    I do not wish to be one of them. It is called
    ‘stooping’, I believe. Lowdown, perhaps.

    In my teens, I did find a way out. After a few of
    those ‘experiences’, which always took me deep,
    I started reading. I had to know more. No choice.

    Thanks for filling me in. The reason I took to poetry
    was because of the prevalent ADHD these days.
    One page is all they can handle in one setting.
    We can still call that ‘learning’, can we knot?

    Cheers to you, good man! Uncle Tree

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