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What If God Was One of Us? The Bus Wars Heat Up

What if god was one of us? That is, what if, as Joan Osborne sang, he (or, I guess, she) was a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his/her way home?

Well, if he was on a Metrobus, he might be bemused by the battle over his very existence. As I wrote last month, the American Humanist Association has launched a campaign reaching out to would-be atheists in Washington with a series of ads on Metrobuses:


Now comes a group intent on countering that message. "I Believe Too" is the name of their Web site and they're trying to raise $14,000 to put these ads up in Metrobuses:


"Our goal is to counteract the AHA with a positive, upbeat ad of our own that identifies God as our true and loving creator," reads their Web site.

So, how do the ads compare? I like the impish tone of the original atheistic ad, co-opting a Christmas carol for its godless message. The humanists were also careful to include their toll-free number and Web address and they slam the Judeo-Christian tradition with that little "a": "Why believe in a god" not just "god." Ouch. The godly ad presupposes you've seen the first ad and is a direct answer to it. It gets points for using a portion of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. It stumbles a little with its tagline--"Because I created you and I love you, for goodness' sake"--which sounds like something Aunt Bee would say: "Opie, take off those dirty britches, for goodness' sake." But it ends on a strong note, signed simply "God." Wow, the big guy himself. The only thing that's missing is a final note that reads, "I'm God and I approve this message."

But let's call the dueling ad campaigns a draw. And let's pray that the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Shinto, the sun worshipers, the snake worshipers, the animists, the Satanists and all the other religions start buying ads on public transportation. Metro could use the money.

By John Kelly  |  December 3, 2008; 9:15 AM ET
 | Tags: Metro, religion  
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I think the Wiccans should practice skyclad on the national mall.

Posted by: justhere | December 3, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I am sure some of your readers know that Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" has provoked "The Dawkins Delusion?"

Posted by: cktirumalai | December 3, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

This all reminds me of the great "Jews for Jesus" radio wars from a few years ago. I mean, what better place to debate theology than commercial blocks on 101.1 FM?

Posted by: MattinSW | December 3, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Please allow me to nitpick. "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" is not a Christmas carol.

Posted by: janedoe5 | December 3, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Justhere, not all Wiccans worship skyclad, and those that do only do so at specific times and places, most often in their own homes. That's a stereotype spread by fundamentalist Christians as a way to bash us and keep us considered freaks or worse. Besides, isn't it a bit cold out there nowadays for nudity anyway?

And janedoe5, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" IS in fact one of the Christmas carols...or do only religious songs count to you? Personally, I find the secular Christmas songs a heck of a lot more fun, especially "The 12 Pains of Christmas." And my older daughter LOVES "The Hippo Song!"

That having been said, I'm glad to see these ads coming to the provides a good counterpoint to all those God billboards that are all over the place. Freedom of religion means ANY religion as well as freedom FROM religion, and it's about time that point got made again.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 3, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster should counter that by putting this one up:

Posted by: dr_klahn | December 3, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

How is it okay, or honest, to speak for god and then sign his name? I mean, I'm no religious person, but isn't that actually blasphemous? Not to mention that the response ad is a circular argument...why believe in god? Because he exists. Makes no sense.

Posted by: qwerty3 | December 3, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

reminds me of the article I saw a few days ago about the president of Brazil imploring God to stop the rains that were causing such devastation in the southern part of that country. This is presumably the same God who caused the rains in the first place. Why do the religious insist on making it so easy to mock them and their beliefs?

Posted by: eomcmars | December 3, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I think it's worth mentioning that "I Believe Too" is a grassroots campaign (which, full disclosure, I am involved with), organized by a stay at home mom (with two toddlers, an infant, and in the process of moving homes), and funded by donations. I think that the message we wish to convey gets across without an 800 number or a URL and, as the campaign is self-funded, those would come too late: no use to raise money after we've accomplished our goal! Thanks for blogging about this, Mr. Kelly. I disagree with part of your assessment but think it's wonderful that the campaign gets the exposure of your well-read blog. The first phase of the campaign (getting 200 interior ads placed) is rolling along and we can't wait to see those soon.

Posted by: jeaguilar | December 3, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

How about this message: "Don't Be Religulous." Offensive yet pithy, yes?

Posted by: Religulous | December 3, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

As a non-theist, someone that doesn't adhere to religious indoctrination, I know the natural state of human beings is to not believe in any deities. There is no proof that any deities ever existed and there most likely never will be because deities do not exist. There are a lot more non-theists out there than most people acknowledge or realize. We don't disbelieve in deities any more than someone else disbelieves in the Great Pumpkin. To paraphrase Stephen Roberts "I contend that we are both atheists. When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you'll understand why I dismiss yours.". I don't know why it is so easy for someone to scoff at the notion of Zeus but then so easy for them to believe in a deity with just as much proof (zero).

The point of the bus ads is to let other non-theists know that they are not alone and to help religious folks realize they don't have a monopoly on good deeds and charity. Personally, I would not have put out the ads because of the ridiculously inevitable, ignorant backlash against non-theists.

Posted by: VAChristopher | December 3, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Religion is a socially inspired framework for living. It comforts the afflicted. It provides rituals to reduce tension and anxiety. It provides lists of unacceptable behaviors. It permits you to believe in an afterlife. It suggests that you bash non-believers, to death if necessary. You can feel superior to your brethren humans when your brethren fail to obey the Word of God. You can violate human rights in His name. You can go to war in His name. God may well exist. Who I am I to say He does not. But He doesn't communicate with his Creations (us) clearly, distinctly, and unambiguously. By the way. Who signed God's name to the back of the bus ad that asserts God's existence? Isn't that taking the Lord's name in vain?

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | December 3, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I find the humanist ad delightful and witty. It makes an excellent point, and I certainly see no threat to my belief in a God (Allah, if we want to get precise). The point is that (as mentioned previously) religious people cannot claim monopoly on morals and decency. I also say the atheists cannot claim intellectual superiority. There is no need to try and "counter" anything. I didn't convert after taking a glimpse at a Metrobus ad, and I think it is an incredible waste of money to counter the "atheist" ads.
To the "I Believe Too" members: Why not be really good Christians (or at the very least, decent, kind, generous human beings) and give that money to charity, or any other cause more worthy than proselytizing.

Posted by: palipride47 | December 3, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Not just on this "chat thing" but on a lot of "chat things" I am seeing more and more "of course we're all atheists here, all normal people are" messages. And it is odd to me. Do you need a literal touch-it-like-a-fish God in order to believe? What about that small still quiet voice inside? All of the arguements like Christ = Zeus are silly for so many reasons. I'm a liberal democrat, mainline protestant, a very quiet and normal person and in fact even a grumpy person. So don't think of me as one of "those people". But I believe and believe me, it is not comfortable! It is anything but easy to believe! It means grumpy or not, I have to "feed his sheep", I have to be His hands, I need to turn the other check.... etc. And luckily when I fail, which is all the time of course, I can ask for his forgiveness. It is forgiveness, of which He(She) is an everlasting ocean that makes me want to live.... All these "of course we're atheists" people, have you actually studied Christianity? Try really studying it. Well actually study any religion, I think people should start with their family background, if nothing else you will learn stuff about your family. And history just doesn't make sense without understanding religion. Try C.S. Lewis. Try Karen Armstrong. Try Rob Bell. I don't who to recommend for other than Christianity. But to just toss God overboard because you think it means a childlike viewpoint -- it doesn't -- we all outgrow the "fairytale" stuff -- but you can keep and enrich the meaningful stuff. I wish I was a better writer, but oh well.

Posted by: Bear4 | December 3, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm with BlueTwo1 and qwerty3 on this - taking out an ad and signing it "God" is presumptuous, if not blasphemous. I speak as a God-believer here. Frankly, doesn't the gospel say to show an example by good works? How is this silly bus ad a good work? Who does it help? It's just engaging in an idiotic pseudo-battle with atheists/agnostics, who have as much right to disbelieve as I do to believe, in our free no-established-religion country.

Though I do applaud their support of Metro through ad-buying - good one, Mr. Kelly.

Posted by: undercover_hon | December 3, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

An individual buying ad space to rebut another advertisement is perfectly fine and in fact quite nice to see it was an individual's idea which grew into something else. However, to sign the ad "God" as if you speak for, or even know what God thinks, let alone if God even exists in a way which humans can understand, is simply pretentious, egotistical and downright disgusting.

I was raised Jewish, although I'm not so religious anymore, and can understand the frustration religious people have with the message sent by the ad. But instead of slamming an organization which believes in being good for the purposes of being good (as opposed to being good for fear of going to Hell, which would require an entire other discussion about which approach is more "Godly") why not work to build that spirit among ALL people, religious or not, to work together to solve our societies issues and to simply be nice to one another.

This petty back and forth gets us nowhere and in fact does more harm than good. All religion (Atheists too), for the most part, have the same basic principles; live a righteous and peaceful life based on charity and community. The only difference is form, if any, God takes. Spirituality is a private matter and should be encouraged with or without a religion. Just like the discussion we're having in politics nowadays as well, conflict simply invites more conflict and doesn't get anything substantial or sustainable accomplished. We need peace among all people. That's the ultimate goal and one we should be working for. Stop being defensive and be inviting. In the end we're all in the same boat and will end up in the same place one way or another. We might as well make our physical existence as peaceful and accepting as our spiritual existence strives to be.

Posted by: bmarcus220 | December 3, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Way to go, John! Let's not get into politics at all, but generate posts by going right to the Big Guy.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 3, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

To bmarcus200:


Atheism is NOT a religion. That's just what they argue to attempt to do the stupid things they do at times of RELIGIOUS holidays. Look in a dictionary-
Theism, in its most inclusive usage, is the belief in at least one deity. ATHEISM is the belief in NO deity, ie NO RELIGION. Atheism, as an explicit position, can be either the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods, [1] or the rejection of theism.

They're just nutcases. NOT because they don't believe in God or a deity. There's nothing inherently wrong with that if that makes them happy. It the fact that they "celebrate" their BS at times of other people's religious holidays.

God, Allah, Buddha etceteras are a good thing. If you think crime is bad now, what do you think would happen if NO ONE believed in a God and perhaps eternal damnation? Bill Maher would be dead in a heartbeat, because some poor cancer patient with nothing to lose would take him out for his anal views. There'd be nothing holding him or her back.

And we'd have to build a hell of a lot more prisons asap.

Just a thought.

Posted by: madcitizen | December 3, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Madcitizen: The whole point of the ad campaign is that there are many non-religious people (call the atheists or whatever you want) that are moral, caring people - that you don't have to believe in a god for that. That blows away your whole premise that without a belief in god people would devolve into snarling packs of ultra-violent madmen.

If you look at all of the bloodshed that has happened in the name of religion throughout history I think you could make a pretty good case for the opposite. I think the real question is whether man is inherently violent by nature - if that's the case, then it doesn't matter what people believe in - that violence will still manifest itself at times.

Posted by: dr_klahn | December 3, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Thank you MadCitizen for proving my point about ignorant backlash against non-theists. One thing you did get correct in your post is that atheism is not a religion. People who do not believe in deities are not bound together by a common belief system, though. You're not bound together in a group with other people that do not believe in Zeus. Not believing in something that someone else believes in is not a belief system, it's a lack of belief and there is a world of difference. You know what well over 90% of the people in prisons do profess? A faith in deities.

Religion does not give people moral fiber or grow consciences. People are basically good to begin with. I'll leave this discussion with some words from Albert Einstein.

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." - Albert Einstein

Posted by: VAChristopher | December 3, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Whither is the subjunctive? e.g.:
Mr. Kelley:
"What If God Were One of Us?"
or Bear4:
"I wish I were a better writer". Indeed!

Perhaps it, too, is bound for the same fate as god!

Posted by: slowe111 | December 3, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Is it pretentious or blasphemous for a Christian to state unequivocally that he was created by God and have certainty that God loves him? No, that's what our faith teaches us. Is it wrong to want to share that faith with others? I don't think so, again, it's what our faith requires of us. Is it entirely reasonable for someone who does not believe to disagree? Absolutely. The "I Believe Too" is meant to be both dialogue and testimony and it obviously makes people uncomfortable. But it's not any more inappropriate for a Christian to want to share his faith than for a Humanist to share his views.

Posted by: jeaguilar | December 3, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Hi everyone. I was involved in some of the discussions before this ad campaign was launched. It might be helpful for people to know that the intent was not to convert or offend believers. The major goal was simply to raise the visibility of those of us with no belief and create a sense of community around our shared views. The absence of belief is the most rapidly increasing category of religious viewpoint.

We have a clear right to nurture a sense of community as do those of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu or other views. Obviously, we are most pleased that so many people are joining AHA. Local people can also join the local affiliate, the Washington Area Secular Humanists. See for more information.

Posted by: DCHumanist | December 3, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Dear DCHumanist,

I appreciate your participation in this forum to expand upon the intent of the AHA campaign, though I think that this campaign, unlike the NJ turnpike billboard, was designed to be slightly more provocative than simple community-building would suggest. I may disagree with your message but I respect your right to express your convictions and welcome the opportunity to share my own in a similar fashion. And as we are on opposite sides of this issue, it is not surprising that my reaction was to participate in being vocal in defense of my faith. Unfortunately, we live in an age where many people think it's OK to be anti-Christian, not just pro-secular.

Oh, and my wife corrected me about JoEllen's family: they have four young kids, not three.

I hope you have a safe and happy holidays.

Posted by: jeaguilar | December 3, 2008 8:48 PM | Report abuse


We HAVE studied christianity, many of us used to BE christian. Sorry, but I've been there, tried that, aren't convinced any more.


Just because someone buys an ad suggesting that your religion is not true is NOT necessarily an anti-christian ad. It IS a suggestion that theism isn't true, because that ad said "a god", small letters, no caps. Not specifically targeted at YOUR religion at all, but at ALL religions!

You don't need to "defend" your religion, unless you are afraid that it cannot stand against independently thinking, self confident adults actually examining the real evidence, because nobody is actually attacking it here.

This ad, like the gentleman said above, is a suggestion to those that already doubt or don't believe that there are others that think that way too, with ways for them to contact those others.

If you already believe, this is NOT an attempt to change your mind!!

For those that already are interested in this way of thinking, or think that you may be alone, YOU ARE NOT!!

Please go to and look up current events, there's a meeting of WASH this Saturday, we'd love to have you!!

Posted by: rwahrens | December 3, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Dear jeaguilar,

You seem to be a tolerant Christian who is willing to close your response to me with the very warm and secular sentence, “I hope you have a safe and happy holidays.” Obviously I want to return the warmth and dignity of your post to me with the same.

That said, I want to make it clear that thuggish nonsense is often sold under the Christian label. Where such nonsense is propagated it is quite reasonable to be anti-Christian and to communicate the reasons to be anti-Christian. Frankly I was among those advocating a more provocative message.

Your version of Christianity might not have any of these thuggish qualities. There are literally thousands of varieties of Christianity and each needs to be looked at individually.

What do I mean by a thuggish quality? Consider the classical conception of Hell. It is a rather archaic concept but on surveys a majority of Christians still assert that they believe in it. Among those that believe in it there are many that think that it is now empty because of the actions of Jesus. The remainder believe that an infinitely powerful God supports the existence of a torture chamber where unbelievers are tormented for an eternity for the sin of not believing in God. These people are worshiping a thug.

If this God exists he has given me the evidence and tools of analysis to reject his existence. He is responsible for my unbelief. How then is is reasonable to condemn me to an eternity in Hell? How then is it reasonable to condemn the majority of humanity to an eternity in Hell? Frankly if this God were real the human community should be doing everything it can to overthrow this thuggish monster and end his rule over this universe.

My guess is that you do not worship this thug and are thus Christian in a better sense of the term. If that is true it would be rude of me to bring the anti-Christian passion of which I am capable to a discussion of your beliefs.

The open question then is: What are your beliefs and can they stand up to reasonable analysis?

Let me also wish you a a safe and happy holiday season.

Posted by: DCHumanist | December 3, 2008 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, Metro could definitely use the money, though no amount of religious advertising is going to change my opinion about religion. Seems like a waste of money by these groups to me. But, if it's going to a good cause (public transportation), then they're free to waste it as they like.

Posted by: akchild | December 4, 2008 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Also, I would just like to say that Atheism IS a religion in the very fact that people who call themselves Atheists are very adamant about being as completely secular as possible.

Personally, I call myself non-religious, or an apathetic agnostic, which means I don't know and I don't particularly care. An Athesist asserts that there is no god, which assumes a certain knowledge, and they religiously practice that belief (for non-belief is still a type of belief).

The only thing required for a "religion" is a belief in something. We can be religious about any number of things. DCHumanist, your passion and argument are a clear indication of exactly what I'm talking about. You care enough about your belief in a lack of religious deity to argue that point with people who have a strong belief in one diety or another.

Posted by: akchild | December 4, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Dear DCHumanist,

I posted a reply which was flagged for moderation by the system. In case it does not get approved, I don't want you to think that I ignored your question. A copy of my reply is at

Best regards,


Posted by: jeaguilar | December 4, 2008 8:28 AM | Report abuse

As a reformed if-it-feels-good-do-it humanist myself, I'd just like to say that I find the new ads by I Believe Too refreshing and edgy. I laughed as I read some of the comments here calling the ad "blashphemous." What a lovely study in the absurd to see a "non-thiest" defending God by criticizing the ad campaign. I just gave a sizable donation to the campaign and I'm encouraging all of my friends to do the same. I agree with I Believe's creator, JoEllen. Enough is enough.

Posted by: flowerchild22 | December 4, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

My 12-year-old daughter, who is a believer, when looking at the pro-God ad commented, "It makes me feel good." I wouldn't argue that this would be a valid reason to believe in God, but for those of us with a relationship with Him it is nice to hear "I love you". I believe because I witness an intelligent design in creation, because nothing comes from nothing, because my mother was miraculously healed through prayer, because I know God. I believe in hell, and that people who reject God will go there- but please listen to what I mean by that. I believe I am rejecting God when I put my will above His, and in doing so I am putting myself on the path to hell. An atheist submits to God when she submits to love- the Bible says God is love. We will each be judged according to what we have been given, and no one should presume to judge what another has been given. If someone is truly good for goodness' sake, I suspect that person is being good out of a submission to God's order, whether she acknowledges that or not. We don't all end up in the same place. I think being good out of a love for goodness is more Christian than being good out of a fear of hell.

Posted by: rebecca11 | December 4, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

More about hell from a Roman Catholic. I've been taught that hell is the absence of God, and heaven is perfect union with God. God created us to be in union with Him, so to be united with Him is perfect happiness. Hell is the opposite. In this life, we are surrounded by God, and constantly have the opportunity to accept God by loving and by submitting to His laws and will, and if we are given the gift of faith then living in faith. If we choose in this life to unite ourselves with God, then we shall be forever united with Him when we die. If we choose in this life to reject God's laws, to reject love, to reject goodness, to reject Truth; then God will allow us to reject Him for all eternity. That would be hell.

Posted by: rebecca11 | December 4, 2008 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Dear jeaguilar (Juan)

I remain impressed with your positive qualities as a person. I have no desire to convert you to humanism but if you find pleasure in our discussions I will be happy to continue them.

John 3:16 is false. No one has eternal life. Life is a biological phenomenon and without that biology there is no life. This is a simple scientific truth. I am deeply at peace with the fact that no one has an afterlife. Understanding this focuses attention on the real life we live in the here and now. My life has many elements of secular grace, beauty and joy in relation to those who I cherish and the wonderful qualities of the natural order within which I/we live.

Obviously I do not have imagined conversations with an invisible friend as you note in your life. Those conversations may include messages of hope and love as you say. However, there is no reason to think that a life without these imaginary conversations would not have hope and love of an equivalent or greater extent. My secular friends are extraordinarily positive people.

I find John 3:18 to be a problem for you, “he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Why would an infinitely powerful “God” who created and maintained the universe care one little bit if I got his name right or not???? So I become condemned because of this? In polls 93 percent of the members of the National Academy do not believe in a personal god. They are likewise “condemned.” These are the best and brightest in our nation. They are the ones who best define what we know to be true. Can you really say that they are wrong and deserve God's condemnation for their error?

Yes you have carried on our conversation with warmth and dignity. My guess is that if we discussed how we could act for the common good of humanity we would find much agreement.

However, your Bible seems to command you to view me as condemned. This view is simply wrong. It creates a barrier between us that has no validity.

If you would like to converse in person I will be at the Washington Area Secular Humanity meeting tomorrow ( My name is Don and I will come wearing blue jeans, blue shirt and a green coat.

Posted by: DCHumanist | December 5, 2008 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Dear rebecca11

I have passionately explored the central truths of the universe in which we live. I have a rather deep understanding of the laws that define the behavior of our universe. I have explored the laws of love and happiness and I am quite fortunate to have both in my life in abundance.

In choosing to have confidence in our human ability to understand what is real and true I have rejected the false conceptions of “God” written by the primitive tribal people who wrote the Bible. If God has any meaning it should reflect the stupendous achievements of modern science which we now have and we should put away the myths of childhood wherever they are shown to be false.

Posted by: DCHumanist | December 5, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse


I would have like to have made the effort to have met you but did not get the message until this afternoon. (And the weekend responsibilities of a bunch of kids and cutting down a Christmas tree would have probably gotten in the way too.)

One thing that I keep thinking about is that for someone who rejects the existence of God, an absence of God in an afterlife would be exactly what they desired, right? A friend of the family who is a Deacon at St. Ann's in DC used to say something like, "no one will be surprised on Judgment Day". If you reject God, even reject His existence, then the result of that (from a believers perspective) would be condemnation. From the non-believers perspective, wouldn't it be exactly what you wanted?

I do not see you as condemned, by the way. That decision is reserved for God alone, upon Whom no limits can be placed.

For you, a life that is ordered toward an invisible God is absurd. To me, a life that does not recognize the existence of God is difficult to comprehend. Mostly (as I wrote in my previous entry) I have a hard time seeing from where you draw hope and solace. I have no doubt that you and your friends are positive people. But when the going gets really tough, you have nobody to turn to: no appeal to make in the face of impossibility.

I must run now. Thanks for continuing the conversation.



Posted by: jeaguilar | December 6, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I think this counter-campaign is wonderful and in desperate need. The Christian faith is under attack and this ad is critically important to keeping God in our lives. Without Him, we would not be here, whether you believe it or not. And in the end, He will judge each and every one of us, whether you believe it or not. He will judge us by how we lived our lives according to the 10 Commandments He set forth. And we will not spend an eternity in Hell if we don't follow them, but some time in Purgatory to cleanse our souls of evil so we will be worthy to spend eternity with Him. Rebecca put it quite nicely. God gave us the free will to be good for "goodness'" sake or for "God's" sake. I choose God. After all, where do you think that definition of "goodness" came from?

This ad is great and it DOES make people feel good because God DOES love us!! How awesome is that to hear during the Christmas season!!

Posted by: catholiclife | December 8, 2008 7:21 AM | Report abuse

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