Are Canadians Indifferent to the Atheist Ads? April 4, 2009

Are Canadians Indifferent to the Atheist Ads?

A new poll suggests that Canadians are pretty apathetic when it comes to the atheist bus ads.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests Canadians are largely indifferent, although similar campaigns have sparked anger in Britain and parts of the United States.

The poll found 32 per cent of respondents opposed the ads, 20 per cent supported them and 43 per cent didn’t care one way or the other.

Support for the ads was strongest among respondents in British Columbia and Ontario, with the highest opposition in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Support also varied by age and income, with younger respondents and those making more than $60,000 a year more likely to favour running the ads.

Let’s say we can trust this poll.

If the information is true, we ought to be thrilled. This is exactly the outcome we wanted. The bus ads weren’t intended to be offensive and I don’t think anyone anticipated they would be loved by everyone.

Indifference is perfect. It means people saw the ads and basically shrugged it off. They didn’t make a big deal about it.

They’re atheists. So what?

There’s probably no God? I’m fine with someone saying that.

Enjoy my life? Don’t mind if I do.

It would be fantastic if people had that reaction in America.

Imagine if you told someone you were an atheist and the person barely flinched. It would be wonderful. No one would be scared of your beliefs, or think you’re responsible for so many evils, or avoid a second date with you 🙂

Indifference is the immediate goal. We can work on getting people to overwhelmingly approve and accept atheism after that.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I should probably do more research, but it feels like the GLBT movement is in that second stage, with acceptance not at all universal, but with open hatred of GLBT as far less socially acceptable than GLBT itself. I’m an Ally, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future Atheists will have an ally network as well, as counterintuitive as that seems.

    I’d agree that indifference is on the right track to success, and would also like to point out that the younger portion of the population was all for (or indifferent) to those ads: theism could very well be dying out (in Canada, at least).

  • AmberEyes

    I think it depends on your location in Canada. I’m living in Victoria, BC, and it’s been rumored that the local bus drivers have “refused” to drive a bus with an atheist ad. Sounds a bit childish to me…

  • Jim

    Out here in Lethbridge there is something of campaign for bus ads that is trying to get organized. There has been some media attention but in general I think there won’t be a lot of problem with them being banned or anything. I think a lot of people might choke on it a bit, though.

    You are exactly right, that the best thing to come of this would be indifference. As an atheist, my rights have never been trampled on in any real way by theism. On the other hand, the acceptability of public displays of disbelief has a long way to go.

    Fighting for this acceptability is important in view of the way various politicians have been hiding under a cloak of “respect my religion” when it comes to issues like evolution. There should be hell to pay when theists publicly say their religious views are above critique.

  • That’s pretty much what I would have expected, especially in Ontario (where I grew up). Religion or lack thereof is seen as more of a private decision, and not anyone else’s business (which is why it was so confusing to me to be asked “what church do you go to?” after moving to the US. I would bet that a good chunk of the people that oppose the ads oppose them because they would object to ANY ad relating to religion or other personal matters…

  • I like the United Church of Canada’s reaction to the campaign: run their own campaign with the slogan “There probably is a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. A little friendly rejoinder, so to speak, and the end moral is the same. Which pretty much sums up my experience from when I was a member: God loves everybody, so do some Good Works (emphasis on the practical kind), and have a happy life in whatever way seems best to you. Sin and hellfire isn’t even on the radar.

    If every church was like that, we wouldn’t have nearly anything like as much trouble with Christianity as we do.

  • It was quite a battle to get the ads in Ottawa. I think that means local atheists are not apathetic. And local councillors may have realized they can’t be bigoted without loosing votes.

  • Pierre Berton’s “The Comfortable Pew” written in the 60’s, still accurately describes the view of religion and the church of the majority of Canadians. The Comfortable Pew’s unstated assumption was that the churches were out of touch with a Canadian ethos that was compassionate, equitable, and caring. This is what many Canadians wanted to believe about themselves, and Berton helped validate the image.

    The fact is that most Canadians are indifferent to religion while at the same time willing to allow for a desire to have some ritual for the major events in life.

  • Well said, homes 😀

  • llewelly

    This is exactly the outcome we wanted.

    It would be nice if there were more supporters than opponents

  • The fact is that most Canadians are indifferent to religion while at the same time willing to allow for a desire to have some ritual for the major events in life

    This is the way it is for my family here in Canada, however my Grandparents were religious and I spent some time going to church with them but it wasn’t a big issue all (My paternal Grandparents died when I was 14). I was baptized but that was where my real religious journey ended. I am my nephew’s Godmother and I was fairly young so they did say I couldn’t tell him there was no God, but it obviously didn’t bother them much since I am indeed his Godmother. I never had a problem with accepting do that since it was more of a respectful thing to do for my Brother-in-law’s family who were Catholic. I do joke with family members about how the religious holidays are related more to paganism then Christianity, but they take it all in fun and sometimes I can even get them to agree. My Mother, who is American, has admitted to me she doesn’t have a lot of belief in God, her family still holds to being catholic but I don’t really think they bother to do anything about their lifestyle in relation to being Catholic. My maternal Grandmother is a little more on the religious side, but she is so superstitious she may as well have been pagan. No one can give a sharp pointy object to anyone else as a gift unless the recipient gives a penny so it’s actually bought, not a gift. I always found that one a little funny. Out of respect I tend to keep the religious topic quiet around her, and I tell her I’m not catholic when she asks why I don’t go up for communion with the rest of the family. There was actually a little warning in one of the books in her church saying that if a person was not catholic, they could come up to be blessed but were asked not to receive communion. Worked out in my favor. My brother-in-law also won’t take communion at my Grandmothers church because it’s not his church, so I’m not alone when everyone goes up.

  • silver

    Well, I don’t know about other Canadian towns, but where I come from, you could go up to just about any stanger and say ‘I’m a Bi-sexual Atheist’ and they would say ‘Congrats’ and move on with their day.

    But I was a little shocked when I met my room-mate in the college dorm in Ottawa and the first thing my room-mate asked was what church I went to. I found this a little odd, but then answered that I didn’t believe in God. I believe I might have broken something in her psyche, because she left a few weeks later.

    So basically, some places are really apathetic towards religion and some places are almost bad as the American Bible belt.

    I believe, however, that Atheism might become a dominant belief system within the next few years in Canada, because from what I’ve seen, the younger generation are either apathetic towards religion, or are so called ‘non-practicing (Enter Religion Here)’.

  • AxeGrrl

    silver said:

    But I was a little shocked when I met my room-mate in the college dorm in Ottawa and the first thing my room-mate asked was what church I went to.

    Out of curiousity, was she from Ottawa? I’d be a little shocked too ~ I’ve lived here all my life and no one have EVER asked me that!

    (needless to say, the wonderful, general air of indifference to religion/religious belief here in Ottawa is one of the reasons I’ve never felt compelled to leave 🙂

  • It’s nice to hear about this indifference, although when we first announced the campaign, indifference was hardly how I would characterize the response. Getting rejected and then accepted by Ottawa. Halifax declaring the ad to be “too inflammatory”. Several times, we had to fight for our right to free speech and I’ve been appalled at how many people seem to believe in free speech, only when you agree with them.
    Here in Ontario, discussions about the ad appeared in every single major newspaper, some neutral, some positive, most slightly negative. The leader of the campaign has received threatening phone calls. So it’s not all fun and rosy!

    But still, the opposition is still in the minority and the ad has skyrocketed the discussion of atheism within the media, which is fantastic!

  • It’s not that Canadians are typically apathetic or indifferent toward religion, it’s that we don’t think it’s our place to shove religion in anyone else’s face.

    That’s been my experience anyway.

    There are plenty of Canadians with very strong religious convictions but you wouldn’t really know it to see them.

  • Being a Canadian atheist, I have to say that I would answer I don’t care to the question.

  • Emily

    I have to agree with everyone that has been saying it’s dependent on the location. Canada is a big, diverse country. In Toronto, i have to say that indifference would be expected. You’ll notice that no one (as far as i know) has campaigned to get these ads in Calgary, for example. You’d see a LOT of shit hitting the fan then.

  • AxeGrrl

    Emily said:

    You’ll notice that no one (as far as i know) has campaigned to get these ads in Calgary, for example. You’d see a LOT of shit hitting the fan then.

    Uhm, Emily, actually………

    trust me, I was as surprised as you’ll probably be 🙂

  • Emily:

    Actually, they have been running in Calgary for a few weeks now.

    It was targeted early because we figured it would end up being the most controversial. Not much has happened, aside from the now typical “we will run our own ad” response.

    For example:

    It’s Halifax that really surprised me.

  • Indigo

    “I think it depends on your location in Canada. I’m living in Victoria, BC, and it’s been rumored that the local bus drivers have “refused” to drive a bus with an atheist ad.”
    Really? I’m from Vic too and I haven’t heard anything about atheist buses out here. It seems like it would be a bad place for a campaign anyway – Vancouver would probably be a better bet.
    Anyway, I agree with many of the posters above that Canadians tend to view religion like underwear. We’re aware of its existence, we’re fine with people having whatever kind of it makes them happy, and we’re even beginning to accept that some people don’t have much use for it, but we aren’t comfortable with people who run around showing theirs off or being too deeply interested in other people’s.

  • Indigo

    Update: I googled for some information about atheist buses in Victoria, and found nothing about drivers refusing to drive them. However, I did find this: “For [an ad] specifically about theology or religion, the policy states that no advertisement will be accepted which promotes or opposes a specific policy or religious ethic, point of view, policy or action.”
    So they’re probably not coming to the capital region, but neither are ads saying “Jesus Is Lord” or “Islam is the Light”.

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