An Atheist Bus Advert - Thank God!

Some Christians got all worked up about the atheist bus advert which stated: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  I sympathised with the Christian bus driver who refused to drive a bus bearing the advert. But I think some Christians are in danger of missing the point. In an increasingly secular age, this advert raises the issue of the existence of God. It gets people thinking about it and discussing it.  It gives good opportunities for Christians to speak about their faith. The Christian think-tank Theos, which seeks to provide evidence for belief in God and in the truth of the story of Jesus, sent a donation of £50 to the National Secular Society which is behind the atheist advert! 

I also think some Christians are missing the point over freedom of speech. Obviously, adverts which insult religions should be disallowed. But atheists are free to express their opinion that “There’s probably no God ...” even though they’re wrong! I am not insulted or offended by it. 

In any case, it was a rather pathetic advert. The word “probably” does rather undermine the effectiveness of the advert.  It calls for another advert stating: “There still might be a God so it’s best to prepare to meet him”!   

The advert also implies that belief in God causes worries and unhappiness.  Well, ignoring God, not having time for him or blatantly breaking his commandments should cause worry and does cause unhappiness. I’m surprised it doesn’t do so more often. It certainly will on Judgment Day! 

Recent scientific studies have shown that religious believers are happier overall than atheists or agnostics[1]. They[2] indicate that religious beliefs and practices have the following positive outcomes:

  • Increases happiness, satisfaction, contentment, hope, purpose and meaning in life. Attending religious services weekly, rather than not at all, has the same effect on individuals' reported happiness as moving from the bottom to the top quartile of the income distribution[3].
  • An active prayer life makes people even happier than passive belief alone[4].
  • Leads to longer life (you are 29% more likely to live longer if you are involved in religious practice[5].)
  • Reduces hypertension
  • Encourages greater self-esteem
  • Relates to improved educational attainment
  • Increases ability to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce
  • Increases self control and so helps achieve long-term goals. Prayer and meditation affect aspects of the brain which are important for self-control. Religion also encourages good behaviour as a response to the presence of God[6].
  • Reduces the risk of depression and suicide by helping people cope with stress
  • Reduces promiscuous sexual behaviour with all the associated problems and pain
  • Reduces the risk of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Encourages service to the community
  • Reduces the risk of adolescent injury
  • One US economic study discovered that doubling the rate of religious attendance raises household income by 9.1 percent, decreases welfare participation by 16 percent from baseline rates, decreases the odds of being divorced by 4 percent, and increases the odds of being married by 4.4 percent[7].

Theodore Dalrymple, an atheist, wrote an article in New Statesman 21st April 2005 entitled “Why religion is good for us.”  He pointed out that religious belief:

  • tended to make people less self-centred
  • helped people to accept disappointment and limitation
  • caused people to accept that everyone deserves compassion not just victims
  • encouraged honesty rather than depression about failings

He concluded: “Though I am not religious, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to live decently without the aid of religion.”

I agree and, whereas I’m glad the National Secular Society has stimulated debate by its advert, I don’t reckon much to its content!

However, the main thing about the Christian Faith is not how much we get out of it but how much we trust and follow Jesus and love others as he did.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page


[1] Study by Prof. Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, presented to the Royal Economic Society.
[2] Research published in “Authoritative Communities: The Scientific Case for Nurturing the Whole Child” by Byron Johnson. This was published by The Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, a global research initiative with a team of social scientists.
[3] Jonathan Gruber, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Research Associate, “Religious Market Structure, Religious Participation, and Outcomes: Is Religion Good for You?” (NBER Working Paper No. 11377).
[4] Study by Prof. Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.
[5] American Psychological Association's journal Health Psychology, commissioned  the National Institute for Healthcare Research, Bethesda, Maryland to examine 42 health studies involving almost 126,000 people. The reasons for this link are not yet clearly established, but it is clear and definite.
[6] Study by Michael McCullough, Professor of Psychology University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences
published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.
[7] Study by Michael McCullough, Professor of Psychology University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences
published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.