A few months ago the British Humanist Association launched bus advertising in London.  The ads which said “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” caused quite a bit of controversy and sparked several retaliatory campaigns from religious groups.

At the time the Irish Humanist Association told the Irish Times that they would not be following suit because they thought the ads were too inflammatory.  In a predominantly Catholic country like Ireland you can see their point but I for one was rather disappointed.  After all, we see plenty of ads appearing from the Christian side of things, be it the “What think ye of Christ” ads that  pop up on buses at this time of year to the various campaigns by pro-life groups, most notably the Mother and Child campaign a few years ago.

The Mother and Child Campaign, and of course Youth Defence, are vociferous in their fight to protect Catholic morals.  I spent some months several years ago working for the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution when they were looking for submissions from members of the public on possible changes to the section of the Irish constitution that deals with the family.  We weren’t even dealing with the contentious Article 40.3.3 which is the one dealing with abortion (a somewhat volatile subject here).

What was under discussion though was a woman’s place in the home, the definition of a family and the rights of unmarried parents, adoptive parents and gay couples.  Not to mention the ratification of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the child.

There were thousands of submissions.  The bulk of them were printed red and white forms distributed by the Mother and Child Campaign in churches around the country.  We had people raging against the possibility of taking God out of the Constitution (not up for discussion at that time) and dozens railing against yet another attempt to “bring in abortion by the back door”.  People would phone up and hurl abuse.  There were even veiled threats at those working in the Committee if they tried to change the status quo.

Having experienced this much vitriol at an attempt to simply modernise the Constitution to take account of the changing make up of the Irish family, I was disappointed but not altogether surprised at the HAI’s response to such a confrontational bus campaign.  Religion is a highly inflammatory subject here.  Even careful reasoned arguments can get a violent backlash from a particularly vocal minority.

I remember the placard waving crowd that appeared outside the Four Courts every day during the High Court case around “Miss D” a teenager in state care who had been told her baby was suffering from an incurable condition and would not live long after birth.  It made going into work an uncomfortable experience and must have been highly traumatic for the pregnant teen who had to run the gamut every day while she tried to simply avail of the right to travel out of Ireland for an abortion available to every woman in the State.

So I was surprised to learn that the HAI have reconsidered and posted ads on the DART commuter trains that form one of the main transport systems in Dublin.

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

And here’s a close-up of the text of the ads.

Humanist Dart campaign close up

Humanist Dart campaign close up


They might not be quite as eye catching as the London ads but they do make a very good point.  There has been a campaign for the separation of Church and State here for years but it’s had only limited success.  While you can affirm without use of a religious text if you swear in for jury duty, that option isn’t available if you take high office here.  God is still firmly part of the constitution and will be for a considerable time to come.

However, it makes a refreshing change to see Humanist ads up where usually there would be “What think ye of Christ” ads promising a video presentation showing proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The “What Think Ye”s were up but they’ve been taken down again so the Humanists are out on their own.

I thought a lot about posting on this subject.  I had wanted to write about the initial London bus campaign but thought twice about it.  Even touching on the subject of religion can open the flood gates and the vitriol can be extreme.  There are some sections of society here that don’t like any viewpoint but there own seeing the light of day.  Even though there are almost 190,000 people according to the most recent census, who say they have “no religion” making this the second largest group after Catholicism it’s still a largely ignored group.

Hopefully the DART ads will get people thinking and start a debate.  I don’t hold out much hope though.  Reasoned debate is often drowned out by the shrieks of those trying to drown it out.