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Commuters in Washington, D.C., and London encountered a public debate of sorts between atheists and Christians during a December ad battle on city buses.

"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," read D.C. ads sponsored by the American Humanist Association (AHA). "Why Believe? Because I created you and I love you, for goodness' sake. —God," responded ads from the local Center for Family Development.

In London, the British Humanist Association's ad campaign — "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" — was countered by "Crunched?" ads citing Luke 2's Bethlehem pronouncement. They were produced by MEMO, a Christian organization displaying Scriptures on British public transport since 1883.

The advertisements, which are spreading to Barcelona and Toronto but were barred in an Italian city, are just one of several recent marketing efforts from atheist groups often critical of Christian evangelistic efforts.

"Atheistic attacks on Christianity have occurred throughout the ages," said Jerry Root, assistant professor of evangelism at Wheaton College. "These buses are the places where the modern debate seems to be occurring with a 'bumper sticker' flare."

Observers question whether marketing techniques traditionally used to sell consumer goods and services will be as successful at selling belief systems. And they point to the ironies inherent in atheist proselytizing.

Atheists say evangelism is not their goal. "We are not preaching to those who don't think like us," said Fred Edwords, AHA communications director. "All we are trying to say is, 'Hey! We're over here.' "

Many Christian leaders are also wary of calling the bus ads evangelistic. "The atheists understand that the minds of ...

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In the Magazine

February 2009

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