Advertise gods away

As an exercise, a couple of Australian advertising agencies were asked to make some ads advocating the banning of religion.

The bad news: Most didn’t even want to do it as an exercise. The show apparently did some previous ad games, for instance advocating euthanizing everyone over 80, and that was acceptable…but getting caught suggesting that religion was a bad thing? Uh-oh.

The good news: The judges. They didn’t bat an eye and all seemed to think it was a fine idea (well, except for the last guy, maybe).

I liked the first video better than the second, myself. I’m not a fan of this idea that religions cause the majority of warfare. I don’t think it’s true, and I don’t think you could even argue that religion has been the pretext for a majority of war. Wars have had too many causes.


  1. says

    I have to disagree; religion is pretty much the only cause of war. It’s beliefs that have sparked the initial conflict although I will agree that other “reasons” typically come to light to continue the conflict.

    I have personally served in Northern Ireland where Protestants and Catholics wanted to kick the crap out of each other, sectarian violence so nasty that mobs formed outside schools to shout abuse and spit at people of different branches of the same faith!

    Religious differences have a huge and I would argue leading role to play in war and atrocities.

  2. Brownian says

    I don’t think it’s true, and I don’t think you could even argue that religion has been the pretext for a majority of war.

    Of course not. It’s whether or not a thing tastes great or is less filling that tears people apart.

    (Wow, how dated is that joke? What the hell is wrong with me?)

  3. says

    Al Qaeda v Xian West and Israel
    Israel v Muslim Arab states
    Northern Ireland: Catholics v Protestants
    Former Yugoslavia: Orthodox xians v muslims

    Not every war (e.g. Vietnam, WW1 & 2, Japan v US) granted, but I think you could make a case for religion being a major factor in many wars in which, otherwise, one might have less easily delineated divisions along more tenuous ethnic lines and less easily taken positions of God On Our Side and The AntiChrist on theirs (to tone down the Rev Ian Paisley for family viewing :-)).

  4. Brownian says

    I have to disagree; religion is pretty much the only cause of war.

    Not even close. If there were an ‘only’ cause of war, it’d be, hands down, the desire to control resources.

  5. Didaktylos says

    Religion doesn’t cause wars in, of and by itself – but it does make it more likely that tensions will boil over and a lot harder to achieve lasting peace.

  6. kome says

    I liked the first one because it had a happier tone – abandoning religion as a jolly, positive thing. However, I came away from the second one a little differently than you, PZ. I saw it as just saying religion is a huge cause of conflict and divisiveness, not necessarily THE cause of conflict and divisiveness, and that we should recognize that fact in discussions of whether religion should be discarded in our attempts to come together as a planet.

    Of course, I think both were great in their own ways. Too bad more ad companies didn’t want to get in on it.

  7. Johan Fruh says

    Wow… I love that first one.
    Talking about how in the past we’ve had loads of bad ideas, and we need to get rid of them…. and finishing with:
    “Let’s make religion history.”…


    There should be a continuing competition with these sort of things….
    we’de never get too many of them ^^.

  8. Joven says

    Hmm, I kinda wish there was a combination of the 2 ads, like the judges said, the 2nd one did more to explain why religion is a bad idea, but overall I didn’t much like it (just cutting to a bunch of kids playing seemed a cheap emotional shot IMO)

    Whereas the first one was much more interesting visually, made more sense, and I like the idea behind it. It just kinda takes for granted that people watching it would already know that religion is a pile of crap. (maybe if it tied all the other ‘old ideas’ like slavery and such to bible passages, to kinda hammer the point home it would help?) Either way, overall I liked the first one better.

  9. Neilp says

    Wars do have many different causes. While religion may not have been the “primary” cause, I bet I could make a case for it being a underlying factor in most cases. Without religious beliefs, the justifications for many of those wars are all of a sudden a lot more difficult to make.

  10. Surgoshan says

    For most of history and prehistory, I would venture to guess that most wars were the result of shifting human populations. One (or more) population(s) grows, it butts up against another, people start dying.

  11. says

    I think religion makes it easier to go to war, perhaps. Because someone of a different religion can be easily dehumanized by the combatants, but it’s not always the reason for going. One of the most often reasons for going to war has been distribution of resources.

    The 2nd video does a good job at showing very recent religious contributions to violence, and negativity in general. I think both videos were great, but I love the “make religion history” tagline at the end.

  12. Erulóra Maikalambe says

    I’m not a fan of this idea that religions cause the majority of warfare.

    People cause war. Religion justifies and excuses it. Without religion, people find other things to justify war.

  13. Kaylakaze says

    Without the whole “afterlife” thing, there wouldn’t be so much willing cannon fodder. The REAL reasons may not always be based on religion, but nothing but religion allows those wars to be supported by the public.

  14. p_mersault says

    Wars are always about money. Religion is the tool to mobilize the underclass and get them to fight for something they do not benefit from.

  15. teawithbertrand says

    I liked both videos, but I found the language of the contest rather off-putting. I don’t want to “ban” religion. I want to convince people through rational argument that religion is superstitious nonsense and a terrible detriment to human progress so that they abandon it on their own.

  16. screw dog says

    I’d just like to point out that the TV show this came from is about advertising, not rational debate, so the contest is about constructing TV ads. That’s why they were judged on their persuasiveness rather than whether they were logically correct.

  17. sosw says

    One significant effect religion has on wars is that it’s easier to dehumanize the opponent when, in addition to being the “enemy” for the purposes of the particular conflict, they’re also of the wrong religion. Other factors that make it easier are if they’re from a different culture or have obvious differences in physical characteristics such as skin color.

    While I’m not aware of any studies on the matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if US soldiers during WWII were more reluctant to shoot at German troops compared to Japanese ones.

  18. says

    The first is definitely better. No one with pro-religious sentiment is going to accept that their religion causes wars, regardless of how one argues that issue.

    That the religious superstition is past its due date should seem obvious to anyone inclined to doubt.

    Glen Davidson

  19. anchor says

    “Wars have had too many causes.”

    True. And many if not most of them are due to a root cause in a society or culture that create or inspires conditions that lead to war. One of them is religion, and when it IS the responsible agency, it is very good at it indeed.

  20. says

    Religion may not be the cause of war any more than a gun is a cause of death, but both of them make it facile. Racism was not a cause of slavery, but it (and religion) surely made it easy to propagate and justify it. Without guns, you’d have fewer deaths. Without racism, you’d have fewer lynchings. Without religion, we’d still have wars perhaps, but I suspect that they’ll be fewer in number. Far fewer superstitions will make people think a little more, and if education fills the void then people would look to solve their differences rather than find easy excuses to kill each other.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if US soldiers during WWII were more reluctant to shoot at German troops compared to Japanese ones.

    Lena Horne was to stage two concerts during WW II for the troops. The first one was for officers, and it mostly had white officers in the theater, all in the front, and a few black ones at the back. The second one was for the troops. Again, white troops were at the front. Black ones at the back.

    In the middle were German POWs.

    “Fuck this” she supposedly said, and declined to perform

  21. BillyJoe says

    Erulóra: “People cause war. Religion justifies and excuses it. Without religion, people find other things to justify war.”

    I think you summarised the situation very well Erulóra. :)

    And hands down win to the first ad.
    Can’t you just see it on trams, trains, buses, and billboards:



  22. cyberCMDR says

    Man is a tool user, and will use whatever tool works to get the job done. The tool can be a sharp rock, a hammer, a nuclear weapon or a concept (like religion). If you want to go to war with someone and can justify it to the masses through religion, that tool will work.

  23. mordacious1 says

    I’d like to see either one of these (without the Australian bent, of course) play in the U.S. When we’re allowed to show something like this during the Super Bowl, it will mean the scales will be finally tilted in our favor. Probably won’t happen in my lifetime though.

  24. Autumn says

    I am just flabbergasted.
    As an USAian, imagining someone, like the second judge, openly and casually expressing a lack of belief, and getting laughter from the audience!?

    Over here, she would have gotten pilloried, and I hope only figuratively.

  25. hockeybob says

    See?!? There are good things that come out of Australia, too. ;-)

    (We’re still waiting for that apology for Ray Comfort and Ken Ham, though.)

  26. Jeff Johnson says

    If anybody imagines that in a religion free world there would be no war, then they are kidding themselves. The stronger argument is that there is no good done by religion that is uniquely a religious phenomenon, that cannot be done as well or better without it.

    On the other hand, in every war, whether the initial cause or underlying motivation relates to religion or not, God is always summoned as the ultimate justification for fighting the war, the unquestionable authority proving the superiority of both side’s claims of vindication, and divine reward is always invoked to encourage young soldiers to throw their lives away.

  27. Mariana says

    ‘It doesn’t matter what they say: power, money, religion, in the end it’s always about land. Always, all the wars, just land. Money comes from the land, power is had over the land, religion justifies ownership of the land. It’s just land.’

  28. bealzamon says

    “Wars have had too many causes.”

    Agreed, I’d say Religion is an aggravating toxic element in the mix, it intensifies and extends conflicts, adds fuel to the fire.

  29. stylofone says

    There’s a little background video on the website about how the two agencies approached making the ads. One of them mentioned how they’d considered whether taking part in the exercise would lose them business in the future. Bravo to both companies for doing it! Even though the ads were hypothetical, I think they will do the rounds in cyberspace for years to come for expressing what many of us believe so strongly.

  30. steve oberski says

    Even if religion had caused only one war, that would be one too many.

    If you fuck up even once, you don’t get to be the arbiter of morality and conduit to the gods.

  31. SallyStrange says

    Fantastic! The first one was better, hands down. I found the slo-mo shots of kids running with clenched teeth to be a little… de trop. Also, if they were going to focus on the harm religion does, they could have mentioned a lot more than just war–belief in the end of the world leading to a refusal to support environmental conservation, for example.

  32. mandrellian says

    I’m on the bus with the first ad – much better, much nicer to look at and closer to the point. The claim that most wars & conflicts are/were purely because of religion simply isn’t backed up by the facts and would likely cause a visceral reaction among the faithful. The first ad correctly (imho) lumped religion together well things everyone ‘knows’ are silly ideas and was presented in a humourous, inoffensive & easy to follow manner. Nevertheless, kudos to both agencies for stepping up and having a crack. I can’t (but, then again, I really can) believe banning religion was more of a hot potato for some agencies – even in jest – than advocating putting down grandma!

    Anyway, FYI for the non-Aussies: The Gruen Transfer is an interesting & entertaining show, primarily concerned with how ads are created and how they work on us; the panellists are all ad agency/freelance creatives, copywriters or accounts people. It’s worth watching even when they’re not discussing one’s pet issues. It’s on the ABC, our state-funded station – nice to see a small proportion of my taxes being spent on such irreverence :)

  33. Carbon Based Life Form says

    In his Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein claimed that all wars, even religious wars and civil wars, are caused by population pressures.

    Note: This is not intended as a commendation of this or any other idea of Heinlein’s.

  34. mandrellian says

    hockeybob says:

    “See?!? There are good things that come out of Australia, too. ;-)

    (We’re still waiting for that apology for Ray Comfort and Ken Ham, though.)”


    Hey. Hey! Ray is a frickin Kiwi. No way in hell is he our fault.

    And we’re not apologising for Ham. Selective pressure & competition for resources meant he couldn’t survive here so he found a richer environment – one with a seemingly unlimited supply of the resource he needs the most: idiots.


  35. Therrin says

    But what was the hypothesis being tested? How were the results being measured? Who was collecting the data? Won’t someone thi–

    Nuts, wrong thread.

  36. Horse-Pheathers says

    Yeah, we can’t really say that religion causes most wars, true. But we can quite truthfully point out that it is almost universally one of the contributing factors, if for no other reason than as a means of galvanizing a society to fight.

    God is on our side! We must rally against the heathen barbarians/godless commies/Jewish menace/Islamist terrorists! Death in battle is a glorious and our boys who die for the righteous cause will be rewarded in the afterlife!


    If we’re going to fight a war, let’s at least be honest about what the fighting is all about.

  37. Ben says

    Sally, I don’t think pointing out refusal to support conservation would work under the context of it being an ad targeting Australians. It’s too risky given our current toxic political and media environment, which is severely biased against action on global warming. Our opposition leader, a devout Catholic, is on record as saying climate change is “complete crap”, and polling shows he’s preferred leader head and shoulders above our current PM (who is attempting to introduce a carbon tax). The anti AGW side gets all the media attention, whereas the latest science that supports it gets none.

    I like the first one best, but, and I realise there were duration restrictions, I think it could have been a bit stronger. Maybe they could have pointed out how religion has resisted overcoming those “bad ideas” every step of the way.

  38. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    I liked the first one. It’s got a good message, Let’s make religion history, which is nicely connected to everything preceding it.
    The second one looks like a “safe” try gone bad. It looks like a mash of several typical kinds of commercials and it ended up being over the top. The kids and the war pictures are supposed to appeal to our emotions, but it’s so obvious that it becomes annoying and superficial. The ending is especially bad. It looks like one of those advertisements for vacation places – with kids playing on the beach and especially the soft spoken woman with music in the background. The only emotion that one got from me was annoyance.

  39. chrisc says

    We’re still waiting for that apology for Ray Comfort and Ken Ham, though

    Oi! Comfort is a friggin’ New Zealander. You can’t blame Banana Man on us.

    As for Ken Ham, well, yup. We’ll have to take some responsibility. But it’s pretty obvious that there is no way that the Creation Museum would have been anywhere near as successful if he built on the Gold Coast.

  40. Dr. I. Needtob Athe says

    “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” -— Jon Stewart

  41. says

    Totally agree, PZ. One of the primary reasons I gave up on posting on the sites was I was tired of being shouted down by the majority there for not blaming religion for absolutely everything bad that has happened. It gets a bit old calmly explaining the cultural and historical reasons for the current wars, then being shouted down by the regulars who insist I know nothing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that if I did I’d obviously know it was 100% about Islam being evil and the west being not Islamic. Being a veteran who actually served in those wars, for some reason, never gave me any added credibility with them either.

  42. meg says

    I’m glad you picked this up – was going to email it to you and Ed this morning.

    Just for a little context, this show analyses advertising (and it airs on our govt owned channel, which doesn’t have ads at all). They do this competition every week, and there have been some great ones – Invade New Zealand, for example. The exercise was not about what’s true, but what will sell the idea.

    @Autumn, #24 – we’re not perfect, but yeah, there’s no major drama about saying you’re an atheist here. Hell, our Prime Minister lives with her partner in the lodge (PM’s home residence) – no, they aren’t married. A few people commented on it, but the bigger issue was about what do we call him? The First Bloke is the best one at the moment.

  43. says

    I also liked the first one much better.

    Just FYI, “The Pitch” is a regular part of every show. They get agencies to “sell the unsellable”. This has included: euthanasia for old people; alcohol for early teens; invading New Zealand; banning swearing; Baghdad tourism; bottled air, and whale meat. This is the first time agencies have refused to participate.

  44. says

    The Gruen Transfer is great, I watch it every week, was particularly happy with this one. I too prefer the first one, not because I don’t think religion causes war, but I just think the first one is more effective.

    Long live Gruen!

  45. R. Johnston says

    All war is the result of religion. Religion is defined by faith without evidence. War isn’t about the idea that you, as an individual, deserve more resources; it’s about the idea that you, as a member of an arbitrarily defined group, deserve more resources than members people who aren’t part of your arbitrarily defined group. Arbitrarily defined otherness is a matter of religious faith. Murder might be an individualistic or sociopathic act, but war is a primarily tribalistic act, and tribalism is just another brand or aspect of religion.

  46. bluestriped says

    What’s up with the second ad being comprised of all white kids. What does the war-paint symbolize, is it a shout-out to Australian Aboriginals? If so, er, why not have some?

    (I may have gotten distracted and zoned-out looking at other stuff and missed large chunks)

    I liked the first one more, as it seemed more inclusive, more applicable to other countries, and a lot more polished.

  47. susan says

    This seems like such a terrific show! And on the equivalent of PBS? Good on you, Australia. I liked the first one best; “Let’s Make Religion History” is brilliant. Kudos to the two agencies with the guts to participate.

  48. meg says

    @ 46 Bluestriped – I can’t rewatch at the moment, but I do remember seeing at least one Asian child last night . . .

    @47 Susan, I tell my English students to watch it as a way to understand ‘effect’ of techniques when they are analysing texts. I don’t know if it’s available outside OZ, but iview is the abc’s page for watching episodes on the web. You may be able to see it there?

  49. FossilFishy says

    Watched this last night as it aired. It was the first time in a very long while where I yelled at the TV because I was happy.

    In no particular order they were: “Oh hell YES!” “Fucking A!” “No she didn’t!” and “How long do I have left before I can take the citizenship test?” That last one might have be said quietly to my wife.

    I just check GT’s facebook page and there’s been little complaint so far. In fact, a post about Todd’s shirt being plain red rather than having some slogan or humourous message got 58 comments and 203 likes and a post liking the imaginary friend remark has only one dissenting comment. Priorities, Aussies got ’em straight. :)

  50. echidna says

    I watched it as it aired last night too, and every time I see it I wish the US had some similar program that unpacks the art of spin.

    What’s up with the second ad being comprised of all white kids. What does the war-paint symbolize, is it a shout-out to Australian Aboriginals?

    Four of the kids were the kids of the ad guy who made it, most of the rest were friends that could be rounded up for a quick round of filming in four hours at the beach. It’s not a formal ad, and it did look more hastily put together than the first one.

    The war paint is typical of house sports in schools in Australia. Generally schools are divided up into four teams for the year, green, red yellow and blue, which then compete on sports days and in other competitions (think Hogwarts). The clothes the kids were wearing looked a lot like sports uniforms, and the warpaint goes with it. Aboriginal warpaint looks very different.

  51. pryopizm says

    I agree that religion isn’t the major cause of war. It helps in justifying it, certainly, but that’s an appeal to ideology.

    Remove religion from the equation, and you could easily replace it with nationalism.

  52. jose says

    Catholic Spain stole all the silver and gold from the Americas and wasted most of it on a religious war against protestant Belgium. There’s a famous quote by our King Phillip II: “I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives than be king over heretics.” (By the way, “a hundred lives” means he would rather die a hundred times. He couldn’t care less about losing other people‘s lives, of course.)

    Our modern mentality makes it hard to believe religion was important enough for the ruling class to start wars over, so we tend to look for other causes that make more sense to us. Careful about that.

  53. says

    I can see why PZ liked the judges, especially the second and third ones. I don’t know what they said, but I’m sure they were right.

    Probably the best way to decide the question about religion and war, is to conduct an experiment by (a) defining “religion” clearly (ultimate concern? belief in gods? Texas football?), and then (b) conducting an experiment in which “religion” in that sense is systematically excluded from the decision making of one part of the world, while allowed to play some role in how the rest of the world continues to make policy decisions. (c) Then see how much, if at all, war and other horrors diminish in the secularized portion of the globe.

    Or did we try that, already?

    But the term “religion” is hopelessly ambiguous (I prefer to see it as an “ultimate concern”), and the phenomena too complex to generalize about. People will always find excuses to fight, even if they’re Quakers or Jains; and sometimes find reasons to make peace, even when we’re Presbyterians. Some ideas do work better than others, but I wouldn’t hire any of these people to explain the complexity of the real world.

  54. Classical Cipher, OM says

    Oh wow. I really like them both. The first one was better, but I love the slogan from the second one. And I appreciate that judge!

  55. chigau () says

    I finally watched the video.
    I liked both.
    first for humour, second for emotion.
    (Whatinhellheck were those kids doing with the clubs and balls? some aussy religious thing?)

  56. John Morales says

    chigau, ’twas beach cricket.

    David Marshall:

    I can see why PZ liked the judges, especially the second and third ones. I don’t know what they said, but I’m sure they were right.

    You don’t have an honest bone in your body, do ya?

  57. chigau () says

    John Morales

    ’twas beach cricket

    So. Oz religion it is ;)

    David Marshall
    Have you tried stand-up comedy?

  58. Francisco Bacopa says

    Cool this was on Oz TV. Something like this would never be shown here.

    I hear mega-churches are spreading in Australia. As they grow you will lose this freedom. Stop them while you still can. Fight them with all your might.

  59. latsot says

    I bet it’s hard to pull the trigger unless you’re aiming at one of ‘them’. Religion is a handy reason to justify atrocious acts like killing people by labelling people as different for imaginary reasons.

    In the first world war there were tacit agreements between opposing sides in the trenches to fire their big guns at particular times and aiming at a particular spot. This was because both sides realised that the bombardment was futile anyway and they didn’t particularly want to kill each other. Generals were incensed when they found out, but it was common practice. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar arrangements have emerged in many sustained conflicts.

    It would be interesting to work out whether this sort of thing is more common when there’s no particular religious or or similarly ideological difference between the various sides.

  60. John Morales says

    Francisco, we have the good life here in Oz.

    I hear mega-churches are spreading in Australia.

    Hardly a worry, that. Who cares if the religious belong to a mega-church or otherwise? Religion is religion.

    Like the tobacco companies, they can get a share of the addicts, but the addict pool is not just limited, but shrinking.

  61. latsot says

    John Morales:

    Hardly a worry, that. Who cares if the religious belong to a mega-church or otherwise? Religion is religion.

    Well for one thing, mega-churches are pretty much by definition more evangelical than your average church. They’re doing more to persuade people to believe stupid things and they are using dirtier and more horrible tactics. They’re creating a brand and we are all suckers for brands. I also suspect that by ironing out diversity, they also discourage questions. Instead of a local vicar you have a party line.

    Religion is religion, but some ways of delivering it are more pernicious than others, aren’t they?

  62. Kriss says

    Religion is a pretext to the loss of clear-minded thinking

    Loss of clear-minded thinking is a pretext of war

  63. Musical Atheist says

    @46 Bluestriped Exactly what I was thinking. After the first ad referring to racism and sexism as bad ideas we are in the process of losing, a video about “finding each other” has a big elephant in the room if it doesn’t include Aboriginal culture in the idea of unity and reconciliation. It was a good idea to show people in apparent conflict as children, but what it didn’t show was a bit jarring.

  64. CailinBan says

    #1: The Troubles in Northern Ireland were about territory. The Nationalists want(ed) to be part of a United Ireland rather than part of the United Kingdom and the Unionists, as their name implied, want(ed) to remain part of the UK. For historical reasons most Nationalists are Catholic and most Unionists are Protestant, hence the Troubles being Catholics against Protestants. But the issue was never religion. They weren’t fighting over differences in dogma. It was territory and the religion was just a handy label to identify the Other.

  65. Cicada says

    #64 The ad was about religion, not race, and for obvious reasons was directed towards the great monotheisms which is all very divorced from anything concerning Australian aborigines today. They make up such a small proportion of the population it’s silly to think absolutely everything must make reference to them. I hardly think anyone would argue that such an ad, if shown in America, should need to make a show of Native Americans (which Americans online rarely seem to mention in any context).

  66. consciousness razor says

    Did I miss something? It’s odd how (following PZ’s lead, I guess) nearly everyone here interpreted the second ad as claiming religions caused of wars, which I grant is supported by some of the imagery used, but the claim was actually that it caused “conflict.” There’s quite a difference between the two claims, is there not?


    I’ll second teawithbertrand at #15. Banning religion is neither a desirable nor a realistic goal.


    Hardly a worry, that. Who cares if the religious belong to a mega-church or otherwise? Religion is religion.

    I agree that religion is religion, but I’d like to add to what latsot said. It mainly comes down to economics, though I’m no economics expert so this is just my impression.

    Mega-churches tend to have more resources to spend on their political goals, attract more zombies, etc., and require less overhead than an equivalent and larger number of smaller churches. (Having a centralized organization like the RCC or the Mormons is even more effective, thus an even worse situation, I suppose.)

    If a single mega-church has tens of thousands of members, they’re a much more potent social force than if those tens of thousands were spread throughout several different congregations. The whole situation is ripe for a charismatic authoritarian or two to exploit and brainwash a huge number of people. Their leader(s) of course have significantly more influence and power, not needing to compromise on doctrines or policies nearly as often. Even if many small churches of the same denomination are in some kind of partnership together, their leadership is still divided in certain ways, and they often have to do a lot of bargaining so that projects on which they collaborate benefit all the different factions. For that matter, getting a few mega-churches to themselves start working together in the first place is also a bit easier to do. There are fewer personalities and organizations involved, so there’s less potential for conflict.

    One other thing I’d note about the congregations of mega-churches is that, seemingly by design, they’re for people who don’t want the kind of close, personal, independent-minded religion you’d find in smaller churches. This is a large number of people, most of whom aren’t concerning themselves with deciding which obscure doctrinal issues they find most important. That isn’t why they go to a mega-church. It’s more about enjoying the big entertaining spectacle of the whole thing. To them, Jesus is Jesus, and the Bible is the Bible: it doesn’t matter much what anyone believes about them, just that they believe in them. So, their leaders need to compete relatively less with other churches on theological matters (not just physical resources as above). They can say and do basically whatever they want, and there’s not likely to be much of a backlash. You might think taking most of the sophistimacated theology out of religion would be a good thing. I guess it is some ways, but it has its own dangers, since there’s very little ground for silly internecine disputes about the number of angels on the head of a pin. The danger is these people are still just as driven to bending society to their bigoted, delusional wills. By not wasting as much effort on that other bullshit, though, they can be even more focused on turning the whole fucking planet into a theocracy.

    If we ever got around to taxing religious institutions, these fuckers should be taxed even more heavily, but I’d bet they’d be the first to find or create loopholes for themselves.

  67. theophontes , flambeau du communisme says

    @ CR #70

    I’ll second teawithbertrand at #15. Banning religion is neither a desirable nor a realistic goal.

    I’m with you here. RWA jeebus tends to be very reactionary. A ban would just give them something to feel righteous in fighting.

    The alternative is to push the advertising in the direction of their flow. Turn jeebus into the Ronald McDonald of xtianity. Or what Sata Claus was to Coke. A cartoony, jolly figure used to sell fizzy shit to kiddies.

    This company was onto a good thing (Linky) with a “thumbs-up”, smiley, cell-phoney jeebus. Unfortunately he was banned, but we can keep trying.

    PS: If I was the judge, I would ask for evidence that the person in question ever existed, or for evidence that there is copyright on the representation of jeebus (there are so many). The advertisers should have insisted they “really, truly” believe that their interpretation is the True One ™. Their idea was great, their back-peddling pathetic.

  68. Tigger_the_Wing says

    Aaaargh! I had to disable Safari adblock in order to read this thread!

    Will that happen with any post with ‘advertise’ in the title?


    Anyway, I was going to say that I sincerely believe that religion is entirely at the root of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland.

    Henry VIII split from Rome, set himself up as the supreme head of the Church in England and then changed his title from ‘Lord’ to ‘King’ of Ireland, while Ireland remained Roman Catholic and regarded the Pope as their true monarch.

    If the English monarchy had remained loyal to Rome, or if the Irish had converted to the new church, there wouldn’t have been the tension between the two countries whenever England was at war with any other Catholic country; there would have been no reason to set up English, Protestant, landowners over the Catholic natives to prevent them giving aid to the enemies of England; the centuries of religious-based oppression wouldn’t have happened and the country may well have remained (happily?) united as part of the UK, as did Wales and Scotland. For all their grumbling, the latter two do not have religious loyalty to a foreign-based church.

    The main reason that six of the counties of Ulster, at their request, remained in the UK after the rest of the country fought its way to freedom is surely that they had a majority of their populations who were religiously loyal to London, not Rome.

  69. says

    I think religion makes a fine argument to get otherwise sensible people to kill other sensible people.
    Patriotism is another one.

    The reasons however are difffernt ones, usually political, social and economic. The Irish Troubles didn’t happen because of differences in doctrine, but because of social and political injustice.

    As for the ads, I found the first one better, yet the second one stronger. Exactly for all the emotional crap.

  70. consciousness razor says

    This company was onto a good thing (Linky) with a “thumbs-up”, smiley, cell-phoney jeebus. Unfortunately he was banned, but we can keep trying.

    Hmm… I find that article really hard to believe, which is somewhat surprising for the BBC.

    I searched for an image of the ad on google, since the article didn’t have it. From your description, I had already been reminded of Buddy Christ from the movie Dogma. I think the serious “complaints,” which actually compelled the company to drop the ad, were probably related to copyright infringement rather than some poor, persecuted Christians. At least, assuming Buddy Christ is copyrighted to someone, I can’t see how it wouldn’t have been an issue.

  71. PlayMp1 says

    Remember that this is advertising. This means that it’s less about the logic and soundness of the arguments presented and far more about persuading Dumbass McGee sitting at home watching rugby that religion is pointless.

    The first one is better simply out of its positive tone – that will stick in the heads of religious people far better than the scare-mongering of the second ad, which, frankly, uses a religious tactic in its advertising. The second one would cause a religious person to close up and get defensive, saying something along the lines of “But not MY religion!” The first one actually makes you question whether belief is actually a good idea or a hokey belief with ancient ideological weapons (that are no match for a good blaster at your side).

    …Yes, I tried deliberately to work that reference in. Not the greatest way, but damn it, it seems too relevant.

  72. consciousness razor says

    The first one is better simply out of its positive tone – that will stick in the heads of religious people far better than the scare-mongering of the second ad, which, frankly, uses a religious tactic in its advertising.

    It wasn’t religious, since it didn’t involve beliefs in beings or events for which there is no evidence. I consider scare-mongering an emotional tactic/strategy.

    The second one would cause a religious person to close up and get defensive, saying something along the lines of “But not MY religion!”

    The first was also insulting, but smilingly. I’m certain most religious people would be defensive denialists about it too, though perhaps not as vehemently. It made religion seem like not such a huge problem, which would make the end of religion seem like a less urgent goal. Ending religion isn’t just a quaint pastime for a few cranky folks who think some hokey old beliefs are silly. Religions seriously fuck with a lot of people’s lives, and I personally have no intention of being unemotional about it, while telling people exactly how much harm it has caused. Though I should admit I’m not an advertising wizard.

    …Yes, I tried deliberately to work that reference in. Not the greatest way, but damn it, it seems too relevant.

    The ability to make a movie reference is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

  73. theophontes , flambeau du communisme says

    @ CR

    I find that article really hard to believe, which is somewhat surprising for the BBC.

    I lost my “faith” in the Beeb when they started pandering to the pope on his visit to England recently. (Are BBC appointments made politically? What with Blair…) The mildly pro-muslim stuff on Al-Jazeera is much easier to stomach.

  74. RobertL says

    I watch “The Gruen Transfer” every week. As soon as I saw this segment, I knew that PZ would be featuring it here.

    The two male advertisers are the panel “regulars”. The other two change each week. The woman (Bridget) who made the imaginary friend comment has been on several times before. The other woman was a newbie (probably why I can’t remember her name). I mentioned to my wife, earlier in the show, that she seemed good and will be invited back.

    Anyway, as others have said it is a TV show that deconstructs advertising, hosted by one of our better-known comedians. Ironically, it’s on our Government broadcaster, so these are the only advertisements that the network shows.

    The first panelist to speak (Russell) is famous for his passionate defence of all things advertising, and is mocked for it regularly. The last guy (Todd) is famous for his amazing array of t-shirts, climbing Mt Everest, and starting Earth Hour.

    My wife commented out loud about how good the first ad was. I told her that it reminded me of a whole bunch of arguments that I see here at Pharyngula :-)

  75. Bernard Bumner says

    I think the serious “complaints,” which actually compelled the company to drop the ad, were probably related to copyright infringement rather than some poor, persecuted Christians.

    Whether or not there was also a quiet word from the copyright holders of Buddy Christ, the advert did indeed formally fall foul of Christian sensitivities. The advert must not be used again in its current form according to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), a body with legal powers to regulate media advertising in the UK.

    The adjudication can be found here.

    The ASA noted that Phones 4 U had not intended to cause any offence and we welcomed their explanation that the ads had been withdrawn following the receipt of negative feedback. We noted that the ads featured a cartoon-like graphical illustration of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, and the Sacred Heart, a sacred symbol central to the Christian faith. We considered that, although the ads were intended to be light-hearted and humorous, their depiction of Jesus winking and holding a thumbs-up sign, with the text “Miraculous” deals during Easter, the Christian Holy Week which celebrated Christ’s resurrection, gave the impression that they were mocking and belittling core Christian beliefs. We agreed that the ads were disrespectful to the Christian faith and were likely to cause serious offence, particularly to Christians.

    The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).

    I would note that protection from offence is not merely reserved for religion, but the wording of the adjudication is poor in my opinion. It is a rather paternalistic ruling, but does reflect the usual, conservative approach that the ASA takes to protecting others from offence.

  76. consciousness razor says

    It is a rather paternalistic ruling, but does reflect the usual, conservative approach that the ASA takes to protecting others from offence.

    I am corrected. I’m really surprised advertisers in the UK have to deal with crap like that. Here I thought the UK was a secular country. Of course, the US is hardly secular; but as far as I know, the free market religionists won’t restrict most ads, short of pornography or gratuitous violence. The FDA and so on do have their regulations, but for most commerce it seems to be anything goes.

  77. mikee says

    So Australian advertising companies are fine creating ads about invading my country (NZ) but some were too scared to do an anti-religion ad. What a bunch of woosies.
    I just love the woman who said she didn’t believe in imaginary friends.
    Definitely liked the first ad best

  78. Bernard Bumner says

    Here I thought the UK was a secular country.

    I think the ASA is somewhat hamstrung by its own rules, which are necessarily broadly phrased, but also mirror UK and European anti-discrimination laws.

    The specific breach of section 4.1 was in relation to:

    Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the
    grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards. Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.

    The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code.

    So the specific list requiring particular care mirrors regulations to prevent discrimination on those general grounds, and rightly so.

    However, the requirement that adverts not cause widespread offence, which is presumably designed to set a notional threashold (along with serious offence) for action, means that the number of complaints and the size of the would-be target of the offence is a consideration. I think that the phrase widespread offence is also meant to afford advertisers some protection from complainants who are peculiarly offended by some material.

    There is a certain tension between those parts of the rule.

    If this image had been featured in the media other than as an advert, then I don’t believe it would have been fallen foul of regulators. Ofcom, who regulate things like radio and television broadcasting have a subtly more tolerant code with respect to offence:

    2.1 Generally accepted standards must be applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material…

    2.3 In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context (see meaning of “context” below). Such material may include, but is not limited to, offensive language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation). Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.

  79. BCskeptic says

    @15 “teawithbertrand”

    I definitely agree. Banning religion would be like banning free speech, or banning thought. Although each of these has its dark side (which we see with the crazy talking heads in the U.S. in particular), banning them would erode basic human freedoms…a slippery slope for sure.

    Education, awareness, and reasonable and rational inquiry, leading to the whithering and eventual (and hopeful!) “selecting out” of religion is the right approach; a longer process, but infinitely more effective in the long run.

    However, I thought both ads were very well done, and could perhaps be used as a starting point for a real advertising campaign in any country to point out and advocate the obsolescence(?) of religion. Boy, a T.V. advertising campaign like that would really get the tongues wagging!!! Wouldn’t it?

  80. lofty says

    @81 mikee

    I just love the woman who said she didn’t believe in imaginary friends.

    I believe the woman is from NZ…
    Watched the show last night, it’s great. Lucky the Oz ABC has a proud tradition of supporting good satire…

  81. FossilFishy says

    I left a comment on the Gruen Facebook page pointing out that neither agency fulfilled the brief completely, which was to convince Aussies to “ban” religion. Neither spot mentioned banning it, they simply pointed out why religion was bad. Some new media flunky from one of the agencies replied that they had huge discussions about that and decided to avoid it as too divisive.

  82. says

    John Morales: “You don’t have an honest bone in your body, do you?”

    Huh? What an inane, scurilous comment. It was a joke. They are pretty girls. Sometimes, it’s hard to even figure out by what circituitous mental routing such ham-handed and witless slurs arise into minds of little wit.

  83. Bernard Bumner says

    They are pretty girls.

    And you are a patronising babbler, seeking to hide a simple mind behind a mask of verbiage.

  84. chigau () says

    I googled “circituitous” and got 502 hits.
    Not in any dictionary and no hints on pronunciation.

  85. Gus Snarp says

    The second one is just a bad ad any way you look at it. The first one is brilliant, can we keep it? It’s not as if it actually calls for a legal ban, it just says “Join us and let’s make religion history”, which is a fucking fantastic sentiment. Could be an ad for Pharyngula, or for any of the big atheist groups. Why not, reason ought to make religion history. We can’t and shouldn’t outlaw it, and there will always be a fringe group that believes, but human progress ought to lead us out of religious belief entirely, just as it led us out of many of the things in that ad. Seriously, the ad is dead on, I want to see it on the Super Bowl.

  86. teawithbertrand says


    While I like the premise of the show and of their contest, I do wish they’d used a word other than “ban”. Perhaps “abandon religion” or “discard religion”. These terms don’t have the same connotation as “ban”. Anyway, “banning” religion isn’t really what these folks were advocating, so maybe it’s a non-issue.

    If I woke up tomorrow with the ability to convince the whole world to abandon all religions voluntarily, I would do it. No question.

    But to tell even one person that his/her religion was henceforth banned – not in a million years. No one has the right to make that proclamation, and no one ever should. And nothing would strengthen the resolve of every fundie in the world more than being told that their faith is, in principle, illegal.

  87. says

    It would be very stupid and wrong to ban all religion. But it’s a satirical show, not to be taken too seriously. We also don’t want to invade New Zealand, bring back child labour, or kill everyone over 80. Clear?

    But I did liked it when they did a pitch to “ban swearing”. The main approach wasn’t that a ban would stop it. Rather, that we would collect soooo much money from the fines in the swear jar that we’d all be rich! Rich, I tell you! Bwahahaha! I do believe there may be a spot of wonky logic in there somewhere, but Ell-Oh-Ell!