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As atheists roll out London ads, believers unruffled

Billboard campaign promotes atheist beliefs on buses.

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"Barth was happy to write a forward to a book that exposed the kind of Christianity he felt to be so unlike the radical God of the Bible he was reading. He saw the value of Feuerbach. So for a campaign like the bus ads that forces us to think – well, I thank them for it," Professor Waetjen says.

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Sherine says she conceived the ads after visiting the fundamentalist website of Christians who sponsored the pro-God bus ads last year.

She was shocked to hear that in their interpretation of the Bible, unbelievers would "burn in a lake of fire." Sherine rejected such an outcome for her Parsi grandmother, and felt that nonbelievers deserved their own message. The windfall of donations are funding 1,000 ads now in British subway stations and on 200 London buses and 600 other buses as far north as Glasgow, Scotland. The ads also appear on a handful of buses in Spain and Italy.

Disbelief or skepticism of God or doctrine has always flowed strongly beneath what scholars called "lived religion." Doubters and the devout have often felt forced to reject or break out of restricting concepts of God, Professor Fackre says: "The question is not atheism or belief, but what kind of atheism or belief? We see some believers espousing something very far from Scriptures. So what kind of God are we rejecting? And what kind are we espousing?"

One Christian element significant in the struggle, particularly with Martin Luther, is "grace." The phrase is the Apostle Paul's, describing the righteous spiritual action of God when it may seem to humans unearned. It gets used in faithful discourse about changed individual lives. But it has also been central to momentous events, inclcluding the Protestant Reformation. As Theodore Trost, of the religion department at the University of Alabama puts it, "In Luther's moment, he sees that Paul, in talking about grace, is saying that Christianity is a different religion than what medieval Europe was experiencing."

Even the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida at the end of his life struggled with that which he said can't be deconstructed, including Paul's notions of love, grace, and gifts.

Many religious people, like many atheists, look to the natural world for evidence of transcendence. On Jan. 5, a day before the atheist campaign started, scientists revealed that our Milky Way galaxy is far larger than previously thought, contains an unknown arc of stars, and is moving more than 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously believed.

The New York Times, in an editorial that some in the faith community found religious implications in, stated: "One of the wonderful things about astronomy [is that] our understanding of the galaxy around us undergoes a significant shift, and the only real change is the new terrain that opens up inside our heads."

Ben Quinn contributed from London.