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buses, religion and life

Prof. John Stackhouse’s post (here) on the recent “bus campaigns” is quite good and balanced I think.

Apparently, the board of a Vancouver bus company has the following regulation on bus ads:

“No advertisement will be accepted which promotes or opposes a specific theology or religious ethic, point of view, policy or action.”

Stackhouse makes a great point, however, that it’s not only atheists, churches or other groups which are sending a ‘relgious’ message…  Actually, many groups might advertise in such a way as to be religiously and morally instructive.  In this sense, many groups have their own kind of ‘orthodoxy’ (right belief) and ‘orthopraxis’ (right action), whether they are preaching to us that (a positive example) “it’s not the drinking, it’s how we’re drinking”, or whether they are evangelising to us (a not-so-positive example) that we can borrow x amount of money to splurge on that ‘must have’ this or that.

((Dale resists the urge to write 17 paragraphs about the compelling analogy made by many between ancient empires and modern capitalist global structures/processes; and the common assessment that ancient devotion to various ‘gods’ has been replaced in our culture in quite sneaky-yet-remarkably parallel ways  by a fervent and ‘religious’ devotion to identity-based consumption, which is spurred on by the evangelism of advertisements, hailing their various products/services as saviours, etc….))

Quite apart from the issue of what kind of censorship policy bus companys should have or not, this is just another example of how forever joined beliefs and actions are.

10 replies on “buses, religion and life”

I agree that your run of the mill consumer ads are just as ‘preachy’. At least these new ‘religious’ ads get people thinking about more than whether they need the latest pair of shoes. In my opinion the bus adverts should simply be subject to the same broadcasting standards as any other type of ad whether it be on tele or in a magazine.

Cheers Jack,
As far as advert standards, I agree they should be pretty much the same across the board (TV, mags, buses, billboards, etc.). This, of course, is intimately related to the notion of “free speech”, which (if truly ‘free’) allows abuse and more – not to mention certain places where certain words are not ‘free’ to be spoken, i.e. ‘fire’ in an un-burning theater or ‘bomb’ on an airplane, etc. :D

I guess privately-owned companies are entitled to do whatever they want with regard to what is written on their equipment. If I owned a bus company I wouldn’t allow advertising that insults people because, at the end of the day, people have to get on my buses and if people hate my buses because of their association with an advert then I won’t have any buses let to put adverts on.

That said, I don’t think the statement “There probably is no God so stop worrying and get on with your life” is particularly insulting and am dismayed that some people do, in fact, take offense. But such is life.

Cheers Damian,
An issue like this (like so many others) raises the often over-looked reality that laws (or ‘company standards’) always, to some extent, ‘legislate morality’, in that they forbid something seen to be bad/harmful/wrong/etc. In this sense, the (legal) entitlement for a company to ‘do whatever they want’ does not mean that moral judgments aren’t being made, but rather that they are left in the hands of the company. And yes, anticipating what might ‘offend’ someone is always a guessing game (though it’s often quite simple too…).
For example, I think we should be somewhat ‘offended’ by ads that implore people to borrow money to take a holiday that they cannot afford (hence the need to borrow the money), etc.

I don’t know – are there laws around private property? Can I write something really offensive along the outside of my house fence for public viewing – just because it’s my fence? If it caused an uproar then I guess I would remove it, so that would be the community making the moral judgement. I don’t know how the majority of the community reacted to the bus billboards, if they don’t mind such adverts and they don’t mind holiday adverts then i guess its tough luck to the few who are offended.

Good thoughts, Jack,
I think noise level restrictions are a good example of what you cannot do with your private property. But yes, there certainly are a heap of examples where the offended few just have to put up with it. For me, this is just another example of how ‘laws’ cannot be made fast enough to address every ethical scenario (let alone cause people to act ethically).

It’s just business. Companies will work within legal guidelines and then make a call as to whether they want a particular type of advertising on their equipment. In the Vancouver case it would appear that the adverts were legal but that the bus company just didn’t want to risk offending potential customers. Fair enough I say.

It’s definitely business – no question. I just thought it was interesting that many adverts carry a ‘religious’ message (complete with an implied worldview, values and praxis!), but are not (often) seen as such.

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