Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Atheists Bus Ads & Ash Wednesday

Well today or sometime this week the world-wide controversial enormous bus ads will hit the streets of Toronto screaming "There's probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Today being Ash Wednesday the most important holy catholic celebration. Toronto has accepted the decision to advertise, while others hope to put a stop to this madness and reverse this ruling. This message was placed on buses in Britain and now atheist groups want to do the same throughout Canada.

Ottawa is planning a Supreme Court challenge of this decision, and the chairman of the Ottawa transit committee, Coun. Alex Cullen, said the city is engaged in “an act of censorship” and will introduce a notice of motion Wednesday requesting Ottawa council to reverse the decision.

The predicament is that in the past five years ads that have promoted Christianity, opposed abortion or supported traditional marriage have all at various times been banned from public transport and private displays.

A few years ago, locals in Guelph, Ontario, purchased a bus and put ads on it fighting for the Right to Life, a photo of a 19-week old fetus with the text, "This is a child, not a choice." The word choice crossed out with a red X.

A request to remove the ads sparked a freedom of expression debate from both pro-life and pro-choice supporters.

Arguments claimed the city had no right to limit constitutional rights, rights to an opinion and freedom of expression. The city ended up letting the ads stay on the bus.

The debate at the present time is the Toronto-based Freethought Association of Canada wants to buy Toronto Transit Commission bus ads.

Canadians are strong supporters of freedom of speech, we want our speech to be respected but a wee bit hypocritical that we demand their (atheists) right to free speech be squished because it is very different than our catholic right to free speech. We all have the right to promote our opinion.

A newspaper does not have the authority or right to make pronouncements on the existence of God. It’s a debate for society as a whole. Am I bent out of shape about the fact this debate might be splattered across busses that children can see, yes I am. I am also a believer in freedom of speech, but what is good for one group has to be good for other religious groups.

Below is an article published today in the Toronto Sun written by: Neil MacCarthy who is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, which is certainly a different spin on the situation. I will try and count how many crosses I see on foreheads throughout the day??


February 24, 2009

Wear your ashes proudly...

During the second reading at Ash Wednesday mass, we hear the powerful words: "We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us." It's one of my favorite bible quotes - let's consider how each of us can be faith ambassadors during this Lenten season.

As a Catholic communicator in faith and profession, I've been asked a lot these past few weeks about a certain atheist transit ad campaign that's starting in Toronto this week. How will the Catholics respond?

Should we be going to ad agencies or marketers to craft an effective response? Or developing a hot new branding strategy? I think the solution rests right in front of, or more correctly, over our eyes ... ashes.

Tomorrow marks the first day of Lent. Ash Wednesday, the day when we are marked with ashes (burned from last year's Palm Sunday palms), reminds us of our frailty and sinfulness as we enter the most holy season of the Catholic faith calendar.

During the next 40 days we abstain (remember giving something up for Lent?), perform acts of charity (giving of our time, talent and treasure) and focus on prayer to recall the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Who needs to buy transit ads when you have a marketing team of hundreds of thousands? Ash Wednesday is one of the rare times you'll see us "marked" with the sign of our faith, wearing our colours as obviously and proudly as any World Cup-crazed soccer fan -- well, without the whooping, honking and flag waving.

So, tomorrow here's an invitation to all Catholics in the city to receive that simple ashen cross on their foreheads and wear it proudly all day. No blocking it with a fancy hairdo, headband or casually brushing them away. Keep the ashes there from morning to night and see how the city responds.

Or if you'd rather concentrate on charity, hand a stranger $10 and ask them to give it to someone they think will need a helping hand. "Pay it forward." When they realize this is not part of any sort of pyramid scheme, it may get them thinking. You can be sure this will make for some lively water cooler conversation the next day.

And for non-Catholics, those of another faith or no faith at all, I invite you to ask questions and engage others in a respectful discussion about faith.

While this marketing team of one is offering just a few tangible ideas for tomorrow, there are certainly dozens more. No doubt someone will start a "Wearing My Ashes Proudly" group on Facebook. On YouTube, someone else will deliver a stirring reflection on Lent with ashes proudly displayed. The possibilities are endless.

Let's not forget the tremendous contributions people of all faiths make to the GTA. Our places of worship, social service agencies, schools, outreach ministries -- you'll find them everywhere in our community. Most days this work is done quietly and without any fanfare. I can't imagine our city without them.

Note to our faith ambassadors on the street: Do this all humbly, with kindness and with a smile on your face. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words."

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