Mock-up of the Atheist BusInterviewer (on phone from Spain): “What do you think of Richard Duckling?”

Me: “Richard Dawkins?”

Interviewer (insistently): “Richard Duckling!”

This has been my favourite interview so far. I’ve done 40 (usually very ineptly) in the past three days, since the Atheist Bus Campaign launched with support from the BHA and Professor Duckling. And most of them begin like this:

Interviewer, looking confused: “So how did all this start? Do you really like buses?”

Me (do I really like buses?!): “I saw a Christian ad on a bus in June, which featured a Bible quote and a website. When I visited the website, it told me that all non-Christians were going to burn in torment in hell. So I thought, ‘Why not put a positive ad on a bus to counter that?’ I suggested this in an article for the website of the Guardian, a UK newspaper, and readers really liked the idea.”
(At this point, the interviewer usually thinks: “Must edit out bit about the Guardian. I’ll change it to ‘an online blog’.”)

Interviewer: “So what happened next?”

If I think about this too hard, everything whirls in front of me: “The campaign launched on Tuesday [21 October], and non-religious people donated an amazing amount. We had a level of support which nobody expected.”

We raised £100,000 (including Gift Aid) in just three days on an online donation page – and our target had only been £5,500. Every time I refreshed, the total would go up by a few hundred pounds, and I was hitting F5 every few minutes. JustGiving, the donation website, posted a blog saying they’d never seen anything like it.

But the most exciting thing about the page was all the funny, supportive and happy comments from atheists. “Donating for the third time to help get £100k. I’m addicted to refreshing the page! I’m not usually this cheerful or optimistic at 8:20am!” said one. Another said, “I’ll have a one-way ticket to Sanity Central please, on the Rational Express service via the Atheist Route.”

A donor called “Pope Benedict XVI” wrote “You’re absolutely right – I’ve been living a lie!” A frantic “Ruth Kelly” pleaded, “Please hurry up and prove there’s not a God – my cilice is killing me!”, while “Russell’s Teapot” told us, “I watch you and all of your deeds from space.”

The overriding feeling was one of relief – many contributors felt the campaign had given them a voice. “My second donation!” said one. “This is so exhilarating. What a kick! Tongueless no more,” while another said, “Come on my friends! If we all ‘came out’ at once atheists would become a major force in this country! Let’s put this religious nonsense to bed!”

Not everybody was so excited though, and no secular campaign would be complete without Stephen Green from Christian Voice giving his view: “People don’t like being preached at!” he ranted, neatly sweeping the award for Funniest Comment. Steve added darkly: “I should be surprised if a quasi-religious advertising campaign like this did not attract graffiti!” We reckon he’s stockpiling the spray cans now.

The Methodist Church were all for it, saying it would encourage people to engage in religious debate, but Christian thinktank Theos gave £50 (thanks Theos), reckoning: “Stunts like this demonstrate how militant atheists are often great adverts for Christianity.”

Alpha Courses even set up a rival page on JustGiving in an attempt to encourage a similar rate of donations, only for it to be hijacked by atheists (hey, it’s not often that we hijack things).

It’s been fantastic, and I’m enjoying the (bus) ride. Thanks to every single person who donated – at the moment, we’re planning to use the extra funds for a series of adverts across the UK, but given the level of international enthusiasm, who knows what could happen?

As for the Spanish interview, I replied: “Richard Duckling is amazing, but I’m not sure about that Stephen Bream.”

You can donate to the Atheist Bus Campaign by visiting the JustGiving page