Agnostic advertisements forbidden

Transated by Kristina Wischenkamper (l'Humanite) Italy isn’t Great Britain ; nor is it Spain. And Genoa isn’t London, Barcelona, Valencia or Madrid. Consequently you won’t see “God doesn’t exist, make the most of life” on the side of a bus belonging to the Genoan municipality’s public transport.

Overwhelmed by the reactions of the Catholic church and the centre–right parties, as well as by opposition within the city, the advertising agency, which had received a commission for an agnostic publicity campaign on the same theme as in other large cities, was forced to back-peddle and at the last moment decided to stop the ads being posted on the sides of the city’s buses.

Everything, however, had been ready. The small association, the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics, had collected tens of thousands of euros to finance the initiative. The banners read “Bad news: God doesn’t exist. Good news: you don’t need him”.

A working-class city marked by its large port and what is left of the national steel industry, run for a long time by the Italian communist party, then after 1989 by its successors, Genoa became famous for its antifascist traditions, and its anticlerical ones too. However, the city is also home to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, current president of the powerful Conference of Italian Archbishops. He is a man known for following Pope Benoit XVI’s fundamentalist line. He won the fight on artificial insemination, he regularly attacks laws on abortion and homosexuality, he fights against any form of civil union partnerships, and so on.

The Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics put forward its campaign “as a sort of atheist challenge in Msgr Bagnasco’s home town”. But that was not to take account of the immediate counter attack by the centre–right parties. And so the Mayor’s office put pressure on the ad agency which eventually decided to drop the campaign that God doesn’t exist, even though 52 per cent of Genoans questioned by the conservative local daily, Il Secolo XIX, said they were in favour of the contested campaign.