Theological Web site’s BART ads claim God is a fellow traveler.
By Joe Eskenazi
Miscreants who brazenly nosh fast food, blare radios and even worse on BART trains may want to think twice from now on. It’s not that Big Brother isn’t watching you – he is. But someone even more powerful may be keeping tabs on transit riders: God.
“God Rides BART” claim a “Say what?”-inducing set of ads gracing the trains’ interiors since December.
“All viewpoints. One platform. Join the discussion,” continue the ads, which direct the curious to the intuitively named Web site GodRidesBart.com.
The site turns out to be an offshoot of a Christain Web page titled HisReach.com, a site run by …
Garrett and Doug St. John, 24 and 22, respectively. The Pleasanton-raised brothers' Web site states it aims to “create a place for people, specifically Christians, of all ages to gather and interact in a more 'Christian-like' environment.”
GodRides, incidentally, is the brainchild of Chris Stockhaus, a 27-year-old San Ramon software salesman and religious Christian. He attends the Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, the same church as the St. John brothers.
Pervasively religious ads on public transit set off all sorts of “Danger, Bay Area Liberal!” alarms, yet BART spokesman James Allison notes that according to the transit system's guidelines, they are allowable -- "As long as [the ads] meet the Free Speech requirements, BART is in no position to censor them." These are not the first overtly religious ads to grace a BART train -- some of you may remember these pleasant billboards from 2006.
(A lengthy and oft-hilarious list of what ads are not allowed on the train sent to me by Allison includes "firearms, violence, obscenity or nudity, prurient interest or adult-oriented goods and services." You know, basically the last few pages of your average SF Weekly.).
Garrett St. John confirmed that BART is just the first of many mass-transit systems on which he hopes to secure a seat for God. He hopes to branch out to Atlanta and then New York -- so, who knows, maybe there's a GodRidesMTA.com, GodRidesTheT.com or even DieuPrendLeMetro.fr in our future.
Stockhaus told me he kicked down $5,500 for 75 interior BART ads, which will be up until Jan. 6. After that, they'll "take a couple of months off of advertising."
So, why is God on the BART in the first place? According to the site, “Who wants to debate the existence of God when you're trying to enjoy yourself at a party? Or why would you bring up your religious beliefs at work and risk dividing the team you work with? Why strain your marriage by disagreeing about big issues when you have a hard enough time agreeing on who should do the dishes?”
Let me nip a little problem in the bud here: If you cooked, she can do the dishes. If it's the other way around, you do the dishes. If she's busy and you cooked, and she still has more work to do after dinner, just do the damn dishes. But I digress.
Anyhow, the site basically states: Why not ponder the big questions while you’re on the train? Most BART patrons, it seems, aren’t doing anything better than blasting heavy percussion music through their white iPod earphones at startling decibel levels. Could theology be worse?
Well, maybe it could – after all, a Web site that purports to inspire heavy dialogues by implying the King of the Universe is tucked away on the 8:11 to Richmond may result in discussions differing from those the St. John brothers envisioned. For example, if God rides BART, does he need a ticket? Does he qualify for a reduced senior fare being infinitely old and all? Or, does he set aside some of his gross salary for BART vouchers? If so, what percentage is he taxed at to inspire such a move? And how much money does the Supreme Being of a good-sized universe make these days anyway?
These questions are not answered on the site, astoundingly enough. And while GodRidesBart claims to be reaching out to members of all organized religions, atheists and agnostics, Stockhaus and the St. John brothers’ Christian leanings are fairly overt; In the “resources” section of their rather user friendly site, the Christian section is overflowing with Protestant evangelical churches (the Jewish and Islam sections are “coming soon.”)
When asked if his site is, basically, Online proselytizing, Stockhaus quickly agreed that it is -- but noted that every religion and even the lack of a religion will get a shot to make its own pitch.
Notably, the site lists a host of resources for organized atheists. And David Fitzgerald, the writer on the site representing the atheistic point of view, is neither a shrill douchebag who sneers at organized religion nor an Alan Colmes-style strawman.
So, maybe there’s hope for this site after all. And yet, Online discussions are always at the will of anonymous posters writing under monikers such as “Duke Nukem,” “SweetB” and “DeliBoy.”
May the BART-rider help us.