The Atheist Bus

Atheism takes an interesting political stand in the UK:

The atheist bus campaign launches today thanks to Comment is free readers. Because of your enthusiastic response to the idea of a reassuring God-free advert being used to counter religious advertising, the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” could now become an ad campaign on London buses – and leading secularists have jumped on board to help us raise the money.

The British Humanist Association will be administering all donations to the campaign, and Professor Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The God Delusion, has generously agreed to match all contributions up to a maximum of £5,500, giving us a total of £11,000 if we raise the full amount. This will be enough to fund two sets of atheist adverts on 30 London buses for four weeks.

Now in principle I applaud this. Recently we’ve been subjected to a huge amount of proselytising advertisements, which I personally find as offensive as megaphone preaching in the street. The need for it is questionable – when religion still exerts disproportionate power in society, and within the political system (in which it is proscribed prominence), why advertise? Sure church attendance is down overall, but that’s hardly true in all communities, and it is not a reflection of people’s religious identities. The British feel as religious as ever – they just don’t feel the need to go to church as often as they used to to prove it.

Am I drawn then, even mischievously, to want to see this unnecessary intrusion by religion into the public space countered? Well yes. But my objections to this proposal are twofold. Firstly just look at the wording. “There’s probably no God?” That’s agnosticism at the very least – it’s hardly atheism – a discourse where the notion of a supreme being is straightforwardly absent. And Howard Jacobson makes an even stronger point:

And it’s not even much of a clarion call, is it? God PROBABLY doesn’t exist. You should answer fire and brimstone with fire and brimstone. They aren’t saying God PROBABLY does exist in Waynesville, North Carolina. They aren’t wondering in Colorado Springs whether, maybe, considering the question fairly, and without presumption, God might just be allowed to be a viable, though grantedly complex and vexatious, entity. God IS, is what they say. God LIVES. God SAVES. God HATES.

You need balls if you’re going to swap belief systems with fundamentalists. God DOESN’T exist, God NEVER DID exist, God IS CODSWALLOP – something along those lines. And to hell with what the Advertising Standards Authority thinks. Say God PROBABLY doesn’t exist and you’ve conceded half the argument to believers.

Very true, and in that he brings up my second point too – this advertisement would itself be proselytising. Because atheism by definition does not even acknowledge the possibility of a supreme being, how can you argue a point you don’t even believe in the possibility of? This then suggests that the advertising campaign is far more a political one – it’s not an absolutist one against an intellectual idea – it’s an attack against people who misinterpret or abuse organised religion, rather than belief itself. Jacobson again:

Deny those who exalt or corrupt the idea of him, rather. Say there’s no Jewish or no Christian or no Muslim God. Put that on a bendy bus. But that really would take balls.

It would, and he’s right. If that’s the point of doing this then do it. People who know what I think about religion would probably expect me to support this campaign, but I’m not sure I do, although should it succeed I no doubt will be giggling at every passing ‘atheist bus’.


One response to “The Atheist Bus

  1. I don’t know… you may be overthinking it a bit?

    Although, to add my own overthinking, I wonder if it really helps matters to contribute to the antagonistic atmosphere around religion by imitating the tactics of the religious far right.

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