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Atheism on the Bus III

Well, it seems the bus wars are heating up across the pond, according to this article from Time (h/t: Paul).  Aside from being a rather depressing commentary on the state of our cultural discourse (for more on that, have a look here) and the imaginative capacities of a few Christian groups in the UK (“There definitely is a God.  So join the Christian party and enjoy your life?!”  Seriously?), the article is mildly interesting for two interesting quotes it contains.  First, here’s what Ariane Sherine had to say about what motivated her to spearhead the atheist bus ad campaign:

Our campaign provides reassurance for people who might be agnostic and don’t quite believe, and worry what will happen to them if they don’t.

OK, so for all those people out there who are wrestling with some fairly big questions, who have some anxiety about the consequences of belief/unbelief, who may be open to the possibility of God but are confused by the number of options, etc., the response thought to be most up to the task of providing existential assurance is….

Eleven words on the side of a bus?

Tormented agnostics everywhere (or at least in the UK) are no doubt grateful to Sherine & co. for clearing things up for them.

Second, Richard Dawkins offers this gem in response to Christians adding their idiotic slogans to the bus-war cocktail:

I don’t object at all to the Christian ads that are going up, especially if they make people think… If more people think for themselves, we’ll have fewer religious people.

I’ve read enough of Dawkins by now to be familiar with this kind of sentiment—he certainly isn’t shy about reciting this mantra whenever the opportunity presents itself—but it still catches me off guard whenever I come across it in such explicit and simplistic form.  In Dawkins’ world, thinking for yourself is a one-way superhighway to atheism.  End of story.  Amazing.

Of course, according to the Sherine quote above, people are thinking for themselves and the answers to their questions aren’t exactly obvious.  Presumably they have not been blessed with the luminous, clear-sighted intellect of Richard Dawkins.  Or maybe they just need to see eleven words on the side of a bus to unravel the mysteries for them.

God help us.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    I share your disappointment that the debate may will be reduced to competing bus slogans, Ryan, though not your sense of surprise.

    Much of humankind invests obscene amounts of resources, (primarily to accrue an even more obscene amount), through methods such as these.

    Advertising, true or not, achieves that aim.

    Life is a great struggle for the many. Most don’t have either the luxury or the capability to ponder life’s deeper meanings and implications.

    People need simplicity; simple truths; simple love; simple justice. Very often their very existence depends on it.

    …”The sheep are many; the shepherds few”…

    February 9, 2009
  2. Ken #

    I cannot get the links in this posting to work. I would like to read the article. Can you post the address in a comment? Thanks.

    The agnostic message posted on the side of the bus suggests to me a forlorn hope. The counter message does not seem to address the forlorn hope. The images of theology on the side of a bus remind me of some of the images in the work of the artist Edward Hopper. They say something depressing about the state of our urban souls, about our anxiety.

    I can see putting messages on the side of a bus advertising something like an evangelism event, for example: “Change your life. Come to the stadium, March 1, 7PM.”

    February 9, 2009
  3. The links should be working now Ken. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I’m not familiar with Edward Hopper, but I think our idea that meaningful “discourse”—especially about the really big questions—can take place through the medium of advertising says something significant about us as a culture. It’s almost as if we’ve given up on the idea of talking to and listening to one another in favour of drive-by sloganeering. Maybe it’s a symptom of the despair of postmodernity. Or maybe it’s people desperate for their ten minutes in the limelight. I’m cynical enough to suspect the latter…

    February 9, 2009
  4. Ken #

    Thank you, Ryan. I agree with your assessment here.

    The Time article, referring to Dawkins, says: “The use of the word “probably” in the atheist slogan, he says, does not imply any sort of dogma, but merely encourages free thinking.”

    I have observed this expression in contemporary writings of many critics of religion. The critics say that religions, especially Christianity, are dogmatic whereas atheists and agnostics are not. They say that Christians believe what they are told to believe and that atheists and agnostics make reasoned judgments, that Christians are full of certainty and that atheists and agnostics have a more intelligent and reasonable uncertainty about things. In my own experience I have not observed atheists and agnostics to be more intelligent or reasonable than Christians, nor less dogmatic. There is often an arrogant tone of intellectual and moral superiority in the writing of critics of Christianity. It seems like a true uncertainty would find its expression in humility and openness and would find its expression in reading, listening and reflection rather than on the side of a bus.

    February 10, 2009
  5. I think you’ve placed your finger on one of the real ironies in these discussions Ken. It certainly is amusing to see people like Dawkins dogmatically and intolerantly attacking the dogmatism and intolerance of religion. Humility, openness, listening? Well these things would certainly require more of us (both morally and epistemologically). The “bus approach” is so much easier…

    February 11, 2009
  6. Samuel Skinner #

    Well, once the fundies sign on, than we our in business. Admit it- it would be nice if the radicals spent their money on telling us we all burn in hell rather than actual political work.

    Plus, it provides gist for the photoshop mills.

    February 11, 2009

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