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Monday, 12 January 2009

God On The Bus

As a thoughtful opinion piece in The Guardian today observes, there is something just a little arrogant about well-educated middle class (and super-rich celebrity) liberal atheists pooling their resources to place atheist advertisements on the side of London's buses, which tend to be used most often by older, and working class (and often religious) people. The campaign, welcomed by some Christians as provocative, is intended to celebrate the feelgood factor of a universe without a God - and is weakened by the fact that a) the statement is wishy-washy (the famous probably) and b) almost all literature of existential atheism (and deism) since the 1800s has observed that a godless universe, albeit a possibility, is hardly a walk in the park - but instead a terrifying void that demands active, creative human engagement to fill.

The idea that new-look atheism simply commands us to "relax" - like some 80s pop slogan - is unfortunate and unimpressive. Instead, the challenge for atheists, and religionists alike, is surely to become active, in the face of a world of very real, and immediate problems - often the result of enlightenment projects like industrialisation, capitalism, and nationalism, that were encouraged by the turn to reason under British empiricism, that smug outrider of British imperialism.

In this year of Darwin, and his "Big Idea", where are the smaller, more complex ideas humanity needs to cope with environmental and cultural degradation, at the hands of very many very selfish people, all rushing about without much thought for the future? Meanwhile, as this article goes on to remind us, the President-elect is a Christian - and also happens to be one of the only hopes we currently have. Given the symbolic and actual role that buses played in the faith-driven civil rights movement in America, there is something unimaginatively glib, even crass, about advertising atheism on buses in the UK, especially at the moment when Dr. King's dream has come to pass - thanks to a God-believing man.
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