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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.

Comments

Todd,

I find it odd that you would equate Atheists with Deists in any way. Never mind the fact that, as the racist miscegenation laws past and, similarly, the fight for marriage equality for the GLBT community today would seem to prove, religion was never on the side of Civil Rights. Unless, of course, it is the religious reich's own mis-perceived right to to use the bible to deflect from their too often bigoted views.

Add to that the fact that in the US, the religious voices that seem to suck the air out of the media's little room, for the most part, are avowed enemies of the ACLU, one of the few organizations that actually stands up for these religious nutters' rights and freedoms.

Happy new year,
Stephen Herron
PEN Atlas said…
I also read Madeline Bunting's op-ed this morning, although I was more thought-provoked (can one say that?) by a letter suggesting that the money should have been donated to charity, and a campaign expressing the shared values of humanists and atheists (compassion, respect, outreach) be sponsored.

However, a few points about the campaign: it wasn't shaped in response to the quiet personal belief of countless public transport users, but the loud and violent condemnation of non-believers to eternal torment by the highly visible "Jesus Saves" buses. While I think a wittier alternative ("Buffy Saves!", for example) might have been a less "wishy-washy" response, the campaign has an important point to make -- and is making internationally, in cities and countries where private bus companies and town halls are banning the message.

You may call it a fatuous strike, but it is a strike for free speech. I have seen freezing and weary travellers entertained by the post, as if there is a deity, it is certainly not concerning itself with the working of London's public transport. And it presents no threat to a believer, unlike the threat carried blatantly on the evangelical posts.
Jane Holland said…
Hear, hear PEN Atlas. It wasn't anything even remotely like an organised movement or decision. Someone, sick of strident or smugly generous adverts for Christianity staring them in the face every day on the way to work, just said online,'I wish we could do THIS instead of THAT; whaddya think?' and millions of people, in a matter of days, sent money to say 'I agree.'

What a marvellous thing!

I wish I had more spare cash for buying books and curry takeouts; whaddya think?

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