Friday, January 16, 2009

Stop Worrying...

I've been enjoying the Atheist Bus Campaign (which is on tubes as well as buses. I saw the ad pictured at Moorgate the other day).

They make me smile when I see them... which seems to me to be all they're really intended to do.

For those who don't know, they were proposed as a whimsical notion by a writer called Ariane Sherine in an article on the Guardian website. (I ought to point out that I know Ariane. Not especially well - but she does beat me at online scrabble from time to time).

Anyway... the idea for the ads came as a reaction to seeing some Christian adverts on buses that, while innocent in and of themselves, contained a url for a website that told anyone curious enough to look it up that they would spend all eternity in hell if they didn't believe in God. Criminy.

The whimsical notion became a reality as readers got behind the idea and said they would donate money towards an atheist ad. Instead of one bus ad, they raised enough money for 800. I like the ads even more for being the result of people power.

I have no idea how many atheists there are in Britain but it is very easy as an atheist to feel like you have no voice. While faith of almost any kind is uniformly accorded a degree of respect, atheism isn't. Even Mormons are listened to more than atheists... and their faith is young enough for the historical record to exist proving that the whole thing is founded on the words of a proven liar...

Anyway... in today's news I see that a Christian bus driver in Southampton has refused to drive one of the buses which carried one of the ads. The company he works for have been very understanding... which is genuinely very nice of them... but I can't help wondering whether they would have been quite so understanding if one of their atheist bus drivers (of which there must be many) had refused to drive a bus with the Christian ads because it offended his or her sensibilities?

If you step back from the issue and afford both views equal respect it seems to me to be abstractly more offensive to threaten people with eternal damnation than it is to recommend they enjoy their life. One contains only a positive message and the other... well, it's a threat.

What if a teetotal driver refused to drive a bus that carried an advert for alcohol? What if their teetotalism was a matter of faith? What if a Jewish bus driver refused to drive a bus which was advertising pork?

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Dave. I actually came up with some ideas for this campaign. None were used but I'm kind of glad. As someone who does believe there's a God it did make me feel uncomfortable working on something I didn't believe. I haven't got a problem with there being an Atheist campaign though - there are a couple of good ads for it breaking soon. I doubt it'll have any effect on their target audience though. They are aiming it at people who don't really care.

Sarah said...

I saw one of these earlier in the week where I live and it also made me smile. I am smiling even more about it now I know how they came to be there. Thanks

Stephen said...

LOL - saying atheists just don't care is like a red rag to a bull, Anonymous (as I'm sure you know). I'm sure there are those who don't, but none I speak to.

Isn't working on campaigns you don't believe in just an inevitable part of working on ads?

Anonymous said...

@Stephen: I wasn't saying Atheists don't care. The campaign isn't aimed at Atheists. It's actually aimed at those who grew up with some sort of belief - because they have been told about God at school or their parents believe etc - and so go on believing without really thinking about it.

And yes working on campaigns you don't believe in is inevitable but you just get on with it. Same with any job really.

Dave Taylor said...

Great post Dave.

I find it strange when people with beliefs in anything get annoyed when those beliefs are questioned. Surely if this bus driver believed God was all powerful then a bus advert wouldn't really damage God's power or influence. I am an atheist and I am more than happy for anyone to question, attack or ridicule my atheism because I know that it stands up to scrutiny and maybe that's the problem. Maybe, deep down these believers know that they are on thin ice.

Kristine said...

FYI, my friend Katie is helping to lead efforts for Cananda's bus campaign:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5j61WYT3mnweYyibwdvoe68JhRldA

http://atheistbus.ca/

Dan said...

What if the driver believed that it was actually butter?

I'm not a god-botherer by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't understand the need for atheists to actively promote their cause ... to me, atheism seems like any other religion, with the passion it generates amongst its followers.

Matt said...

The thing I'm slighty confused about is that I thought atheists outright believed there is no god (the ad says "There is probably no god"). Shouldn't this be an agnostic campaign?

Amy said...

Matt - The best way to explain why they've put "probably" is to paraphrase something Richard Dawkins said.

We can't be 100% sure there's no God. There's no definite proof he doesn't exist. So they've put "probably" as they're not presumptuous enough to assume that their view is the right one :-)

As for this post - I think I love you. It's brilliant, and completely right in every way. I didn't even know about the Humanist society until the bus campaign, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one out there feeling like I do :-)

Dave Gorman said...

@Anonymous: If you worked on it then I'm sure you were told who its target audience were... but it seems to me that it's appeal is broader than that. For me, atheism sometimes makes you feel like you're not really a part of any community or that you have no voice. So to me the ad reaches out to some atheists and says, "actually, there are loads of other people who think the same and so you are a part of something after all..."

Apart from that... you define the target audience as "those who grew up with some sort of belief - because they have been told about God at school or their parents believe etc - and so go on believing without really thinking about it." and I'm not sure how you define those people as "people who don't care". I'm sure there are load of people who would tick a box on a form to say they were Christians (or indeed that they belonged to other faiths) but who don't really think about it. That doesn't mean they don't care. Maybe it'll make a small number of them think about it. If it leads them to either reaffirm their faith or to acknowledge that they've abandoned it then either way I reckon that's a good thing.

I think it's no bad thing for people like that to learn that there are people out there who pretty much share the same moral code but do so without having to believe in a supernatural being. Regardless of whether people do anything as a result of the ad, that message is a positive one. I'd be interested to know how many people have visited the Humanist Society website as a result of the ads (and all the attendant publicity.)

@Dan: There are so many situations in which religion has divided people and created trouble - death and destruction included. There are many, many situations where it has also made things better. But maybe the good things religion does would be done anyway out of simple, innate humanity? If you believed that, why wouldn't you campaign for it?

@Matt: If you read the Guardian article I linked to in the post you'll see why the 'probably' exists. It doesn't pose a problem to me at all. I don't think atheists beliefs are necessarily as outright as you think. Science can't prove that there is no God. An absence of evidence for something doesn't prove that it doesn't exist. I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster either but unless they drain the Loch of all water they'll never prove it doesn't exist. So, while I personally believe there's no such thing, the scientific answer would have to be that it probably doesn't.

Anonymous said...

@Dave: I'm sure the guys behind the campaign will be delighted that you - and probably others - think it's got a broader appeal than they originally aimed for. I actually just looked at the brief and this is who they said they were trying to engage:

"We’ll never reach the religious fanatics and there’s no point talking to existing atheists. We should aim at the (very large) group in the middle – reasonable, intelligent people who were probably brought up with a bit of religion and haven’t really questioned it since. We need to move their dial."

And you are right I was wrong to say these people 'don't care'. I just meant they don't question it or think about it. I think your view is interesting Dave. I never really thought Atheist's needed to feel part of something but maybe they do.

Matt said...

@ dave gorman - Yes but science also can't prove that there 'is' a god and yet that wouldn't stop certain religious groups from telling everyone that there is, even if they advertised it on the side of a bus.

I'm really no expert on the subject and above all else it doesn't really matter one way or the other, I just thought an atheist campaign would be more along the lines of outright saying there is no god, full stop.

I hear what you're saying about Atheists belief's not being so outright, but I thought that was what an Atheist was, someone who believed there was no god. If I'm wrong I'm happy to stand corrected.

Am I right in thinking agnostics very much sit on the fence though? I think i'll be agnostic until the day someone can prove it one way or the other...

Dave Gorman said...

Matt said: "Yes but science also can't prove that there 'is' a god and yet that wouldn't stop certain religious groups from telling everyone that there is"

I wouldn't presume to speak for others, but surely the point isn't to do-the-same-thing-only-opposite... but to do what you think is right.

I'm obviously not communicating the nuances here. You're right, an atheist doesn't believe there is a God (or Gods). But that doesn't give them the right to state the absence of God as a fact in ads on buses. For the same reason that Carlsberg can't advertise themselves as definitively the best lager in the world.

Ariane said...

Thank you for the very lovely post, Dave. Good of you not to mention that you're the one who always beats me at Scrabble...

@anonymous: I absolutely promise that you didn't work on any ideas whatsoever for this campaign, because the bus slogan was in my original article, and Richard Dawkins, myself and two members of the BHA decided on the quotes for the tube cards. My friend Graham Nunn designed all the creative. We are all humanists and atheists.

All decisions were taken between the five of us. We absolutely did not put out any "brief" whatsoever or open it up to the public (though I did ask for future slogan suggestions in a post-launch Guardian article addressed to campaign donors - but if that's what you're referring to, there was no obligation to comment!)

I think you may be confused, because an advertising creative from BBH decided to put out a brief of his own and ask for ideas for atheist advertising - but these were unrelated to the Atheist Bus Campaign, and none of his examples were - or will be - used by our campaign. I did agree to meet with him briefly, because he was very interesting and very keen, but I also made it very clear that we would not be using his ideas.

I really hope that makes sense. I would never ask (or want) anyone to work on anything they didn't fully believe in, and I'm sorry you were asked to work on an unrelated atheist campaign when that isn't in line with your beliefs.

Very best wishes,

Ariane

Matt said...

@dave gorman - It's really just an issue of semantics. It should surely just be an Agnostic campaign and then there wouldn't be anything to argue.

Anyway, reading back over my comments it sounds like i'm just trying to be contrary for the sake of it and a bit of a pedant. That really wasn't the intention, I was just confused.

I do think that people throw around the term 'Atheist' without really thinking about it's meaning though. This bus ad aside, it does mean you don't believe in any sort of higher power existing at all. I know it's the easy option to sit on the fence but when it's impossible to prove one way or the other then I'm surprised there aren't more people claiming to be agnostic. Taking this into account, I kind of find atheists as strange a breed as staunch religious advocates.

Anyway, I've been meaning to read Dawkin's God Delusion for a while, maybe I'll get stuck into it.

Dave Gorman said...

@Matt: I disagree. It isn't an agnostic campaign at all and it isn't a matter of semantics. If we all had to be agnostic about everything we couldn't prove then none of us would ever believe in very much. Google the "church of the flying spaghetti monster." You know the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist. I know it doesn't exist. But neither of us can prove it doesn't exist. And so the best we can ever say - with absolute certainty - is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster probably doesn't exist.

As a postscript... there's a story in today's Mirror about the bus driver. He's quoted as saying, "There'd be no way buses would be able to drive around with an anti-Muslim message like that on the side. There would be uproar."

I don't understand how he's decided the God the ad refers to is his but not others. It seems clear to me that it applies to all Gods. The idea that someone who doesn't believe in God is somehow only an atheist when it comes to Christianity but not to other faiths seems bizarre to me.

Personally I think the ad is pro-atheism rather than anti-anything...

Emma said...

The nice thing about being a hard-line agnostic (I don't have enough conviction in my faith to call myself an atheist) is that there is no message to ram down people's throats. I don't think there are any 'atheist causes' as such, but it's nice to have a little poster to let people know that it is a valid way of thought.

But fundamental atheists are no better than any other fundamental sorts, obviously. I think there was a really hard-core American atheists on wife swap or something, and they swapped with a Christian family and although my instinct was to side with the non-Christian, he was a nasty piece of work.

So, y'know, be excellent to each other. And don't read too much into any sort of written message.

(ps. It's an atheist advert because an atheist says it is. The same with any kind of art).

Simon from Southampton said...

Dave,

I think you are using a moral equivalence argument here that doesn't quite work.

There is a difference in beliefs which are part of your faith and your faith.

If (for the sake of argument) we imagine you were a member of the Lib-Dems. It would be churlish to refuse to drive a bus bearing the slogan "Gordon Brown: Probably the best Prime Minister ever" but how would you feel driving round in a bus advertising the BNP?

(Note please, for those who like to flame I am NOT comparing Atheists to the BNP)

Personally I would have driven the bus in question because I believe in free speech, and because there are too many Christians in the world shouting about their so called rights. It makes us all into Richard Littlejohns and there's already one too many of him. But it's a bigger deal than you suggest

Matt said...

@ dave gorman

"If we all had to be agnostic about everything we couldn't prove then none of us would ever believe in very much."

Absolutely. But is that bad? Maybe it is, just posing the question.

Your point about the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a good one. It would be very easy to just say "Ok, but that's just silly" whereas you could say exactly the same thing about someones God. It's only thousands of years of preaching and scriptures which make it feel any more relevant. But then time doesn't prove anything either.

Anyway, we'll agree to disagree on the atheism/agnosticism point of the advert, but there's nothing like a healthy bit of debate now is there?

Yours Sincerely,

Santa Claus

;)

Simon said...

(of course driving a bus advertising far right extremism is very different from driving a bus advertising Atheism.

Far right extremism is a ideology that seeks to harm other people particularly minorities, whereas atheism is mostly practiced by very enlightened individuals who seek to do their best for their fellow humans. I was just simply hunting for something atheists care about as a way of illustrating how important some people's faith is to them.... please don't overstretch my metaphor)

Stevyn Colgan said...

A fascinating debate - I discussed these issues some time ago on my blog here and scored three 'Brilliants!' from no less a person than Stephen Fry.

Having read the various viewpoints, I still find myself veering towards Matt's viewpoint. As an atheist, my conviction is that there is no god. It's not quite enough for me to say that 'I don't believe in God' or that there's 'probably' no god. 'Probably' indicates that it's possible that there's a god. What true atheist accepts this idea? Not me.

I realise that it's all a matter of semantics but I see these bus and tube ads most days and, for me, they lack the necessary punch. If you believe, have the strength of your convictions.

Tom said...

Long time reader.. first time commentator...

Interesting post Dave, I saw one of the tube adverts yesterday and it did put a smile (well smirk) on my face. I did then wonder why it was there in the first place, I eventually I concluded it obviously had deeper meaning, now of course I know it was as simple as that.

I would personally like to see more of these general positive information signs.. there is far too much negativity at the moment.

'Don't worry about the Credit Crunch'
'It might be gloomy, but its summer soon'
'Why don't you speak to that person next to you, they are probably very nice'
and so on...

Anonymous said...

My only problem with the advert is the tagline "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Non-believers can and do have morals and contribute positively to society. We're not just about "enjoying life". PJ

Anonymous said...

@Ariane: In that case I apologise, I was, as you point out, working on the brief set by the guy at BBH and very much under the impression that the ideas created for it were for you. Not that that is your fault though, Sorry for suggesting you put out a brief or for suggesting I was involved in it in some way. I should really check what I work on I guess.

Anyway, I hope the campaign isn't stopped by the ASA. If religions continue to preach then I see no reason why Atheists shouldn't have a voice.

Dave Gorman said...

Simon from Southampton wrote: "I think you are using a moral equivalence argument here that doesn't quite work.

There is a difference in beliefs which are part of your faith and your faith."


Me:The only moral equivalence I'm really suggesting is that an atheist is just as entitled to be offended by the original Christian ads as a person of faith is allowed to be offended by these atheist ads. I'm merely pointing out that while I see no difference morally between the two situations I very much doubt that an employer would bend as much as this bus company have to accommodate an atheist employee and his/her offence.

One of the reasons they wouldn't be so accommodating is that faith is somehow ring-fenced as an area of life that can't or shouldn't be questioned. Your point also suggests something along those lines because you see a difference between the faith in and of itself and the beliefs someone has as a result... a fallback not given to atheists...

@Stevyn: I accept that there might possibly be a God in the same way that I accept there might be a Flying Spaghetti Monster or there might be a Loch Ness Monster. I accept that anything which is defined by its unknowability might exist... but until I know of any evidence for it, my personal belief is that it doesn't exist. Adverts have to operate within the law... they can't state something as a fact if is itself unknowable.

PJ wrote: "My only problem with the advert is the tagline "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Non-believers can and do have morals and contribute positively to society. We're not just about "enjoying life"."

Me: I agree that it's not just about enjoying life in a frivolous sense... but isn't contributing positively to society enjoyable? People enjoy beautiful scenery, friendships, families, art, literature, science, community, learning, charity etc etc... so I didn't take any hedonistic message from it myself. For those that do, I suppose the quotations are there to provide balance. The Katharine Hepburn quote in the ad pictured is surely saying pretty much what you're suggesting...

Anonymous said...

Story now top tree on Digg.com

http://digg.com/autos/Christian_refuses_to_drive_athiest_bus

Kenny said...

I think this poster throws up a number of interesting questions. Firstly, the writer of the slogan believes that we should be kind to each other. An admirable belief. But who defines what kind (or good or right) is? Without believe in some kind of higher being where does the idea of what is, and is not kind come from? Is it just what you personally think is kind, is being kind what is culturally relevant to you (i.e. what your society, in your particular time in history, generally believes is kind), is being kind what the majority would define as kind? I guess that everyone would know, or at least have heard of someone, whose idea of what was right and acceptable is fundamentally opposite to their own beliefs. Secondly the slogan sets an extremely high moral bar – ‘to do what we can for other people’. I would guess that everyone reading this falls well short of that ideal, I know I do. It seems the atheist belief system/moral code or at least the slogan writers own personal atheist moral code is setting everyone up for a fall. I’m glad I’m not signed up to that!

I did read in one of the post above that atheists are generally enlightened people who seek to do their best for fellow humans. What about Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc? Please don’t think I’m suggesting that ‘religious’ people have not caused atrocities, I just wouldn’t call these three examples generally enlightened or that they were seeking to do their best for their fellow humans. Surely there’s a problem with trying to define who atheists are because they only need to have one thing in common – a lack of a belief in God. It is what they don’t believe that defines them, but what they do believe in could be poles apart from one another.

This is my first post so I’d like to take this opportunity to say that, Dave, I have enjoyed all the shows I’ve seen you do and all your books I have read and I hope to get to see you do something live again (soon hopefully).

Dave Gorman said...

Kenny wrote "...But who defines what kind (or good or right) is? Without believe in some kind of higher being where does the idea of what is, and is not kind come from? Is it just what you personally think is kind, is being kind what is culturally relevant to you (i.e. what your society, in your particular time in history, generally believes is kind), is being kind what the majority would define as kind?"

Me: Even if this is true (which I don't believe it is) it would only make religion more useful... rather than any truer. It's an important distinction. But as it goes Christian values have changed over time because they're just as mutable. There were once Christians who traded in slaves... I doubt you'll find many Christians who'd want that these days. Society has moved on. The morality clearly isn't tied to faith because the Bible hasn't changed but the morality of those who live by it has. So yes, 'kind' is based on some cultural relevance and zeitgeist and is as easily grasped by an atheist as a theist.

It's worth reading Dawkins' The God Delusion for Chapter 6 which offers potential Darwinian explanations for our morality.

Kenny:"I did read in one of the post above that atheists are generally enlightened people who seek to do their best for fellow humans. What about Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc? Please don’t think I’m suggesting that ‘religious’ people have not caused atrocities, I just wouldn’t call these three examples generally enlightened or that they were seeking to do their best for their fellow humans."

Me: No... but as you acknowledge, lots of atrocities have been committed in the name of religion also. And continue to be on a daily basis.

There's actually lots to suggest that Hitler wasn't an atheist at all. It's certain that many hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fought for him (wearing Gott Mit Uns on their belt buckles) weren't. I wanted to get my facts straight so I've looked these up (Dawkins is my source once more - although I recommend Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great for a more enjoyable treatise in similar territory.)

Hitler was brought up a Catholic. In 1914 he was 25. On hearing of the outbreak of WWI, he wrote in Mein Kampf "I sank down on my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live in such a time."

In 1920, Rudolf Hess - later to become Hitler's deputy wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Bavaria saying, "I know Herr Hitler very well personally and am quite close to him.He has an unusually honourable character, full of profound kindness, is religious, a good Catholic."

In 1933, in a speech in Berlin, Hitler said, "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."

Whatever happened to his religious beliefs over time, I find it hard to believe that his anti-semitism wasn't in some way incubated by the Catholic world in which he grew up.

Of course this is another example of how the zeitgeist changes. We live in a nice ecumenical society these days where the major faiths largely respect and even work alongside one another. It wasn't always so. There were times when the Catholic hatred of Jews was widespread, mainstream and institutional. Society has moved on. Religious values have moved on in tandem. If there is a higher being from whom we are supposed to derive our morality he was awfully quiet about that one for a very long time...

I'm under no illusions that all atheists are somehow more worthy than all theists. I personally believe in an innate human goodness that exists in the vast majority of people.

I think it's worth saying however that I don't know of an example in which someone has used atheism to justify maltreating others. I don't believe people have been urged to kill because, hey, there's no God so what does it matter? Atheists have certainly done bad things... but not in the name of atheism. The same cannot be said for theists... People have been urged to kill others because they believe in a different God and they have been prepared to risk their own lives because of the promise of an afterlife too.

We've strayed a long way from a discussion about an advert on a bus. My only real point is that atheism should be given at least the same respect as faith.

(Whether that means giving less respect to faith or more respect to atheism is debatable...)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Dave, your penultimate paragraph on the last comment said it all. It's about respect. If someone is confident and happy with their beliefs they should not feel threatened by the views and beliefs of others. We're all entitled to believe what we like. And we should all be allowed to talk openly about those beliefs without fear. Thanks for popping by BTW. x

bookmole said...

I thought they had to say "probably" because the ASA made them. Like Carlsberg not being the best lager in the world, and having to stop the "Guinness is Good for You" campaign.

I find I want to believe in God as I get older and nearer the end of life - I want there to be more than just being. But I have gone 54 years not believing in God, and this worries me. Is belief in God just a great big blankie, that we hug to ourselves in cold, lonely nights?

I think I prefer people who do not steal from me because stealing is wrong than those who feel they will burn in hell for ever if they did. What might they do if they found out they would not burn in eternal damnation? At least with atheists you can assess them on what they do, not what they believe in.

Southampton Simon said...

@ Dave:

My original point was simply to illustrate that there is a point beyond which we are not prepared to go. 'At what point' I asked 'would you refuse to drive the bus?'. When it said for example 'There is a God, so stop being Gay' or other odious intolerance, you would, sensibly utterly disagree with?

The driver felt that this bus was in total opposition to his faith. You used the example of a Jewish person refusing to drive a bus which advertised pork. I simply said it's not the same. Jewish people do not believe that pork is evil, nor do they have a problem with others eating it, they just don't eat it themselves. Whereas this statement is opposed to this man's complete faith.

The point is this blog is written by an atheist, and commented on by atheists...so no one has sympathy for this man, I'm just trying to supply that.

that's all.

As to faith being beyond question, well I think that is just a caricature. If my faith was beyond question I would never have gone off and spent the best part of 5 years studying it. Actually calling it into question. Getting other people to question my beliefs and adapting my ideas based on what I found to be the truth. My opinions constantly change, sometimes even things you say alter my opinions.

If my faith was not open to question, I would have to stay indoors and hide under a blanket.

Anonymous said...

I have equally read a series of quotes that proved Hitler was an atheist.

Surely the point is that he was a nutter so it doesn't matter what he believed?

Anonymous said...

Dave: "You're right, an atheist doesn't believe there is a God (or Gods). But that doesn't give them the right to state the absence of God as a fact in ads on buses."

Equally, the religionists cannot prove that there is a good. Their only answer is along the lines of: "Look around you. Who created all this?" Which is a pathetic response, if you ask me. Anyway, the religionists cannot prove the existence of god but they seem to be allowed to advertise all sorts of unproveable things in their adverts. The existence of a god for one thing. In Hackney I've seen billboards where there are claims made for "healing", for goodness sake! Maybe I should've complained to the ASA, but I've got more important things to do with my time.

PJ

Dave Gorman said...

Southampton Simon said:"As to faith being beyond question, well I think that is just a caricature. If my faith was beyond question I would never have gone off and spent the best part of 5 years studying it. Actually calling it into question."

me:I didn't mean that you hadn't questioned, examined and challenged your own faith. I meant that when someone objects to something on grounds of faith, our default setting is to be understanding and accommodating - because we daren't question that faith or the validity of the offence caused.
That's all well and good - and I did say in the original post that I thought it was genuinely nice of the bus company to accommodate this driver as they have done - all I'm pointing out is the inequality at work. The same latitude would not be given to a driver who objected to driving a bus that carried a Christian ad even though the offence might be just as deeply felt.

In fact, what I mean when I say that faith is beyond question is illustrated in your last post when you say, "The driver felt that this bus was in total opposition to his faith. You used the example of a Jewish person refusing to drive a bus which advertised pork. I simply said it's not the same. Jewish people do not believe that pork is evil, nor do they have a problem with others eating it, they just don't eat it themselves. Whereas this statement is opposed to this man's complete faith."

Simon wrote:"The point is this blog is written by an atheist, and commented on by atheists...so no one has sympathy for this man, I'm just trying to supply that."

me: Actually the first response to this post comes from a theist. And you're here too... so there's no exclusive atheist gang reading and commenting here. I'm sorry you feel that I have no sympathy for the driver. I do. I'd like to live in a world where more people were prepared to take (peaceful) action based on their principles. My post is more about the way the bus company has reacted than the way he has behaved.

Simon wrote:"My original point was simply to illustrate that there is a point beyond which we are not prepared to go. 'At what point' I asked 'would you refuse to drive the bus?'."

me: Yup. I get that. And yes, I'd like to think I have principles strong enough that mean I would refuse to drive a particular bus. (But it's easy to say that when my financial wellbeing and the food on my non-existent kid's table doesn't depend on me doing so... so who really knows?)

Simon:"When it said for example 'There is a God, so stop being Gay' or other odious intolerance, you would, sensibly utterly disagree with?"

me: And yep, I think that would do it. But that's a bad analogy for me because it's a moot point. That ad wouldn't be allowed because it's homophobic so nobody would ever be asked to drive a bus with it on the side. The only really fair analogy is between two legal, equal and opposite, ads.

I'm all for the bus company being sympathetic to this man's views I'm simply saying that there are other, just as deeply felt, views that should be treated equally. It's difficult to see where the bus company should draw the line. They could have a policy that says:
We'll carry any legal advert and if one offends you, well you'll have to seek employment elsewhere.
Or they could have a policy that says:
We'll carry any legal advert but we understand that sometimes an advert might compromise you morally, in which case we'll do everything we can to ensure you don't have to drive that ad.

Both of which are even handed and fair.

What doesn't work for me is a world where the policy is:
We'll carry any legal ad. Of course if anyone feels an ad is contrary to their faith we'll be understanding, but all other moral objections will be ignored.

Now obviously we don't know how this bus company would react if there was a Christian ad - Good news! There is a God... and if you don't believe me, you can go to hell! and an atheist objected... but I seriously doubt they would have been so understanding.

If such an ad was run and such an objection raised what do you think would happen? What do you think should happen?

Free to think, free to believe said...

Well, I was going to start somewhere else but that comment about folk not being killed in the name of atheism kind of stuck.

There was a story [how many of these don't make it out?] from Vietnam - an atheist state where a family in a village was put under the bulldozer [literally] because they would not renounce their faith (christian but I don't think that that's so important in this debate)... It was around the turn of 2000 so I have no idea where you'd find it now.

Folk have been killed in the name of atheism - just like folk have been killed for any old beliefs, ie not what the ruling party says you should believe.

I don't mind having these posters up but what I find annoying are some of their preconceptions. Hepburn said there was no God and that we should be good to each other. Are these two beliefs actually related to each other? As folk who do believe in God/Gods also feel that they should be good to each other?

And the end tagline - Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy your life...

If we believe in God does that mean we don't enjoy life?

According to another debate I heard that the percentage of Atheists in the UK was 18% so yes there are a good number but then if you believe in democracy you'd surely be glad that the majority [folk who aren't atheists] are given distinctions. Or do you think that being right gives the impetus to try to educate folk so that they in the end will agree with you?

Tim said...

Although as a believer, I understand the problem the bus driver might have had with the advert, the idea that he in some way could pick and choose the bus he drove according to the adverts is rather laughable......I wonder if he refused to drive a bus with the advert for the "zack and miri make a porno" movie?

Like "free to think, free to believe" its the tagline NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE that caught my eye as some pretty useless advice.
"Hey, you've just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.....you've just lost your job.....now stop worrying and enjoy your life"...Mmmm??
I suppose the advert shows the difference between people who believe this life is all there is, and those who believe there is something better to come?

Dave Gorman said...

Free to think, free to believe wrote: I don't mind having these posters up but what I find annoying are some of their preconceptions.

me: Of course. I feel much the same way about Christian advertising. It's the people who do mind these posters being there that I find strangely defensive and intolerant.

Free to...:"Hepburn said there was no God and that we should be good to each other. Are these two beliefs actually related to each other? As folk who do believe in God/Gods also feel that they should be good to each other?"

me: No, I don't think the two things are meant to be connected. There's a full stop in between them. And the clause 'I believe the only thing we can know' is there too. It doesn't come close to presuming that being-good-to-one-another is the sole preserve of atheists.

But as it goes I get equally annoyed when I see the view that morality can only be derived from scripture... which implies that atheists can have none. But this is the same point again... I'm not expecting you to agree with the poster, just to be as tolerant of its existence as I would expect an atheist to be of a theist advert.

The article linked to in the post explains where the 'Don't worry...' tagline comes from... it's a reaction against a Christian ad that had a URL where the curious were warned that unbelievers would spend eternity in hell. Which is a worrisome thought. And to my mind, not an encouragement to enjoy life either. But this is the same point again. I'm not trying to persuade you to like or agree with the ad, only to be tolerant of it.

Free to...:"According to another debate I heard that the percentage of Atheists in the UK was 18% so yes there are a good number but then if you believe in democracy you'd surely be glad that the majority [folk who aren't atheists] are given distinctions.

Me: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by distinctions... but if you mean that the majority should be given an advantage or some privilege... then no I don't. A corollary of this thought would be to count how many Catholics vs Protestants there are in any given society and give the larger number distinctions... that's not what democracy means to me at all.

I think we should all be free to worship - or not - as we see fit. I think your screenname is a fine ideal to aspire to... we should all be free to think and free to believe. Whether that means believing in God, or believing there is none, we should be free to reach our own conclusion...

Free to...:Or do you think that being right gives the impetus to try to educate folk so that they in the end will agree with you?

Me: I think that's a two way street. But nobody's ever approached me in the street, sat next to me on a train or knocked on my front door to try and persuade me to join an atheist group so anecdotally it seems to me that the impetus to try to educate folk so that they in the end will agree with you is most keenly felt by the Christian community.

Dave Gorman said...

Tim wrote:"I suppose the advert shows the difference between people who believe this life is all there is, and those who believe there is something better to come?"

Me: Exactly!

Free to think, free to believe said...

If democracy isn't the rule by the majority then what is it? Personally, I don't like democracy and most folk laugh when I tell them what I'd rather - rule by consensus which would mean that the majority would not have the glorified right to make legal distinctions about themselves as opposed to others.

I can't quite remember whether I picked up that word reading these comments or not and I'm not going to reread them all to check...

I agree that to find a web address that's advertised that warns folk about hell is deplorable. Are you saying that the bus add was aimed at those folk who looked it up? Because then that would be admirable.

You may not have had a rap on your door by an evangelical atheist but quite a few of them have managed to get into my sitting room via the idiot lantern. And there is a bias that precludes positive evidence based programmes re faiths historicalness that goes back to the eighties. Note that the rather recent 'faith' programmes are based on individual perspectives and not on an evidential basis unlike some other programmes which were concerned with evolution and then were used to say 'Look, no God under that bed!'

If I were a bus driver, I'd drive the bus, I can sympathise with someone who shares my faith who doesn't want to but we are all different - just like atheists I suppose.

Nathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan said...

This is along the lines of the muslims refusing to stack alcohol in shops, or take dogs in taxis at airports.
My take is: stop paying them until they do their job properly. Not too many people will work for free over their superstition driven reasons.

I posted about how we don't respect religious beliefs really (Respecting beliefs from the dark ages.. Metaphorically of course )
This is no different. Someone believes they can beat their wives: well, no you can't. Someone thinks they can refuse to do their job (drive a bus, dispense medication or give medical advice in a neutral manner that isn't theology based etc): well, no you can't. Until you can: you work for free or we get someone who will do the job they're employed to do.

Tim said...

Nathan said... "Not too many people will work for free over their superstition driven reasons"...

....just to examine that comment a little.....there are many people who, rather than "work for free", choose not to participate in certain lines of work, because they are unable to reconcile that practice with their belief, be it their Christian faith, or some other moral/ethical objection. On the whole, those decisions made are not based on "superstition", but on a well considered code of ethics/belief system, call it what you will....but it ain't superstition.
The Christian faith is still with us today, in part, because a small bunch of people continued to believe and encouage others to believe, even though, for nearly all of them, it meant their lives were cut short when they were executed by those in authority...and that is something which still continues today.
To dismiss peoples' beliefs as merely superstition is, in the majority of cases, a poorly thought through arguement.

Free to think, free to believe said...

Nathan - I once gave up a job rather than suffer a thumb print scanner. I didn't think it would take my soul or change my mind...

What I thought was that we, as workers, were not even asked to use a tool to 'punch in' - we would be the tool that punched in and thus the entire workforce who had to use it [note it was not one of those time machines which is used by all as it would give a print out of who's present in case of fire etc etc] would be degraded into objectified work units.

As opposed to valued employees.

Was that superstition?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there is a more ridiculed group than atheists, Christians who don't take the bible literally. Probably the majority of Christians in the UK (although not the most vocal) don't have any time for Eternal Damnation, or bizzarre ceremonies involving reciatals, bells and smells. Every time they see someone declaring that Darwin was wrong imagine how embarrassed they feel on behalf of their religion.

Becci said...

Thank god for atheists!

Anonymous said...

Dave

Do you Love your Father and Mother?

Prove it!

Please don't say probably. . .

Simon from Southampton said...

Dave Gorman wrote: The only really fair analogy is between two legal, equal and opposite, ads.

Simon: Yes absolutely. I tried to find an analogy with say the BNP after all their ads are legal but most of us wouldn't want to be involved in spreading their message. But then I backtracked as I didn't want to equate Nazis and Atheists. But your example is better because it is legal and equivalent.

Dave Gorman: If such an ad was run and such an objection raised what do you think would happen?

Simon: I think you're right lack of belief would not be treated as even handedly as belief.

Dave Gorman: What do you think should happen?

Simon: I think the bus driver should drive the bus. Jesus was mocked and crucified. It does my head in that his followers are desperate to have laws that protect them from offense and allow them to discriminate. Just drive the sodding bus I say. But if that doesn't work your proposal: We'll carry any legal advert but we understand that sometimes an advert might compromise you morally, in which case we'll do everything we can to ensure you don't have to drive that ad. seems to me the best

Simon from Southampton said...

@Dave Gorman

I get your point about faith being beyond question. For example over the last century many secular institutions and clubs that were closed to women have been challenged and now there are few left which still discriminate. However when an secular institution recently reviewed it's prayer facilities, they received a request from the Islamic community not to provide prayer space from women. They complied because it was a faith issue, and they did not want to question faith.

In both the Catholic and Anglican Churches women are bared from senior leadership. Looking back over the history books originally the reason for not ordaining women was that they were inferior to men. Over the last century the essential inferiority of women that has been completely debunked, and so many opponents of women in ministry fall back to the argument that 'it is simply the will of God'. Such arguments are beyond rational challenge.

This is not just an academic question it is a matter of human rights. A little wile ago a one of the UN's officers who was previously charged with protecting free speech has had his job description rewritten so that he now protects religious groups from attack. As one national newspaper put it Instead of defending Salman Rushdie they will now be charged with attacking him. And there are numerous examples where censorship is happening where ever religion rears its head.

When I read your posting there was a lot I wanted to say, in the end I opted for the moral equivalence argument because it seemed the briefest, but at base, my objections were that I don't really like the advert. It seems to be saying “Don't be like those idiot theists who spend their lives living in fear of hell, be like us sensible people. It's more fun!” As someone who doesn't believe that a loving God sends people to hell for not believing in him I don't like this.

As a theist I am accused of being, homophobic, sexist and a bigot but mostly of being irrational and stupid. I suppose I am over-sensitive on this point. Certainly when you said faith was beyond question I reacted by defending myself against the charge that I hadn't thought things through.

I tried to make an argument, but actually perhaps all I should have said is “I find this advert hurtful and I hope your not smiling because you think we're idiots too.”

I'm not asking for the advert not to run or to be beyond criticism or never to be offended, quite the opposite, I am just expressing how I feel.

Simon said...

@ Dave & everyone

It does feel like we (atheists) have no voice however there is the Humanist Society

http://www.humanism.org.uk/home

Gogzilla said...

I did enjoy this campaign. I never came into contact with it on public transport but at a bar called, rather appropriately, sinners who had bought/stolen one of the posters.


also before i post this i'm really enjoying the fact that the word verification i need to type is "godwar"

Anonymous said...

I notice that not one of these 'campaigners' for Christianity seems to have complained at the plethora of imagery of sexually posed women, used as advertising bait that fill our buses, trains, magazines etc every day? I wonder if that Christian bus driver is similarly incensed by such imagery? I also wonder if the bus company would have taken a complaint by a female bus driver bearing one of these images seriously? I can't see it, can you?

Simon said...

@Anonymous re: complaining about sexually suggestive advertising: we complain about it all the time.

Simon said...

I think this is one of those debates that will never go away and is something that depends on personal context. As a Christian, I disagree with the comment "but it is very easy as an atheist to feel like you have no voice".
For me, personally, it is the other way around. In my experience, Christians seem to be under attack from atheists (not all of them, obviously) who make personal attacks on us and insult us on the basis of 'intelligence' for example. To atheists, they think we're attacking them with evangelism.

I would like to think: why can't we all just leave each other alone and stop thrusting our agendas in each other's faces?