Atheist Bus Campaign? Oh, grow up!

So the Atheist Bus Campaign are delighted that they’ve raised £135K to put up adverts around the place telling people not to worry cos there probably isn’t a God.

So, let’s get this straight – their logic is that putting God-bothering ads on buses is a stupid idea. So in response they… put up anti-God-bothering ads on buses. Genius! An eye for an eye. An ad for an ad. Maybe we can just start having whole conversations via 15 word slogans on the sides of buses. it’s a pretty nuanced way to talk about things.

Oh no, my mistake, it’s a fucking stupid way to discuss anything. Regardless of my own beliefs/faith/whatever, I’ve always been baffled by posters stating ‘facts’ about God, or with bible verses on them. It always smacked of some kind of talismanic evangelical witch-craft; ‘if we use bits of the Bible, it has special powers and people will be saved‘… Surely actually talking about this stuff is more useful. As some fab Welshmen once said, ‘this is my truth, tell me yours‘.

But, to counter it with equally bogus ‘there probably isn’t a God..’ banners helps no one. It does as much for discussion of the merits of faith and atheism as the original posters do. Precious little.

The picture at the top is my contribution to the debate. Happy new year, whatever your faith-persuasion. 🙂

44 Replies to “Atheist Bus Campaign? Oh, grow up!”

  1. as with most things about religion, i’m taking my never changing stance of complete apathy. I’m amazed anyone takes evangelist, or anti evangelist posters and the like seriously. Up in Perth where i went to college there’s a load of jesusboards between my old flat and the college and they brightened my day because they’re so bloody stupid!

    i did quite like the sentiment of the athiest bus, in that they were saying there ‘probably’ isn’t a god so don’t get your knickers in a twist, but alas with any kind of public opinion you get a whole load of people taking it too seriously.

    granted busses aren’t really good for encapsulating the near limitless topics of spirituality etc, but they must be serving some good if we’re discussing it here and amongst our friends.

  2. I would agree with you (Steve) if the stakes were not so high. There is a whole host of literature on the merits, or otherwise, of above the line advertising and communication and its influence upon public debate. But if it the case that the government refused to acknowledge the existence of people of secular persuasion in the last census, then the debate has to be started somewhere. I don’t know if you have children but schools are under pressure to include religious instruction/education or an act of worship. Religious groups have been spreading their word and influence through means like this for a long time. They know the importance of public awareness and how this influences decisions on like faith schools being publicly funded.

    Yes we can ignore them, but why react to this one when you do not react to the religious messages–have they become simply part of the background noise, a simple acceptance of what is there.

    It is also curious that you state “that saying there isn’t a god” is an equally bogus statement. No doubt stating there is an evil alien spaghetti monster watching our every move would be bogus. It’s just that one statement challenges deeply held, but impossible to prove beliefs, whilst the other is just impossible to prove.

    I think it (the “advert) has created exactly the reaction that is was looking for.

  3. I dunno. You’re right Steve, there’s no way you can have a serious debate via billboard. But these adverts are only supposed to be a light-hearted antidote to theist adverts.

    Like Paddy, I usually find ‘jesusboards’ funny, but every now and then it is depressing to be reminded that a significant minority of English people truly believe in the supernatural. Anything to cheer up my fellow athiests has to be a good thing.

    (ps I’ve been enjoying your article on social media. Useful stuff!)

  4. Ashley:
    “Religious groups have been spreading their word and influence through means like this for a long time.” & “Yes we can ignore them, but why react to this one when you do not react to the religious messages”.

    The fight fire with fire approach is never ending. The lunacy of putting ‘get into Jesus or you’ll burn in hell’ isn’t – as far as I can tell – counteracted by the atheist posters, it’s fuelled by them. It becomes a supremely crass public discourse between two fundamentalisms, both of them trying to take the moral high-ground by arguing that the other is cynical/evil/sinister etc…

    the argument isn’t over whether either of them is right, for me. I don’t object to the Jesus ones because they’re ‘wrong’ or because of some fear of faith schools etc. I just don’t like proselytizing. It doesn’t ‘work’ and it doesn’t help. I don’t think the discussions about the rights and wrongs of religious education are in anyway helped or hindered by mad people with a bus-budget on either side.

    The Dawkinsization of public spiritual discourse has been a travesty. It’s polarised the discussion even further, and one of the results is that people like Tom write things like “it is depressing to be reminded that a significant minority of English people truly believe in the supernatural.” – why on earth should that be depressing?? What’s depressing is that people fall out over this stuff and throw tens of thousands of pounds at bullshit campaigns to suggest that each other are ‘wrong’. It’s moot, it’s irrelevant, because the process is wrong. It’d be like having a singing competition to decide a political election – the whole forum is redundant to the task.

    Your last point is an interesting one:

    “It’s just that one statement challenges deeply held, but impossible to prove beliefs, whilst the other is just impossible to prove.”

    You’re suggesting that theism and atheism (or anti-theism) aren’t both faith positions? Atheism clearly requires faith, even if it’s just a faith that not giving a shit will ultimately prove to be an OK position to adopt.

    Fundamentalist Atheism of the Dawkins variety requires a massive amount of faith given how much is unprovable on both sides, but how much is at stake. That’s a huge gamble… (and I don’t mean ‘at stake’ in the eternal damnation sense at all, I mean the risk to his credibility as a writer, peddling indefensible bile-ridden ranty bollocks about things he knows precious little of…)

    Time and again, I come back to the Manics album title as the only workable start point for spiritual/religious discourse – ‘This is my truth, tell me yours’.

    of course, where my lovely wooly liberalism falls down is when the meta-narrative (be it theistic or otherwise) inspires the adherent to behaviour that is damaging or anti-social… but that’s the whole point of avoiding a polarised clash of fundamentalisms, and instead, move towards a friendly, humble discourse, be it a public discourse on the influence of faith on society, or a private discourse in which we share our stories, ideas and experiences of spiritual – or otherwise – things.

  5. “The Dawkinsization of public spiritual discourse has been a travesty. It’s polarised the discussion even further, and one of the results is that people like Tom write things like “it is depressing to be reminded that a significant minority of English people truly believe in the supernatural.” – why on earth should that be depressing?? What’s depressing is that people fall out over this stuff and throw tens of thousands of pounds at bullshit campaigns to suggest that each other are ‘wrong’. It’s moot, it’s irrelevant, because the process is wrong. It’d be like having a singing competition to decide a political election – the whole forum is redundant to the task.”

    word.

  6. having said that, i’d be dead curious to see who’d win if it were a singing competition (out of the current people we’ve got, christ knows we’d end up with some xfactor eejit if anyone was allowed to do it)

  7. I’m a Christian and still, I like the ad. It sends the message: people who believe in God worry too much. Which is very often correct. My response if I had a bus would be:

    There probably is a God, so don’t worry!

  8. Paddy, the original bus statement was going to be “There is no god”, rather than “there’s probably no god” – apparently they had to go with the latter because of advertising rules…

    That being said, I quite like the campaign, since immature lols do it for me….

  9. I’m an Apatheist, myself. The question isn’t important, and the answer no longer matters.

    Personally, if people want to spunk their money away by putting slogans on buses – whatever their religious position (yes, I’m treating atheism as a religious position, sue me) – well, that’s their lookout. Billboard away, I really, honestly, couldn’t give a flying furgle at a rolling doughnut.

    D

  10. I agree with Steve. As someone growing up in 12 years of Catholic school, there is nothing that irritates me more than people blindly trying to shove their thoughts and beliefs down your throat. That being said, that applies to both sides of the coin.

    Think of it this way, which argument is more productive:
    A. Husband and wife screaming at each other about how the other is wrong and doesn’t care about the other’s feelings. This escalates to throwing stuff at each other, a lamp and Nintendo Wii get broken. Wii fit no longer works, they both get overweight and have heartattacks (ok, last sentence not accurate).

    B. Debating in sometimes heated, but never really raising your voice debate. Both sides get a chance to exchange points. In the end there may not be an agreement, but at least an understanding of the otherside. Wii Fit causes the couple to live another 100 years.

    My point: extremes in most cases don’t really apply. People need to calm down and think before they yell (myself included). The Dalai Lama has some great writings on this, I would recommend “Ethics for the New Millennium.”

    JIM

  11. Since we cannot (yet) prove the thing one way or the other I think everyone should be able to say whatever they want about God’s existence or non-existence, argh! even on buses if they feel they really must…(Utopian sentiment, obviously :)) Happy New Year Steve!

  12. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Linda – it’s the connection between ‘not provable’ and ‘must’ – the imperative is not there in the thesis. It can’t be. Clearly people of faith feel like they have something special they want to share with their friends. It feels to them like endless money-off coupons, and they fail to remember what it was like when someone else tried so hard to convince them of something they hadn’t experienced for themselves (it’s kind of how I feel about Radiohead evangelists – yes, I’m glad you like it, now stop trying to play it to me all the time!)

    But when that eagerness tips over into a kind of blanket broadcast fundamentalism, and the nuance of story-telling falls to the bull-dozering of the fear-mongers (you’d better dig the baby Jesus, or you’ll end up in hell – way to go introducing people to this loving God you’ve met…) …it all goes to shit.

    So Bus-ads are great for telling people ‘if you keep smoking, you’ll get ill and die’, cos it’s provable and the shock works and is needed. It’s not so good for enabling people with wildly different experiential paths to share those in a way that helps ANYBODY. It just pushes people further into entrenchment and smugness or feeds resentment.

    Can you actually imagine anyone ever saying ‘well, I used to be an atheist/christian/muslim/satanist, but then I saw this bus ad, and it got me thinking…’ It’s nuts. It’s bollocks and it’s a tragic waste of a chance to talk about some REALLY interesting stuff, and most likely find out that truth-seekers have more in common than they think, regardless of their current set of temporary conclusions…

  13. There was a great book out about 10 years ago called “Scepticism Inc” (by Bo Fowler)- telling the story of a metaphysical betting shop, where you could bet on anything that couldn’t be proved. In short, the worlds religious leaders try to out-bet each other to prove that their faith is the strongest, until they start bankrupting themselves.

    It’s hard to get hold of now (at least, in bookshops) but it’s a great read.

    So, I’m now considering setting up a metaphysical advertising agency: “Prove your faith by telling the world.” I reckon it could make me a millionaire…

  14. sorry to butt in here again but must just add :

    “….a tragic waste of a chance to talk about some REALLY interesting stuff, and most likely find out that (and here’s the bit I really like:) truth-seekers have more in common than they think, regardless of their current set of temporary conclusions…”

    Lovely sentiment Steve! I’m applauding 🙂

  15. You can’t have a serious debate via ads, but it can (apparently) produce interesting discussion. What about “There may be no God. So let’s incarnate him ourselves.”?

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