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. Hi Steve

    In short, atheism is not about holding a belief on the basis of faith, and is not necessarily about proving there is no god—the basic notion is that there is no actual foundation for believing there is a god other than wanting to (and speaking personally, for those that wish to do so– well good for them–no sarcasm intended.) You cannot prove that god doesnt exist—but that is true of an infinite number of things that do not exist.

    Couching the debate in termsof extremes is erroneous, there is no spectrum of beliefs upon which these two viewpoints lie. The basic atheist position is that they do not belive in god because there is no actual reason to belive in god. That is why belief in god has to be about faith. Maybe the debate should be taking place upon what constitutes a resonable belief–and obviously what we mean by reasonable.

    you may find the debate lacking in quality when carried out in this form (bus slogans)–it is bound to be–but the process as work here is not about debate, its about creating awareness of other ways of thinking. The debate occurs elswhere–like here.

    Because you dont like prosletysing, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an impact—and when it comes to views being imposed–try getting your child to be allowed to leave the act of worship that many schools insist on carrying out. You are allowed to do it, but your child will quickly be singled out as being different.

    I know that you are interested in discussions on social capital, but currency in such things is created and traded in many ways–even irritating bus ads. 🙂 (enjoying the debate, even if it is not about your initial point)

  2. Ashley, if atheism is about the negation of the rationale of belief in any kind of deity, there has to be faith in one’s own ability to interpret enough of that which is observable in the physical world to give an alternative – and equally difficult to ‘prove’ – meta-narrative. While a lot of atheists will be happy to say ‘I don’t care how we got here, it just doesn’t make any sense to suggest it was ‘God’ just because there’s no ‘reason’‘ elsewhere’, that too doesn’t remove the faith-commitment that anyone has made by choosing to not pursue any of the various theisms of the world.

    …Maybe this is about the semantics of the word ‘faith’…

    But there is, as far as I can see, a very clearly delineated spectrum of belief… it’s not linear, and there are as many different degrees of rationality and reason within atheists as theists…

    The problem with the polarising effect of these kinds of campaign is that they turn it into a dualistic challenge of ‘non-belief’ against ‘belief’ – I find that the people I am most inspired by, be the inspiration metaphysical in nature, or more practical – are from right across the belief spectrum. There are Christians who make me want to change the world for the better, and who act out of the inspiration of their faith, and there are atheists whose concern for people and the planet inspires me to want to copy them.

    Ultimately, I’m far more interested in shared story and narrative than I am in demonising faith or lack of it.

    The school example is an interesting one – surely that’s an issue of culture, not faith – I remember being singled out as a vegetarian as a child, and in my decidedly more evangelical past, being made to look like a freak for opting out of halloween celebrations… It’s not something I’d do now, but I’d still defend the right of God-botherers the world over to opt out, same as I would the atheists to avoid acts of meaningless worship.

    Thanks for the discussion – it’s a great discussion, but £135K seems a little bit over the odds as a catalyst. Maybe I should blog about more spiritual stuff, just so they don’t need to waste the money and clutter up buses next time 🙂

  3. I’ve always been terribly suspicous of people with faith, and to a lesser extent people who don’t drink, but then, the opposite is me. I do however, marvel at the wonder of our existance, and try to absorb the strides we have made to understand our place.

    But then I was brought up without doctrine, so what do I know.

  4. Hi Steve

    Thought you might talk about faith in one’s ability to interpret what is observable. I guess this is where we move beyond semantics and more towards the grounding of knowlege.
    The ontological commitmnet to a faith position is quite different from one that argues for more than desire to a foundation for something to be “true”. If it becomes simply an acceptance that we cannot critique one meta narrative on the basis the “priciples” of another meta-narrative then in our wonderful post modern world we end up reduced to solipsism. Whilst differnces in meta narratives can lead to misunderstandings in the end we all exist in the same world which allows access to some form of intersubjective “truth”. If we take the position that this is not possible then it becomes impossible to account for anything resembling a society. I am being deliberately contentious (learning form the master 🙂 )
    I do agree that good things can come from people of a religious persuasion and that where common goals can be established this should be celebrated–Maybe my issue is more with organised religion and its impact upon the legal system. I viewed the bus adverts from that perspective and the desire to get people to think a little about it.
    Maybe some kind of electronic device that was linked to other social media so that people could watch and/or engage in the debate whilst sat on the bus would be of use, a moving social forum, the “God Bus” destination unkown or unkowable–how would you get them to start watching in the first place?
    enjoy the rest of your tour

  5. Ashley

    thanks so much for the on-going discussion. Fascinating stuff.

    The ontological commitmnet to a faith position is quite different from one that argues for more than desire to a foundation for something to be “true”.

    The implication in what you’re saying seems to be that atheism is essentially rational, and faith is irrational, ergo, atheists have the scientific upper hand because while they can’t ‘prove’ that there is no deity, the deists are floundering around believing in something for which there is no rational or logical basis at all… That’s what it sounds like – feel free to correct me…

    I’d suggest that there’s no greater or lesser degree of rationale at work in the broad areas of theism and atheism. Both areas have their whackos, their fundies, their rationalists and their vast majority of adherents who believe what they believe because it was presented to them at the right time and it works on a day to day basis… People can believe all kinds of things for good and bad reasons, regardless of whether what they believe has veracity or not… It’s quite possible to end up believing something that is verifiably true, but to arrive there by spurious reasoning… I’m sure a large part of my own world view is informed thusly 🙂

    And I guess this is where my whole love of narrative, of shared paths, story telling and invited experience works best for me.

    I operate on a functional framework of ‘pragmatic assurance’ (I wrote about it here from an artistic perspective) – I behave as though my assumptions about the world are right, whilst be constantly open to the possibility that I’m wrong, if something comes along that ‘proves’ otherwise. I work like that because otherwise we’d get nothing done, but I’m also more than self aware enough to know that I’ll probably have a markedly different set of beliefs in 10 years time than I do now, but I want that shift to be a deliberate, creative, step forward into goodness, rather than a lazy slide into intellectual atrophy…

    For me to dismiss any area as broad as theism or atheism as being fundamentally less ‘rational’ would be to claim a depth of understanding of other people’s journeys and reasoning that I can’t lay claim to, nor are there enough hours in my finite tiny time on this planet to do them all justice…

    For fun reading, have a look at this fabulous review of The God Delusion – the reviewer highlights the MASSIVE holes in Dawkins’ research, his bias and the eventual mish-mash of criticisms of things that most people of faith would also regard as abhorrent.

    Ergo, bus adverts telling people that ‘You’re going to hell’ (way to go telling people you think God loves them, ass-hole) or ‘there probably isn’t a God’ (which they wanted to put as ‘there is no God’ – the arrogance of it!) are utterly counter to the process of discussion, respect, shared story and the possibility that someone else’s experience can inform yours even without the mutual comfort of a tidy exclusive meta-narrative.


  6. Atheism Proves Nothing.

    Faith Proves Nothing.

    So what’s to argue about? The argument is about what people have faith in, and why. I call my faith “reasonable” because I need to see reasonable proof before I believe that something exists. For you to tell me that I have “faith” that there is no god is technically true, but irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant for you to say that I have “faith” because I don’t believe a little green polka-dotted troll rules the universe.

    What’s more relevant is why we believe what we believe. What’s even more relevant to me–as an American–is to know there really ARE atheists out there like me, and we shouldn’t all have to shutup about what we believe. I see signs of religion almost everywhere, and can’t say anything about it without fear of offending someone and starting an argument.

    So tell me again please… why is it wrong to trigger discussions with a sign on a bus?

  7. Btw Steve when I said “you”, I wasn’t meaning the you you. I probably should have said “others” instead of “you”.

  8. Hi Steve

    Nice reply, agree with the pragmatic assurance approach–I wish all would follow such an approach.

    Read the link on the Dawkins book. and do agree on the comments about dawkins going beyond what he can substantiate on his own grounds–though the reviewer seems to ignore many of Dawkins’ own caveats to what he claims. But the reviwer focuses on the question as to whetehr or not having a relious perspective is a good thing–i.e does religion lead to a better world.
    There is an argument to be had that it can act as a cohesive force in peoples’ lives and give some kind of grounding for social norms–but it eaqually can become a basis for dismissing other peoples’ norms. It comes back to: well if you want to believe in this, fine by me, but you don’t have a basis for telling me what constitutes good or bad behaviour. Whilst Such social norms are influenced by people with such beliefs, as they are part of society, they require grounding in something that acknowledges that we have to scome up with these norms for ourselves. In short you do not need religion to be moral.

    The debate I was having–possible with myself–was more about issues surrounding the actual existence of deities and other such non material entities. Whilst consciousness is still underexplained then there will always be room for such devices to fill the gap of explanation–but let’s not mistake it for explanation–it is simply an assertion–an act of faith—

    This so much mor fun than marking dissertaions, thanks

  9. Wow, this comment thread is fantastic. Thanks so much for the discussion, people!

    Acme, you said:
    “For you to tell me that I have “faith” that there is no god is technically true, but irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant for you to say that I have “faith” because I don’t believe a little green polka-dotted troll rules the universe.”

    2 things come to bear here – firstly, your ‘faith’ is, as far as I can see, that there is ‘nothing’ rather than something… it’s not as specific as ‘there is no Christian God or Muslim God etc… as an atheist, I assume you believe that ‘this is all there is’, for which there is precious little ‘evidence’ either way, beyond my second point…

    …which is that you have faith that all the REALLY intelligent, bright, wise, deep, inspiring people who represent that absolute best of what each of the faith traditions represent are all completely deluded. That, I would suggest, is a faith. In the same way that part of the faith of a person who does believe in some kind of deity is that those who don’t are wrong…

    The specific nature of a theistic world view is a layer of explanation, culture or interpretation on top of the belief that there is ‘something else’ rather than ‘nothing else’.

    So I’m not drawing any kind of ‘you’re as religious as they are’ parallel, just trying to build some sort of parity between different perspectives in a space where all of us have a minutely limited view of ‘all that there is’.

    So what’s the problem with the bus? That it’s not a discussion trigger, it’s an argument trigger. It’s a way of annoying people, of making people who agree even more entrenched. It’s closed rather than open, combative rather than inclusive, and seems very much to come from the premise that ‘if they can do it, then we can too…’

    I find the big-ass ‘Hell Is Real’ and ‘Where Will You Spend Eternity?’ signs that litter the road side of middle america abhorrent, annoying and naive – I have no idea what the people who put them up are trying to achieve, beyond absolving themselves of some erroneous sense of responsibility for the damnation of others thanks to their ‘having told them about Hell’ or some such bullshit… But to respond to it with counter-signs just perpetuates the conflict.

    So does that mean that the bus-advert-world and the american road-side religious ranting world is handed over to the fundamentalists? possibly, yes. No, I don’t have an alternative, but I’m just not comfortable to sinking to the level of mindless shouting into the wind. Cos then the one with the biggest budget wins… And that’s horrible.

    thanks for the comment – much appreciated!

  10. Ashley:
    “The debate I was having–possible with myself–was more about issues surrounding the actual existence of deities and other such non material entities. Whilst consciousness is still underexplained then there will always be room for such devices to fill the gap of explanation–but let’s not mistake it for explanation–it is simply an assertion–an act of faith—”

    I think that most people of faith would argue that there’s more to their faith than filling in gaps… Whether or not their reasoning is circuitous is a whole other question, and there are just as many dreadful reasons to be an atheist as there are to follow any of the faiths…

    But I think your point about understanding that morality is not the exclusive domain of the religious/spiritual is a really important one. The smugness of faith-based organisations who claim some kind of moral superiority thanks to their chosen faith profession is pretty sickening… but again, it seems something that’s better suited to dialogue, to finding a shared space for moral discourse rather than a slogan-based shouting match for 135 grand a round…

    This thread is evidence that it’s possible, I guess 🙂


  11. I see this thread as an indication of the positive effect of the bus sign, even if that was not your intent. Thank you, too, for this!

    Meanwhile, I don’t want to go too far off that original topic (of the effect of bus signs), but I just realized something important wrt how we decide to define “faith”. As I endeavor to understand the world in terms of some kind of objective “reality” (and with some kind of humility, conceding that we mortals just can’t know “everything” at once), it’s just much easier for me at this moment to split my world into subjective spiritual, and objective scientific worlds. Ie, even tho I’m an atheist, I still acknowledge the power of larger consciousness and purposeness, not yet fully explained with science theory. So I think I have “faith” that derives from some kind of spirituality, and “theory” that derives from science. They coexist in me without much conflict. Perhaps one day they will even inform each other better. (Does that make sense?)

    Btw, by “larger consciousness”, I’m thinking specifically of the need we all feel to help each other and make the world a better place. Even animals act this way, for their common good. (Therefore I feel all animals must have a real “consciousness” of some sort and to varying degrees.) When I’m doing “good”, I’m doing it to serve humankind, not god.

    Meanwhile, the largest difference between faith and theory (which btw also relates to subjective/objective) is that theory is self-corrective based on observation, while faith is more of an unquestioned feeling that derives from somewhere deeply internal and locked to me, personally and emotionally. (And THIS I think illustrates how the “me”, or spirit part of me connects intimately with the larger “us”, imposing mostly-static priorities, purposes, and relationships.)

    To answer one of your points about whether masses of really intelligent people can be deluded, my answer is YES. We know for sure that most religions differ from each other enough to illustrate that MOST of them must be wrong, if any are right. Yet they are all quite willing to accept their delusion, for whatever brand of religion. I’ve even read and heard religious people say that logic and/or reason has no place in faith. The biggest problem with this discussion may that “delusion” is not a nice word. However, for what it’s worth (and this would go WAY of topic), I’m even quite happy to accept that free will is a delusion. This is yet another example of how “faith” (eg in free will) coexists peaceably with theory.

  12. I liked the signs. I think bus signs are a valid way to get a conversation going, as evidenced by this thread.

    And I loved Obama’s shout out to “Unbelievers” in his inaugural address. Nice to be recognized in the midst of the religion drenched pageant that is the presidential inauguration.

  13. Hi Jonny,

    I liked that bit too – all the prayer ‘n’ politics stuff makes me uneasy – seems like a fairly divisive thing to do, but the old Yoda-dude at the end said some fantastic stuff in his prayer. Top quality.

    Obama def. seems like someone who is willing to acknowledge the validity of a multiplicity of religious and philosophical view points. Getting away from the idea of a ‘christian’ country seems like a fairly major step forward for dialogue-over-polemic.

  14. 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.

    Hmm… did you really mean to equate atheism with “Not giving a shit”? In what sense? Seems a bit dodgy to me.

    Maybe I should blog about more spiritual stuff, just so they don’t need to waste the money and clutter up buses next time 🙂

    And why not 🙂

    B.t.w., only tangentially relevant, but I was pointed at a fascinating article the other day: Jesus & Alinsky. Gives a perspective on Jesus’ teachings that I’d never heard anyone explain before!

  15. Hi Jennifer,

    not equating atheism with giving a shit at all, in the grand scheme of things, just that for some people, ‘non faith’ is a default because ‘theistic faith’ does seem like it’s even worth considering. In that case, not giving a shit is just the non-response to a non-considerable alternative.

    I don’t think it’s the usual position for atheism, and is highly unlikely to be the position for those who are willing to spend money on bus-signs. They clearly give a shit, lots of shit 😉

    BTW, I’m so glad you take the time to comment here – what are you up to musically these days? I get asked about you more than almost any other solo bassist!

  16. I think the sign is a good thing, it shows that its okay to non believe. That there are people out there that don’t I grew up in a place where no-one spoke about not believing, and it was only when I was older that I began to feel okay with my own non belief. If only I had known as a child it was okay not to belief…

    So yes I think the signs are great.

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