Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Public transport to hell

Some New Zealand Christians are apparently upset at the possibility of atheist ads on buses. NZ Bus, which originally approved the ads, later changed their minds and rejected them because of "significant reaction from both the travelling public and our people."

The ads (pictured above on a bus from the campaign in the UK), say “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I’d always thought that the word “probably” was added under pressure, but it turns out I was wrong. While the word did keep the ads within the UK’s advertising standards by avoiding offence (ironically), the campaign’s creator, Ariane Sherine, noted that using the word “means the slogan is more accurate, as even though there’s no scientific evidence at all for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist (or that anything doesn’t).” Fair enough.

Even Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s best-known atheist, doesn’t say that God doesn’t exist, but merely that he “almost certainly” doesn’t exist. Dawkins says that saying there’s no God would be a statement of faith: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”.

But Dawkins has now stirred things up in New Zealand. He said about the ad rejection: “I am, to say the least, not impressed with people who take offence to it, you can hardly ask for a more innocuous ... message," Stuff reported. He added, somewhat unhelpfully, "I would have to say grow up, don't be so pathetic, stop whining." I admire Dawkins’ intellect, but I think that sometimes he makes things worse for atheists by being unnecessarily strident and confrontational. Still, he’s right: People do need to grow up a bit—especially the folks who run NZ Bus.

It’s easy for me to be so relaxed about it all: My parents both encouraged thinking for oneself. They had absolute faith that if one did so, one would be Christian. I think they probably would’ve supported the advertisers, knowing full well that no ad on any bus would convert anyone to atheism. Also, they believed that their God didn’t need protecting from dissent or those who don’t believe. All of which leaves me to wonder why some people are so easily offended, or why they’re so worried about the strength of others’ faith.

I doubt that many people complained to NZ Bus, but even if they did, I think NZ Bus was wrong to reject the ads. “Freedom of religion” means atheists have the same right to express their beliefs as do religionists. I hope that the atheists ultimately prevail and the ads are run. If they are, they could provoke a far more meaningful discussion than the ill-advised billboard from last December. I know that my parents would’ve approved of that dialogue. If their God really exists, I bet he’d “probably approve”, too.

Photo above © Jon Worth / British Humanist Association. Available from the UK site.


epilonious said...

If your God is threatened by a cheeky ad on the side of a bus...

... get a better God.

toujoursdan said...

I am a practising Anglican but find the fauxrage all rather silly. If you can't take the heat of living in a pluralistic world, move to Iran (or Alabama.)

The same slogan is found on buses in Canada. What's the big deal?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

epilonious: Exactly! Now I could understand if the god in question was, say, Zeus—he and his cohorts got up to some awfully odd stuff, so maybe faith in him/them would be more fragile.

toujoursdan: I have no idea what the big deal is. I mean, it's not like the patrons who need buses can abandon them for another bus company, regardless of ad signs.

The parent company, Infratil, has a goal of 20% annual return to shareholders, but I certainly can't see how these signs would endanger that.

Some people need to just relax.