Saturday, February 07, 2009

Got God?

This is an ad that I'd like to put on a bus. Go here to make your own ad.
My ad reads: "Arguing About God is Dumb. Have A Nice Day. P.S., Eat Your Vegetables"

You may have heard about the atheism ads in the U.K. that were placed on buses. Well, in a new twist that sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit, the "believers" are striking back with their own series of ads:

LONDON, Feb. 5 -- Three Christian groups in Britain are putting ads on city buses proclaiming that there is a God, a reaction to a high-profile atheist campaign here that has spread around the globe. From the United States and Canada to Italy, Spain and Australia, nonbelievers have been placing anti-religious ads on buses -- usually seen promoting toothpaste, cellphones and other products -- and stirring up national debates about God. Thousands of people in Britain recently raised $200,000 to place an ad on 800 London buses that reads: "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Now, just as that campaign has ended, the Christian Party is putting up its response: "There definitely is a God." The Russian Orthodox Church's bus ad reads: "There is a God. BELIEVE. Don't worry and enjoy your life." And in the next few days, the Trinitarian Bible Society will be posting a line from Psalm 53:1: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." (Read the whole thing here)

I've been pondering the so called "new atheism" or "militant atheism" for some time. I've been asking myself why I don't feel compelled to combat it in some way. There are incredibly brilliant people of all faiths who are debating God's existence with Dawkins and Hitchens and so on. What I've discovered is that atheism simply bores me. I don't mean that athiests themselves are boring. Their ideas and arguments are boring. Trying to convince someone who doesn't believe it that God exists strikes me as a huge waste of my time. Secondly, atheists have not been very successful in their efforts. The vast majority of people on this planet believe in a deity of some kind and that belief isn't disappearing any time soon. The New Atheism strikes me as a mirror image of religious fundamentalism, it is a world view that has failed to capture the imagination of the masses and so must be argued more stridently in the hopes that someone will listen. The voices of 21st century atheism (like fundamentalism) sound more desperate than confident to my ears. If ads on the side of a bus are the best that atheists can do, those who believe in God have little to fear and should just get on with their lives.


  1. Hi Phillipe,
    I actually find "new atheism" somewhat refreshing! I think it's great to question our assumptions, eradicate our superstitions, and use reason and science in our search for truth. I actually think it has a very important role to play in moving forward into the future. I enjoy reading the works of Richard Dawkins and love his enthusiasm for truth and reason. He has a wonderful chapter in "The God Delusion" about our changing moral zeitgeist. For some as yet unidentified reason (hmmmmmm???) the world has been changing over the last decades and old superstitions and prejudices have been dropping away. That chapter alone makes the book worth reading!

  2. Anne, glad to see you're getting something out of the new atheism. Reason and science and search for truth are not incompatible with a belief on God. One does not have to be an atheist to value those things. As such, I'm not seeing what's "new" about it. But I haven't read the book, so maybe you're right.

  3. My concern about "new atheism" is not about the philosophical & theological arguments. It is much more about the campaigning by humanists and "new atheists" to try to eject the communities of faith from the public square. I find in public life that the humanists and secularists perceive the religions as having privileged access to government and they want to ride that wave. However, their objective is to get rid of religion from the public square.

    So they sit round the government table with the faith communities, but the effect of their agenda would be that they would be sitting at the table by themselves!

  4. Anonymous10:31 AM

    I have a number of atheist friends, who raise different arguments. The strangest thought process I encountered was one guy who was studying quantum physics. Nothing he new of the universe and what he was studying caused him to think that maybe there was a plan to all this and and a Designer behind all these amazing systems. I gave up discussing it with him. One day he walked into a room and the light bulb fell out of its fitting and this made him wonder if there was a God because it fell out just as he entered the room. It amazes me how each human reasons in a different way.


  5. Barney this is fascinating, I just read something in the journal of the American Academy or religion that was addressing the kind of ant-religion agenda that some people have. I agree with you that such efforts deserve critique and resistance because they are ultimately not in the best interest of society. I would say again though that these campaigns are in essence reactionary, provoked by a feeling that secularists, atheists, humanists etc. are losing the struggle for hearts and minds. I think we are witnessing a worldview making its last gasps. I've been wrong before though.

    Pauline, the story of your friend is hilarious! The human mind is wacky. The way I think about it is this. Let's say that I make a delicious cake. Someone says to me, I can prove rationally, scientifically that that cake could have come into existence without anyone baking it. I say, so what? Does that I mean I didn't actually bake it? And then I say, would you like a piece of cake?

    The next time someone tries to prove to you there is no God, offer them some cake and encourage them to relax.

  6. Babak1:53 PM

    Thanks for sharing this Phillipe. When the atheist bus ad 'debacle' hit the news last year, I too found it refreshing. Because it made people talk about God, which is always a good thing. And as you point out, the vast majority (>95%) of the world's population has a deep yearning for meaning. This will not be replaced by some "anti-theists" (as I like to call the 'new atheism' since it is not 'I don't believe' but rather 'nor should you') telling people to not worry.

    Last autumn, I went to a lecture (in the department of microbiology!!) by Philip Kitcher called "Darwin and Democracy". He argued that Darwin is not the real enemy of the 'fundamental religionists' but rather that he is the public face of the movement started in the enlightenment, hence he is targetted. One thing Kitcher said that I found far more insightful than anything Dawkins has ever said is that telling people to replace God with Darwin is never going to work: the yearning in the human heart is not going to dance with joy on reading the Origin of Species.

    This was very refreshing from someone who is probably an atheist themselves. Most of the anti-theist lobby fail to realise or acknowledge that religion is in the heart of every single culture on the face of the planet -- we derive (whether we like it or not) our laws, our cultural norms, even our public holidays from religion. Even forgetting the human heart for a moment, our social fabric is knitted to religion.

    It is not surprising that attempts at overlty anti-religious societies in the 20th Century had to replace God with another cult figure. People _want_ to believe.

    Rational atheists such as Jonathan Miller (as opposed to fundamentalists like Dawkins that foam at the mouth) have a very valid place in society -- combatting irrational prejudices and superstitions as Anne alluded to. I no longer think it is a good use of time to enter the debate with fundamentalists of any sort, but good luck to them!

  7. Babak thanks for taking the time for such a thoughtful response. It is true that all atheists should not be lumped in together and that there is as much diversity among atheists as among theists. It is also true that the Baha'i Writings suggest that in some cases the rejection of religion is highly rational and actually a good thing to do. I think what you and Anne are describing, superstitions and so on would fall into that category. In that sense some atheists are on the same page as the Baha'is. Perhaps atheism is not as boring as I've believed until now. Who would of thought it would take a couple of theists like you and Anne to open my eyes to that possibility. I'll have to think about that.

    What do other people think?

  8. great topic that has generated nice discussion, Phillipe.

  9. Daniel5:01 AM

    I am a son of Bahai parents and admittedly I have probably not investigated the writings enough on my own. I've had millions of questions and received millions of answers from my dad. I'm not really convinced that we get our morals from religion. Booker T. Washington and Edward Dubois (I hope I have their names right) new nothing of the Bahai Faith and yet had enough sense to want to end slavery. And while they were black, there were whites who knew that slavery was wrong too. The Bible has no problem with slavery so I'm sure they didn't get the idea to abolish slavery from there.

    Anyways, I digress. I think atheists have a lot to say and I think for the Bahai Faith to truly spread, it would be better if religious extremism was replaced by atheism. It is not healthy for 61% of Americans to believe in creationism. Atheists may come off as extreme because of the justifiable anger at the damage caused by religion. Here is an article that I think all of you would find interesting.

    You can email me at if you have any reaction to my comment or anything to add about God/religion.

  10. Daniel, interesting train of thought. I do not believe that the choice is between religious extremism and atheism though I suppose if you had to choose one, atheism would be a better choice. Also historically speaking the abolitionist movement was a religious movement and their ideas were influenced by the Bible. Also, I have yet to see that atheism makes individuals or societies better there is no empirical evidence to support such claims. You could say that secularism is a middle ground which is more about the relationship between religion and government rather than an attempt to discredit religion which atheism tries to do.