Cold water, buses and shared humanity

By Simon Barrow
October 22, 2008

The usual internet ranters apart, the much-publicised 'atheist bus project' has provoked some lively discussion and response.

It raises interesting issues about how we commend our convictions in a mixed society, the extent to which the philosophy reflected in the bus slogan - ‘There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ - is widely shared (much more than many church leaders seem aware), and so on.

Advertising your beliefs often appeals to to believers (in this case, less usually, non-religious ones) than it does to those they are trying to influence. So there has naturally also been some wry commentary.

The Methodists thanked Richard Dawkins for putting God back into public transport, and the Bishop of Buckingham has been plugging the world’s first Atheist Gospel Singer, Susan Werner (great video!). Meanwhile, Think Christian comments, "At the very least, I think I’d rather ride on a bus [like this] than one that said something like, “Prepare to meet your Maker!” ... and Madpriest wants to put a tongue-in-cheek dampener on "Dick Dorkins' omnibus barnstorming".

Talking of wetness, the National Secular Society's 'What The Papers Say' web summary (useful linkage, albeit a bit too obsessed with religion for my taste) today informed us that "Christians try to pour cold water on atheist bus campaign."

Outraged at such mean-spiritedness on the part of my fellow believers, I clicked eagerly on the link. Unfortunately, it was an error. Instead of killjoy hoser-downers, it actually conjoured up my Guardian Comment-is-Free article on 'Atheist evangelising?'

At least, I assume it was a mistake. For I'd actually crafted this piece, after some initial playfulness (we are allowed to smile, aren't we?), to be a thoughtful, positive response to both the message and the medium. And I've had a couple of nice letters from atheists about it, so some people 'got it'. But perhaps there's no pleasing the NSS these days.

Anyway, my suggestion that instead of a 'war of slogans' we should all try to nurture a bit of compassion in our different belief systems (including secular humanism) still stands. It wasn't intended to be wet or cold, but if you're thirsty for ideological victory, perhaps it feels that way?

Madpriest (actually a nice vicar from Newcastle) comments: "I really would love to see the formation of a 'New Humanist' movement that would include 'thinking, non-belligerent people of all faiths and none,' in which the worthiness of the flesh and all creation is celebrated and where, together, we would strive to rise above our baser instincts to heal the world and its population that both religionists and atheists have damaged so much in our quest to become something that is not human."

Amen to that.

(Or 'Okay' if you're an atheist, and 'whatever' if you're an undecided sceptic.)

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