Friday, 13 March 2009
You wait ages for a bus and then...
Can I add my thoughts to the whole there is/probably isn't a God bus advert controversy here in the UK? For those of you reading this in another part of the world (though I gather this phenomenon is going global), the British Humanist Society put ads on buses saying There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life. The Christian Party responded in kind.
Is There's probably no God an atheist statement at all? I understand why there's a 'probably' but it sounds a bit lame. The Christian Party don't do doubt, of course. They 'know' there's a God. An equally unequivocal There is no God would no doubt have caused outrage. You are only allowed to be certain that God exists - not that he doesn't. But in any case rationalists baulk at certainty. And does any of this matter anyway?
Well I think it does. Thousands - millions - of people have died and are dying still because someone somewhere 'knows' that their religion is best, 'knows' their version of it most authentic, 'knows' their country uniquely blessed, their people alone beloved by God, their actions divinely encouraged, condoned or forgiven. Unshakable religious belief is not necessarily benign, particularly when coupled with an equally unshakable political belief.
We live in a world where religious wars still rage and yet, despite thousands of years of religiously motivated terrorism, oppression, cultural obliteration, genocides and pogroms, a religious belief (be it affected or otherwise) is still taken as a kind of moral masonic handshake - even, weirdly, among those who do not subscribe to that belief. A US Presidential candidate, for instance, would not stand any chance of getting elected if they admitted to being an atheist.
This is important stuff. Is it not possible to have a more grown-up debate about it than one had via the medium of adverts on the sides of buses?