Thursday, January 08, 2009

Challenging assumptions in the town square

I loved this story in the NYTimes Wednesday about atheists in London, who are taking out ads to place on busses.

My fave excerpt:

But something seized people’s imagination. Supported by the scientist and author
Richard Dawkins, the philosopher A. C. Grayling and the British Humanist Association, among others, the campaign raised nearly $150,000 in four days. Now it has more than $200,000, and on Tuesday it unveiled its advertisements on 800 buses across Britain.

“There’s probably no God,” the advertisements say. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Spotting one of the buses on display at a news conference in Kensington, passers-by were struck by the unusual message.

Not always positively. “I think it’s dreadful,” said Sandra Lafaire, 76, a tourist from Los Angeles, who said she believed in God and still enjoyed her life, thank you very much. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t like it in my face.”

But Sarah Hall, 28, a visitor from Australia, said she was happy to see such a robust example of freedom of speech. “Whatever floats your boat,” she said.

Inspired by the London campaign, the American Humanist Association started running bus advertisements in Washington in November, with a more muted message. “Why believe in a god?” the ads read, over a picture of a man in a Santa suit. “Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

I was discussing the story with one of my favorite conversationalists (and former students) DangerWu and while she thought the atheists were very funny but questioned the constructiveness of their methods, I asserted that the provocativeness was genius. (Although, I didn't use that word.) I honestly try to be very live and let live (which I think is a Bible thing, ironically), but I'd be lying if I said part of me wasn't offended by the assumption of the properness of religion and faith in the public square.

That there's prayer at public events all the time. That it was a great post 9/11-moment when the members of Congress sang "God Bless America." That "under God" appears in the Pledge of Allegiance. That witnesses swear on a Bible and recite the words "so help me God." What the fuck makes any of that more ethical or binding than not saying those words?

I've seen entirely too many 90-minute a week Christians and poseur faithers in my life to think that religion is the cure all for society's ills.

So hooray for the London atheists (who have better senses of humour) and their cheekiness.


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