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Against the atheist bus campaign

Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, December 11th, 2009 - 105 comments
Categories: religion - Tags:

uk_atheist_bus_imageI’m sorry, but I just can’t see the point of this atheist bus campaign. New Zealand is one of the most secular countries in the world. Religion here is seen as a private matter and apart from a few fringe idiots we don’t have a problem with political religion.

Kiwis just don’t have the temperament for that sort of thing. In fact, the best way to discredit a political cause is to associate it with religion. That’s why the religious extremists behind the smacking lobby had to dress up their latest campaign as a ‘march for democracy’, and even then they only got a handful of supporters.

The fact is the vast majority of Christians in New Zealand are decent, tolerant people who see religious belief as a private concern. They don’t bother me about my beliefs and I don’t bother them about theirs. That’s as it should be.

We don’t need imported culture wars. It’s not the Kiwi way.

105 comments on “Against the atheist bus campaign ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    I heard that guy on national radio this morning, and was thinking “um, NZ is probably the most secular first-world country in the world, what exactly are you trying to achieve here?”.

    It seems like a rather stupid thing to do anyway. It’s not actually going to make anyone change their mind about anything. Atheists will laugh and say “haha, stupid theists”, while theists will either be offended or ignore it.

  2. IrishBill 2

    As a longtime atheist myself I agree this is unnecessary, counterproductive and dull. I’d prefer to see a campaign against the free-market theists. “There’s probably no invisible hand” would be the best thing written on a bus. Ever.

  3. ieuan 3

    ‘It’s not the Kiwi way.’

    And here’s me thinking the kiwi way is to have a good robust debate about things rather than quietly hiding them.

    It’s a free country people, I don’t think they need the permission of the writers at the Standard to run their campaign.

    I’ve donated $20 to help them their message out (which is ‘it’s OK to not believe in a God’ – if your asking).

    • Eddie 3.1

      Dear oh dear. No one’s trying to deny you the right to put up a billboard. Knock yourself out. I just don’t think it’s particularly productive or helpful.

      • ieuan 3.1.1

        Actually you said ‘it’s not the kiwi way’.

        Maybe you would like to explain what the ‘kiwi way’ is?

        • Eddie 3.1.1.1

          Importing culture wars, trying to impose your private religious beliefs on other people. Kiwis generally have better things to do than proselytise, and that’s the way I like it.

          • ieuan 3.1.1.1.1

            Your reading a hell of a lot into a fairly simple, straightforward message.

            Then again the writers at the Standard are great at adding 2+2 and getting 5.

            • Eddie 3.1.1.1.1.1

              I find it hard to believe this campaign is not connected to the wave of militant atheism inspired by Dawkins and Hitchens that’s grown up as a response to Christian fundamentalism in the US and to a lesser extent in Britain.

              • Pascal's bookie

                militant?

                Nah. Strident perhaps, or hectoring.

              • snoozer

                militant is Dawkins’ term I think.

                I’m a fan of Dawkins’ writing. But I don’t see what good this campaign does. It’s insulting, rather than educating.

              • The Baron

                Sorry Eddie, we evidently forgot that hectoring and telling people what to believe is the sole preserve of you and the Labour party.

                The amount of injustice, intolerance, bigotry, hatred, agression, discrimination, war, famine and death has been caused by religion throughout history is a tragedy. Some of us consider a small stand against that as something important – sorry that you find it so offensive, because it came from “over there”.

                And then to close things off with your own import – a kiwi take on “unamerican”, to back up your case. If that ain’t hipocrisy, I don’t know what is!

          • Deus ex Machina 3.1.1.1.2

            Sure, your thoughtful, intelligent, intellectual liberal would allow us all the arrive at our own religious, or non-religious, beliefs after careful meditation and perhaps discussion on the subject. That’s as it should be.

            But for a great many people their religion is a matter of cultural default. they go with the stream. They will be aware of alternatives but know nothing about them, and likely have neither the tools, time nor inclination to bother about the matter. Such ‘religion’ is worthless – like voting National because ‘Labour’ is Socialist, and “Socialist” sounds creepy, or because that was the way your father voted.

            This advertising campaign is intended to rattle that mind-set. It is aimed at those who would call themselves ‘Christian’, ‘Moslem’ etc. because that was how they were brought up, but who might harbour doubts about it. It’s saying to them, “It’s OK to think these thoughts. There’s another, quiet mainstream that thinks that way too.” It’s just an invitation to take the first step on a journey to a ‘true’ religious or non-religious view of the world for anyone who wants to take it.

  4. Tammy Gordon 4

    I was just invited to join this campaign on Facebook. I won’t be. One of the things that seems so incredibly pointless and mindbooglingly harmful throughout history, is the intent of organised religion to impose its views on other people with different views. So as an atheist (and I resent even having to name my beliefs, to me it’s like declaring that I don’t believe in the Giant Pumpkin) I’m fundamentally – no pun intended – opposed to proselytising.

    • I had to laugh Tammy when I read your post.

      I am a Christian myself but had always thought if I was a atheist what would be the point apposing a belief when you don’t believe its foundation concept exists as you have nicely said. Pumpkin analogy was good by the way.
      Just goes to show even those who don’t agree can agree.

  5. outofbed 5

    Does an atheist bus know its destination?

  6. Gosman 6

    So we’re one of the most secular countries in the world eh?

    So why does our National Anthem implore a supreme deity for protection?

    Why is our Head of State intricately linked with a State sanctioned faith?

    Why are religious rites actively encouraged in national institutions?

    I say until these abhorent behaviours are stopped campaigns like the one on the buses are not just acceptable, they are vital.

    • Eddie 6.1

      It’s my view that none of that symbolism really matters compared to the bigger issues. I’d support getting rid of it, but I’m not going to waste my time or money doing so. But like I say, if it really matters to you then knock yourself out.

  7. felix 7

    …apart from a few fringe idiots we don’t have a problem with political religion.

    Yeah, but why do you have to view this through a political lens? You might as well ask ‘what’s the point’ of any number of endeavours which don’t address a specific political concern. The latest Dimmer album for instance – what’s the point?

    As ieuan says, “it’s OK to not believe in a God” is a valid message and it might be one that a lot of people benefit from hearing.

    • Gosman 7.1

      Oh my god!

      A topic we are in agreement on.

      Perhaps the end of the world is ny after all. 😉

    • Eddie 7.2

      The reason I bring politics into it is because this movement is largely inspired by the rise of political Christianity in recent years. But I doubt there are many people out there who don’t see atheism as legitimate. We’re not in bloody Texas.

      • Gosman 7.2.1

        I disagree. Even in NZ Atheist and Humanists are seen as reather bizarre and fringe.

        The Humanist movement is always fighting to get the same sort of official involvement in various state activities whereas the Religious organisations are actively courted.

        • Eddie 7.2.1.1

          Not my experience, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

          I don’t know why the humanist movement would want official involvement in state activities anyway.

    • IrishBill 7.3

      Felix, I like the new Dimmer album. Somewhat ironically I’m particularly fond of “Bless”. Regarding the validity of the messages, yes it’s valid but it’s promotion in this manner risks giving the batty christians more oxygen.

      • felix 7.3.1

        Yeah I like it too. I was just saying that because something doesn’t have an obvious political context is a stupid reason to dismiss it. Most worthwhile things in life don’t.

        However I’d go further and suggest that we do have a problem with extreme religious nutters in politics in NZ, and that problem is the same as the problem with the other types of fringe nutters in politics – that supposedly “centrist” or “moderate” politicians give them the time of day.

        As for the oxygen, that’s probably a good point. I’d note that they seem to breathe ok without it though.

  8. The fox 8

    I kind of see your point about it not being the Kiwi way and all, but try telling that to the likes of Wishart who imported the culture wars very successfully a long time ago. Cultural isolationism is no excuse for ignoring the global memes of the fundamentalists. This campaign may seem a little self indulgent but at a time when rational science is being rabidly attacked by creationists, shrugging your shoulders and saying nothing to with us is a bit of a lame response really.

    • Eddie 8.1

      I’d support the campaign if it was somewhere like Arkansas where the god squad are an actual threat. New Zealand? Not so much.

      • Gosman 8.1.1

        Every where there are visible presence of Religious people and symbols actively involved in State sanctioned activity it is a threat.

        • Eddie 8.1.1.1

          I don’t take such an extreme position. No one’s forcing me to believe anything or do anything against my will. It’s not ideal, but hardly worth worrying about.

          I’m also not sure whether the western view of secularism is all that chop anyway. Amartya Sen has some interesting things to say about this. But that’s a whole different argument that I don’t have time for.

          • Gosman 8.1.1.1.1

            Yet it was you who started this topic.

            For someone who has little interest in something you sure have expended an awful lot of effort on it.

          • Con 8.1.1.1.2

            No one’s forcing me to believe anything or do anything against my will. It’s not ideal, but hardly worth worrying about.

            So because you weren’t religiously indoctrinated as a child, you have no sympathy for those who were, or who still are suffering in this way? That certainly is less than ideal.

            • Eddie 8.1.1.1.2.1

              I was referring to religious symbolism like the Parliamentary prayer or the mention of God in our anthem. I doubt anyone has ever become a Christian as a result of the Parliamentary prayer.

              • felix

                Nice strawman, Eddie, and by “nice” I mean “preposterous and infantile”.

                The religious traditions and symbolism woven through the very fabric of our society may seem harmless enough on their own (parliamentary prayer for example) but they don’t exist on their own. They form a self-reinforcing mechanism in which each supports the validity of the next.

                For those indoctrinated at a young age into religious belief these symbols are constant reminders, on both conscious and subconscious levels, of the correctness of that indoctrination and when functioning correctly the illusion is that no indoctrination has taken place.

                I don’t for a moment believe that you don’t already understand how this works.

              • A Nonny Moose

                I doubt this sort of campaign is speaking to the fundamentalists, but more to the people who haven’t used church on a weekly basis in their lives. We are socialized from the beginning of our lives to accept god/religion in our every day lives before we have even formed an opinion on our own personalities.

                Baptized as a baby – you don’t get a choice. Religious instructions at school – you don’t get a choice. God/prayer in school/national anthem – you don’t get a choice.

                It’s not fair that religion should get a free pass as the moralization of our society. Some people live by tradition or honest fear of questioning. They should be let known, in the kindest of way, that it’s OK to question.

                Calling it wussy? Well, an atheist doesn’t really want to succumb to the thundering levels of rhetoric that theists are allowed.

                Oh, and Atheism Bingo 101: atheism is not a belief – it is a lack thereof.

              • Eddie

                Dude, I’m not defending Christianity or the use of Christian rituals by the state. My position on this is apathy. I’m sorry if I don’t see the odd bit of symoblism as a grave injustice, but I just don’t.

                Maybe it’s a matter of different life experiences colouring our reactions to these issues.

              • felix

                With all due respect Eddie, nothing you’ve said today would characterise your position as apathetic.

                When you say things like:

                I doubt anyone has ever become a Christian as a result of the Parliamentary prayer.

                you’re actively defending the use of religious symbolism and ritual by the state, and on extremely flimsy grounds.

              • Eddie

                I’ll make it clear then – I don’t think the state should favour one religion, and I oppose the mixing of church and state. I don’t think symbolic issues like the Parliamentary prayer are worth dying in a ditch over.

              • felix

                Again with the strawmen, Eddie.

                No-one’s suggesting “dying in a ditch”. It’s some billboards on buses.

                And you’ve spoken out rather strongly against them so far.

              • Eddie

                You’re conflating my comments about billboards with my comments about the Parliamentary prayer. Different issues.

                The prayer shouldn’t be there as it technically contravenes the separation of church and state, but in my view the prayer is just symbolism and I’m not going to waste my time trying to remove it (like I would, say, enforced church attendance or the teaching of creationism).

                My view on the bus ads is explained in the post. People’s private religious beliefs are their own and I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

              • felix

                No-one’s suggested dying in a ditch on either issue, Eddie. It’s a strawman which ever way you want to apply it.

                If anyone it’s you who seems to be conflating them. I don’t see anyone else here claiming that the billboards have anything to do with parliamentary prayer.

                No-one’s suggested that parliamentary prayer will turn people into christians either. In fact it’s hard to see anyone else even mentioning parliamentary prayer, hence another strawman.

                My view on the bus ads is explained in the post. People’s private religious beliefs are their own and I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

                But that doesn’t wash in light of your further commentary, Eddie. If you’re quite happy having religious ritual, symbology and iconography embedded deeply into the culture then it’s absurd for you to take a stand against these billboards and still pretend to be an uninterested bystander.

                You’ve picked a side whether you know it or not.

              • Eddie

                This is getting tedious. The prayer and the billboards are different arguments from different sub-threads in this discussion.

                Regarding the prayer, there’s a difference between being ‘happy’ with something and thinking it’s stupid but not worth wasting time and effort on. My view is the latter.

                Regarding the billboards, like I’ve said a hundred times, I think people’s personal religious beliefs are their own and I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

              • felix

                Regarding the prayer, there’s a difference between being ‘happy’ with something and thinking it’s stupid but not worth wasting time and effort on. My view is the latter.

                Who is suggesting otherwise, Eddie? You made up the ‘dying-in-a-ditch-over-parliamentary-prayers’ bit yourself. Get over it.

                Regarding the billboards, like I’ve said a hundred times, I think people’s personal religious beliefs are their own and I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

                But they’re not just “personal” beliefs, Eddie, they’re deeply embedded social constructs supported by layers and layers of assumptions.

                As I have to spend large parts of my life dealing with people and institutions who are working within the framework of these assumptions and constructs it most certainly is my business.

                You’ve been arguing all day that people shouldn’t waste their time challenging these assumptions, Eddie, and you brought it up with the post. That’s not the way uninterested apathetic bystanders generally spend their time.

  9. OOB; nice haiku, though a little bit EJ Thribbish!

    Actually I
    Am of the opinion
    That the bus stops here.

    My only complaint about the campaign is that it’s so wussy. ‘There is no god, enjoy your time alive’ would be more apposite, I reckon.

  10. ieuan 10

    ‘The fact is the vast majority of Christians in New Zealand are decent, tolerant people who see religious belief as a private concern.’

    Like the Family First’s and Larry Baldocks of the world?

    Didn’t they just force a $9M referendum on us that asked a stupid question that something like 90% of people supported?

    How do they fit into your nice little view of kiwi Christians Eddie?

    • Eddie 10.1

      Baldock and co are not the vast majority, they’re a fringe minority who have to hide behind words like ‘democracy’ to push their ideas, and even then only get a handful of supporters.

      If you’re looking to undermine the likes of Baldock you need to wedge them from mainstream Christians and make it clear what a fringe character he is. Nothing about this billboard campaign will achieve that.

      • ieuan 10.1.1

        Like the 300,000 who signed their petition? That fringe minority, that handful of supporters?

        • Eddie 10.1.1.1

          I don’t think you can plausibly argue they were signing anything to support political religion. They were reacting to the myth that the police would be breaking down the doors of good parents and confiscating their children over a light smack. The organisers were fringe extremists, the people signing were only guilty of ignorance and fear.

  11. Bill 11

    Methinks these pussyfooting atheists are ‘probably’ agnostics.

  12. Janice 12

    I heard a little old lady the other day refer to Bishop Brian and his 700 obedient sons as “the Density Church”. I wonder if the sons are going to be seconded to clear the banners off the buses. I can’t see the point of discussing it, many years ago most of the people in the world considered the earth flat, it didn’t make it so.

    • outofbed 12.1

      Its not ?

      • felix 12.1.1

        Turtles all the way down I’m afraid.

      • Pascal's bookie 12.1.2

        Don’t listen oob, It’s a fucking plot mate, first they tells you it’s ball shaped and they show you pretty pictures. Next thing you know it’s ‘leap years’ and there’s an extra fucking ‘day’ added to the calender. Is it a holiday? Is it fuck.

        • ieuan 12.1.2.1

          Miles off topic but: Bang on, I’ve never understood why leap year day is not a holiday. If you’re on a salary you work it for free.

  13. Bill 13

    One potential upside might be if some kids from fundi families who have been trained to take the existence of god as a given and taught that everyone thinks ‘thus’ and are ‘protected’ from any and all contrary view points read the bus and paused for thought or had that seed of doubt silently planted in their mind….

  14. tc 14

    God forgives and saves sinners……..in fact he’s saving a few for a boys weekend away woo hoo.

  15. randal 15

    god lives and he loves YOU!
    dont worry be happy.

  16. I’m a bit perturbed that commenters here are focussing on the effect on Christians. I’d prefer a world sans all religious faiths, Christian, Muslim, Pixie, whatever.

    And while I’m at it, why are the Scientologists still allowed a tax free status? Not even close to being a religion in any spiritual sense.

  17. randal 17

    ieuan.
    even better.

    • ieuan 17.1

      You might be happy with your God being a ‘she’ but if that was the case it would stuff up every organised religion out there. They pretty much all have the man as the centre of the universe and the woman as a second class citizen.

      That’s the nice thing about religion, it’s always been a power game, just ask Brian Tamaki.

  18. Draco T Bastard 18

    I’m wondering if I should donate to them. I don’t think it’s a great idea but at the same time I understand why the message needs to be out there.

  19. outofbed 19

    No, buy someone a goat for xmas instead

  20. Camden Whelk 20

    If you take out the imported culture wars there is bugger all left to the Kiwi Way. We are an English-speaking European-descended post-Enlightenment Global Western culture. The only thing that makes us unique is our connection with Maoritanga, and the original owners might like that back at some stage. Everything else is imported.

  21. Scott 21

    What is the problem with this campaign? If religious groups are allowed to promote their beliefs, then why shouldn’t atheists be allowed to?

    I personally think religious belief is completely irrational. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to see a sign or billboard that supports and gives comfort to my view?

    When I can walk down Queen Street without some proselytising fool trying to give me books, and when people peddling religion stop banging on my front door, then maybe I’ll be able to agree this campaign isn’t needed.

    Besides, what do religious people have to fear? My kind are all going to hell anyway.

  22. Ag 22

    A more telling blow against NZ religion would be struck by having the billboard accuse Brian Tamaki of wearing a hairpiece.

  23. Rex Widerstrom 23

    Atheist buses? That cannot end well.

  24. Eclipse 24

    Looking at the number of responses this thread has attracted (which I haven’t read all of), I can’t help but feel the campaign is already achieveing its primary purpose – encouraging debate

  25. Westminster 25

    I agree, although the recent section 59 debate may have created the first few cancerous cells of a militant Christian tumour. Nevertheless, I think it’s premature to be battling culture wars like this right now.

  26. Adam Jarvis 26

    I think many people are taking the thrust of Eddie’s post too far. Leaving aside the contradiction in tone between his claim that the signs are simply unnecessary and “We don’t need imported culture wars. It’s not the Kiwi way.”, i’ll go with the first interpretation.

    He doesn’t think it is needed. New Zealand is apparently a highly secular country with no problems with religion to speak of. I disagree.

    People have brought up our dear Bishop and Larry Baldock. What about the exclusive brethren (and others) attempt to hijack our democracy only 2 elections ago? What about the not insignificant proportion of our country that votes for the party espousing ‘Christian family values’? Ray Comfort hails from New Zealand!

    While I could go on, I realise these things are relatively minor. We do have a mostly secular country. The need for this campaign pales in comparison to the need for it in the states. Yet, we could do with a dose less religion on the national stage. That alone, justifies the small inoffensive message that it is, in fact, ok not to believe in a deity.

    Even if the campaign were to have no effect nationally, I would still support it. This might be the first time many indoctrinated kids are exposed to this point of view. If some kids become, at the very least, more accepting of non believers (and perhaps less likely to accept religious BS), it is money well spent.

  27. NickS 27

    Lawl, the poll on Stuff for this got utterly Pharyngulated:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/3149823/Theres-probably-no-God-coming-to-a-bus-near-you

    Beware the minions of Myers.

    • Adam Jarvis 27.1

      Oh come on… PZ would never do such a thing 🙂

      Clearly 86.7% of New Zealanders don’t believe in God. Exactly the same proportion who like beating their children.

      Coincidence? I think not. This is clear evidence atheism leads to child abuse.

  28. Connie Mist 28

    I work in a profession (social work) where it is “normal” to open a meeting with a prayer and close with a hymn.

    Any I protest I may make must be silent lest I am accused of insensitivity; I welcome the bus campaign to offer a platform for debate…

  29. illuminatedtiger 29

    As long as it boils the blood of the Exclusive Brethren and Destiny Church I’m all for it!

  30. Craig Ranapia 30

    I’m a devout Catholic.

    I enjoy my life, and things I worry about are worth the investment of emotional capital and not the result of faith-based neurosis.

    I also avoid patronising atheists of my acquaintance as unhappy neurotics who need to find God and cheer the fuck up because one religious principle I do my best to live is “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

    And as I’ve said elsewhere, if you want to be noxiously reductive and patronising towards millions of people, how about this:

    ALLAH PROBABLY DOESN’T EXIST. NOW STOP BLOWING SHIT UP, AND CHILL OUT.

    Islamic fundamentalism deserves to be challenged and exposed, but not by soundbite patronage of a billion human beings whose fundamental beliefs I don’t share, but are no faith-based Borg Collective by any stretch of the imagination.

    • ieuan 30.1

      ‘one religious principle I do my best to live is “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

      That’s the ‘golden rule’ and while adopted by most religions is not a ‘religious’ principle, it is far more universal than that.

      Bit sad if the only atheists you have met are ‘unhappy neurotics’, maybe most atheists you know would rather not tell you about their non-religious stance and given the rest of your comments it is no surprise.

  31. Richard 31

    Did you hear the one about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac?
    He lay awake at night wondering if there really is a Dog.

  32. rave 32

    There’s definitely no kiwi way.
    captcha: ridiculous

  33. Craig Glen Eden 33

    God this discussion was boring!

  34. Camden WHELK MAKES THE POINT THAT: ‘If you take out the imported culture wars there is bugger all left to the Kiwi Way. We are an English-speaking European-descended post-Enlightenment Global Western culture. The only thing that makes us unique is our connection with Maoritanga, and the original owners might like that back at some stage. Everything else is imported.’

    Hmmmm… it’s been an interesting recent development in a couple of schools I know that staff are required to stand for recitation of karakia and join in singing waiata before daily briefings, and and students in assembly are also required to join in the singing of waiata.

    Lyrics translated as all about dawns and mountains and such, with a bit of ‘Great Spirit’ thrown in. Pantheism perhaps.

    Now, what should we put on the sides of our school buses?

  35. Unfortnately, this is one of the side-effects of the vitriol and militancy of the hardcore Christian fundamentalist lobby. It does tend to spark off equally vocal antagonistic responses. Actually, I felt that hoarding was a model of restraint, compared to other pro-secularity messages that I’ve seen. And hey, we live in a pluralist society of mixed and happily co-existent religious and secular philosophies. So give them their right to free speech and expression.

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