In its annual report, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) has noted that it received 392 complaints about the British Humanist Association’s campaign slogan: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ The presence of this slogan on city buses became almost iconic.
But what received the most complaints? It was the Christian Party’s counter-campaign, which read: ‘There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.’ 1,204 people voiced their dissatisfaction with this campaign – presumably many atheists annoyed about the complaints registered against the humanist campaign.
Debates about the existence (or not) of God have not really moved on much in the past couple of centuries, but it’s clear that the atheist/theist fault line is a major one in the West.
Indeed, British atheist-in-chief Richard Dawkins yesterday condemned DUP culture minister Nelson McCausland’s call to have creationism represented at the Ulster Museum. In his letter to the Ulster Museum, McCausland claimed that,
around one third of Northern Ireland’s population believed either in intelligent design or the creationist view that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago.
That such an influential atheist felt moved to comment on the affairs of what many in the UK consider a provincial backwater is significant in and of itself.
Of course, many Christians are not six-day creationists and would share Dawkins’ views on evolution.
What I’m more intrigued by is atheists’ struggle for space in the public spheres of Western democracies. Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Philip Pullman are prominent public intellectuals, and I think many people of faith fear and resent the attention they receive in the media.
On the other hand, my School’s surveys of faith on the island of Ireland revealed that, more often than not, atheists feel discriminated against and shut out of public debate. When that happens to any group, it is almost guaranteed to foster resentment and militancy.
Aren’t there better ways for atheists and people of faith to communicate with each other than billboards on the sides of buses?