Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Get on board the atheist bus

Thanks to z0r for alerting me to this article about buses in Britain that are denying the existence of God.

I've got two problems with this campaign.

First, use of the word "probably", which might at first sound like a nitpick. But a surprising number of believers are unwitting subscribers to Bayes' Theorem, meaning that even a remote chance of a fantastic outcome (heaven over hell) is worth a small amount of effort (going to church.) In order to invalidate this proposition, the "probably" has to be eliminated entirely...the remote chance must become exactly zero.

Second, the message shouldn't be "so enjoy your life", it should be "so respect the only life you have." The world doesn't need more imagery of atheists as amoral heathens, what people need to understand is that atheism is actually the peak of morality. By accepting that my life is the only one I'll get, I therefore value life - both mine and others' - above all else. I certainly value life more than someone who believes that our soul will live eternally, someone like the Catholic leader Arnaud Amalric, for instance, originator of the famous quote: Kill them all, let God sort them out.

Respect for life is the highest form of morality, while disdain for life is the lowest...this difference between atheism and religion is the single most important one, not actually the disbelief in God. By ignoring the moral difference and instead reinforcing the hedonistic "enjoy your life" message, atheists are fumbling a tremendous opportunity.

It's comforting for some, I'm sure, to take even this little step...public denials of God are few and far between, to be sure. But it's a huge mistake to allow the real message to be lost in order to take smaller, less offensive steps.

Atheism isn't just about "not believing" in God, it's about rejecting the whole concept that anything greater than life could exist. When you subject your rational decision-making to a mystical being (interpreted through earthly agents, of course), and you accept some other force as greater than life, your morality is have become a murderer-in-waiting. As a believer, if God tells you to sack a city and kill every man, woman, and child inside, you do it. If God tells you to climb a mountain and carve out your son's heart as a sacrifice to him, you do it. If God tells you to sacrifice yourself, by braving a furnace, a den of lions, or being nailed to a tree, you do it.

That's the true beauty of atheism: life is your highest value, not mystical instructions. And that's the message we need to spread.


At 10:09 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Atheism is solely a lack of belief in a god/gods. I'd say the other attributes you are putting with it sound like the philosophy of secular humanism.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Sweet Tea said...

Technically, you're right. You've defined the word correctly.

But you cannot live in a moral vacuum. If the campaign is simply to destroy a belief system in God/gods, it is pointless, because that belief system will be replaced by another. Even if you value nothing, that in and of itself is a system.

I neither agree or disagree with your categorization of my beliefs as "secular humanism", it's just logical to me that a self-aware being would value their own life, in the absence of mystical instructions to do otherwise. Once you accept that you get no second chances, no eternal redemption, no heavenly forgiveness, then you cannot logically value anything higher than life.

I'm interested in other thoughts on this, even if you disagree.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger MarkRebuck said...

Similar bus ads have been done here in the United States. The ads in the US read:

"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake"

I think the American phrasing is slighly punchier.

Also (and I admit I'm being nitpicky here), the use of the word probably makes me classify the UK ads as agnostic rather than atheist.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Sweet Tea said...

Agreed Rebuck, which only adds to my confusion. Why would an agnostic campaign be organized by avowed atheist Richard Dawkins? I appreciate the spirit of the campaign, but the wording is just poor.

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous tommy said...

The phrase "enjoy your life" doesn't necessarily imply a rejection of morality. It is possible to value life above all else and still enjoy it. " enjoy your life" might mean "try not to live in constant fear of divine retribution."


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