Times Online has reported that the children chosen to front the latest Atheist Bus campaign as icons of humanism are actually from a Christian family, evangelical in fact.
Their former pastor says, “I think it is hilarious that the happy and liberated children on the atheist poster are in fact Christian.” Given the campaign slogan of “Please don’t label me”, their bemused father says he finds the atheist labelling “ironic”. Ooops!
9 thoughts on “Atheist Ad Blooper”
The basic message is rather breathtaking: atheism isn’t one viewpoint in the marketplace of ideas, to be judged on its merits. Rather, it’s The One, which is to be systematically privileged, and to which all others are dangerous exceptions. I’ve yet to see any evidence that atheism offers innate support for secularity (i.e. envisioning society as a neutral common-ground between people).
Yes, there is a curious moral asymmetry in the New Atheism. They claim it’s wrong, even evil, for religious people to make ultimate claims. Yet they make some pretty ultimate claims themselves … and that’s ok somehow? Talk about double standards. Nietzsche was at least honest in admitting atheism led to a relativistic “might is right” ethic. These guys are not nearly so self aware.
From what I’ve seen, the New Atheism is primarily a protest movement, that’s much clearer on what its against than what its for, that’s sadly lacking when it comes to articulating any sort positive relationship with religions in general and Christianity in particular.
Just one more confirmation of my suspicion many atheists are reacting at some primal level to their actual (or perceived) negative experiences of religious groups or religious people. I have often found once you dig for long enough, you’ll hear of this negative experience… rigid religious parents, rejection from a church community, honest questions managed dreadfully etc.
Since my original post above, I’ve been thinking it mostly missed the point. Here are my nagging concerns…
First, we’re speaking of New Atheists rather as the worst New Atheists speak of Christians; as an abstract social problem. Whether or not it’s consistent for an atheist to do so, I think talking in this way is inconsistent with a the personal humanism of God’s love-equality ethic. So let’s try and speak as if other versions of ourselves had grown up with that view, and were now present.
So I think it’s good to recognize that the moral asymmetry isn’t quite as bad as you describe. They don’t object to ‘ultimate values’, they just don’t see marked differences between Christians and anyone else (which superior ‘ultimate values’ should produce), and can’t envisage any objective evidence that would support any ostensibly ultimate values. Their own values are either taken as self-evident (or self-chosen), concocted from a kind of social lowest-common-denominator, or are the minimum that ‘science’ (i.e. utilitarianism) can deliver. Basically liberty and rationalism. When you characterize ‘religion’ as lacking in the only values that exist — and you have no universal love imperative to softwen your actions — it’s it least understandable if these values become fundamentals in the old-school circle-the-wagons sense. Not that they do for all atheists.
Secondly, having constructed our atheist conscience, what is the ad about from their perspective? Ostensibly it is trying to protect children from being given a religious identity by their parents. But by adding ‘atheist child’ and ‘agnostic child’ to the background text, they’re saying they don’t want children to be given any identity at all. But this is really the same thing. Activist atheists hope for a world in which ‘atheist’ is an unnecessary label; where, since nothing contrary is thought, the label is unnecessary. So pitching for ‘unlabelled children’ is a step toward that scenario.
But there’s a lot of presumption. In Christianity children are equal to adults; they don’t have to ‘qualify’ for real experience of God, or a good state of living, by growing up; whereas in Atheism, the primary human values (and atheistically meritorious actions) can’t generally be pursued until at least adolescence. This to my mind is the distinction between the older atheism of Flew or Ayer, and the newer form; the older had a set of broad humanist moral values, which Christian humanism shared, but saw them as self-evident enough that they required no religious sanction, and held they were often compromised in religious contexts (which they were). In this way moral progress, and a large part of the essence of being human, was communicable to children. The newer breed has not articulated any such vision; and has, I think, nothing to say to children. That’s a defect, from a Christian or a humanist viewpoint.
So what does the UK Atheist Alliance want with children? Presumably the rationale for the campaign is the idea that residual indoctrination explains the continued existence of religious ‘belief’; even prestigious scientists and philosophers continue to identify themselves as Christians, for example, yet a priori this must have an irrational cause. I expect they are hoping that children will naturally become atheists if they can only be insulated from religious ideas (in the practical form of religious identity and ‘labeling’). They’re asking for soft censorship, in other words, which is what brings us to the question of why they expect affirmative action on their behalf.
As to their intended effect, the ads are probably not meant as a cunning way to cut off future generations of believers: obviously the people who breed the most will be the least influenced by these kind of arguments. More likely it’s a way to (1) project a subliminally atheistic view of religious belief as simply unreal, and thus a purely political, social and educational problem, and (2) marginalize religious views in general society (via a “don’t talk” rule) and to position this marginalization as a good thing. Whether it’s meant to radicalize the “practical atheist / nominal Christian” crowd with a fundy-style “think of the children” pitch seems less clear.
Hee hee. Irony indeed.
Janet, my experience too. And because its at a primal level, our best intensions will often be water off a duck’s back. If they’re to come to faith, or even just come to accept faith as a valid option in a pluralistic society, they seem to need some sort of emotionally corrective experience.
Much to chew on there Kalessin.
But first, a brief explanation. If I abstract the “New Atheists” it’s partly to protect identities. I don’t like naming names on so public a medium. Particularly since some may indeed be present. But I have to say, in my experience many of them do have this moral asymmetry. Granted, not all. But many do. For instance, I can recall one bloke saying he preferred Fred Phelps to me. Why? Because at least the God Hates Fags church matched his understanding of Christianity. And I can recall another bloke who said Christians should be denied the vote in order to preserve secular democracy. I almost got whiplash from that comment. What particularly gets me is their invoking of the word “evil” given their claims to moral relativism.
I’ll have to thinks some more about your comment on children.
Matt: Do they actually claim moral relativism? Or is that more an inference on your part? I ask because there does seem to be a strong tendency among some Christians to automatically assume that everyone who says they’re not Christian must be staunch moral relativists.
The atheists I converse with by and large don’t examine their ethics either way.
What they do is make absolutist statements about the evils of religion, make relativist statments about ethics being a social construct, and get narky at me if I ever ask for some self consistancy.
They seem to think we’re saying they have no morals because they have no God. But that’s NOT what I’m saying at all. They have morals, there just not logically consistant, at least in any way I can see. And for people who claim to be more logical than thou …