As someone who believes in critical thinking, scepticism and rational enquiry it is with a little trepidation that I want to address the recent announcement of the Atheist Bus Campaign here in New Zealand.
I’ve given more thought than most would on the issue of the existence of God and, after many years of deep belief, have come to the difficult conclusion that it is just not true. For many this question is simply not an issue; they’re either completely ambivalent and would see someone as a bit wonky for believing or they know ‘deep down’ that God exists.
The campaign represents my beliefs nicely. I even respect the use of the word ‘probably’ in the opening line “There’s probably no God”. It’s nice and accurate and less like the dogma we mistrust so much in religion.
You’d think that I’d be quite enthusiastic about the campaign but I’m just not.
I think that replicating the campaign here in New Zealand smacks of an identity crisis fuelled by a little too much US Internet consumption. We just don’t have the same problems they do. A person can become the leader of our nation and not believe in an imaginary God. People don’t seem to think I’m a morally inferior person when they find out that I’m an atheist.
Sure, we have our problems. The main one I can think of regarding religion is that religions are tax exempt by default; all they have to do is “further their religion”. And there is the occasional exorcism/murder but that’s pretty much down to pig-stupidity and I doubt any amount of buses with signs would stop that. Most of our problems are down to a lack of critical thinking. Whether it be alternative medicine that just doesn’t work or our embarrassing statistics on global warming denial or our deep fear of anything not ‘natural’ (whatever that means). Here in New Zealand we have a deep distrust of science and we lack the ability to carefully weigh facts. It’s almost like we’ll back whoever comes out with the most anti-scientific sentiment as if we are backing the number-8-wire-underdog who will come through in the end with their wacky but revolutionary ideas.
I feel that the closest thing to a ‘magic bullet’ here in New Zealand is to teach children how to think critically, how to examine evidence, how not to be fooled in life, at a primary school level. Methods that we can all agree on that they can apply later in life when someone tells them about the latest healing remedy or their life-transforming revelation or the magnets that help them sleep, etc, etc.
I feel that all an Atheist Bus Campaign will do is make those who are ambivalent think that atheists are wannabe martyrs and give a platform for media-desperate fundamentalists who will come off looking semi-respectable in contrast.
To those running the campaign I say good luck and that I agree with what you are saying. I just don’t think it’s going to achieve what you think it’s going to achieve.
Tags: atheist bus campaign