Thank God for Atheists.

Thank God for Atheists.

My buddy Rick Kaulbars posted a reference to a letter he submitted to the editor of the Ottawa Metro in the “Shameless Self-Promotion” section of the Ottawa Comedy Resource, a great frequently-posted-to site dedicated to the Ottawa comedy scene. I proceeded to get into a debate with Rick that soon spiralled into something not befitting that section of the site. You can read how far we got to by clicking HERE. Since I couldn’t stop thinking about this entire issue and my side of the debate, I decided to post my argument where it is most appropriate. On my own damn website.

There’s a new ad campaign that is making the rounds of controversy in the UK and is soon to join us over here. A collection of bus ads will soon say words akin to, and I am paraphrasing here, “There is no God, so you might as well treat each other nicely anyway.”

Well, here we go.

If they removed the first five words, I’d be all over this ad campaign. “You might as well treat each other nicely” is something I could be all over. As the message stands now, however, it’s as calculating as Jerry Falwell’s tax accountants. Out comes a campaign with the argument that this is a rallying cry for the Atheists put upon by the belligerently devout among us. The “eye-for-an-eye” tactic irony of large media being used to put an atheist viewpoint out there aside, an interesting thing has occurred. It now makes me think, “Dear Atheists. Remember when you were able to feel superior to those religious types who bothered people with billboards, bumper stickers and signs spreading messages like “Jesus is Lord” and the like? Or the little Jesus fish on the back of cars? Remember that smugness you had? Well, it’s gone now. In one fell swoop, you’ve just lowered yourself to your enemy’s level.”

I hate this campaign, and not because I agree or disagree with the questioning of the existence of God the ad takes. Those are your opinions and you are welcome to them. Not for me to judge. I think this campaign is amateurish, simple and immature and shows a true lack of professionalism that can be found in the advertising craft by trying to create a tempest in an already tired tea cup. Why no throw in the words “Hey, Fucktards” at the beginner to really get the controversy juices flowing? It was designed to create a hullabaloo and it most certainly has. Bravo. But now, very intentionally, the campaign creators have now rattled the cage of the very beast they were hoping to quiet. The best way to remove a hornet’s nest probably doesn’t involve throwing rocks at it. And this riles me further as I have fallen into the trap myself by commenting on it and I feel cheap and manipulated in the process. But knowing that I’ve already succumbed, I’ll proceed with my argument anyway.

Atheists may feel proud about this achievement of hoisting their own provocative signage, but they have gone the wrong way. It’s similar to when women gained the right to go topless in the summer in Toronto because their male counterparts were able to.

Wrong decision.

We should have done the decent thing and made men cover up their chests regardless of the heat. Everyone would be hot, yes, but everyone would also be covered up. Now whenever I’m walking through the Beach area of town, I’ve got to deal with Big Jimmy’s man-tits all day whose walk-and-flop torso I’ve not seen the likes of since last year’s Dyke March.

There’s no possible good for this aside from generating inflammatory reaction. I disagree as much with a bus ad that says “Jesus saves.” as I do one saying “No one saves. That includes you too, Toskala.”. By airing this opinion in a public forum, they now have become guilty of the same ardent belief publication that they have long rallied against.

There is an argument that says this campaign would be considered more racist and taken more seriously if the ads singled out Allah or Buddha specifically, but the arguments boil down to the same thing. Why air your personal ideas publically? And yes, I get the irony that I’m saying this in a blog, by you’re choosing to read this and not having it thrust into your line of sight, so stick it.

You may agree with the ad. You may find it offensive. I don’t care. To be honest the only way that I should know your personal religious beliefs is if I ask you personally, or see you in a clutch of people like me digging on the same thing. Or are dressed like a Hassiic Jew. That look makes a statement, and to be honest, those guys wear that look well. Very smooth. Also note that very few people wear turbans recreationally.

In the same manner that the papers in western Canada ran column inches about Darren Frost, (the comic that was so “nasty” he got things thrown at him), the intent is to cause needless bother. These ads will hit the side of our busses and will garner the same reaction from me that an ad saying “Go Mormon!” would: “Whose beliefs do they think they’re going to change?” Neither side is going to convert the other. Your personal beliefs are that. Personal. Others have made them public to the extent that they become recruitment dries, and we all know who I’m talking about when I say that. Yes, I’m looking at you Spaghetti Monster people. Stop phoning me for donations or asking me to join your Sunday curling league.

In short, to use the vernacular of the non-theist: For the love of No One, quit ramming your non-beliefs down my throat.

  • …jokes on YOU, nerd! I’m NOT an athiest. I’m an agnostic….(with pagan/satanic leanings). I only defended athiests because they were the underdog in that editorial letter horsewhipping.

    February 16, 2009 at 8:08 pm
  • NOW, let’s observe the flaws in your logic through the lens of other controversial topics.

    Sure, black people are mistreated, but why do they have to march all over the place and make a big controversial deal out of it? I’m not racist, but, I don’t know why they’re so surprised that racists lash back at them. Sitting on the back seat of that bus…I mean, she was doing it in such a calculated way.

    Women’s Rights…
    Sure, women don’t get equal pay and men run everything, but why do they have to do this tacky bra-burning thing? It just makes everyone angry. I’m not against women’s rights, but it’s no wonder misogynist men freak out when they protest. It’s calculated to incite.

    Sure, homosexuals have a right to exist, but why do they have to go parading it down the street every year in this garish parade of their sexuality? No wonder gaybashers freak out. It’s calculated to incite.

    Sure, athiests have a right to exist, but why do they gotta go making a big show of it. Just because there’s an entirely different, tax supported school system for one particular religion in this province, just because certain religions bang on your door, just because the Jesus freaks hassle everyone at the mall, they gotta put up a sign? A SIGN? I mean, I’m not against athiests, but it’s calculated to insight.

    Again, I’m pro-religion for anyone who wants it…but if someone wants to hang a 3ft sign on a bus that advocates athiest pride…well good for them! There outta be more of it.

    February 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm
  • PS: I was about to ask if I could edit my last typo “insight” which should have been “Incite”…but ya know, the irony appeals.

    I do love ya, BTW, and enjoy this bracing exchange of ideas.

    February 16, 2009 at 9:06 pm
  • Scott Beckstead

    The actual wording of the campaign is “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. The words were chosen carefully as to avoid falling into the trap of absolutism. No one can know for sure whether any omnipotent being(s) exist but the ad campaign is meant to make us think about our lives in the real world and the pursuit of happiness here rather than worry about what will happen after we die.

    February 17, 2009 at 1:29 am
  • tva

    Good to see that we’ve hit a new hit-count on the website as I read the Kaulbarsometer. Firstly, I agree with the exchange of dandy ideas, and I too send a drunken end-of-the-night “Love ya, too, man” right back atcha. Now…

    Firstly, good on Rick to pick up the ball and run with it for the Atheists out there. But again, my argument is not against the belief system of any people who agree or disagree with the sign sentiment. It is that this is a truly poor campaign meant to do nothing but enrage and inflame. It serves no constructive purpose.

    To Rick’s point of being able to demonstrate on the abolishment of racism, the promotion of women’s rights, and the abolish homophobia, should you put signs up there for that? I agree whole-heartedly. Why? If you feel that under our reading of rights and freedoms that you should get these freedoms and rights and you are not getting them, get the white boards and paint out, make yourself a cleverly worded sign and start marchin’.

    You have the right to prosper without prejudice and have the right to the freedom of religion. This also includes your inalienable right to not be a theist as well. And that’s the crux of my argument. You come into this game with the ability to believe or not believe. This is a personal freedom. As such, I feel this should be a personal choice to you and your family alone. If we all agree that you have the freedom of religion in this country, and no one is taking that right away from you, then we’re good. No need for signage. The original argument was that these “prolly no God” signs are a good thing as the Atheists finally get a voice outside of the self-righteous “God botherers” (I’ve always liked that term) that self-promote using God as a thin veil to promote their own agendas and their own interpretation of the Lord. I don’t agree with that. This is a personal choice and you should keep it as such. This also includes your right to not believe. Do what you want to do. Just don’t try to recruit me or put your viewpoint on a placard and think that I’m going to be swayed. I won’t. I’ve got my own views and internal battles on those views to deal with.

    But back to my argument. It’s against these ads which are meant to do nothing but provoke under a thinly veiled “This is for all the non-believers out there/Aren’t you sick when you have to see a huge “Jesus is Lord” sign?” auspice. If this is the argument for the ads’ creation, it’s going about it the wrong way. If that’s the argument, you’ve become the very beast you’ve rallied against, and I don’t think it’s fair to make that the case. In either case, I don’t care what the views are.

    To Scott’s point (and thanks for giving your fiftieth-of-a-buck here), as accurate and well-chosen the wording may be, the only intent of these ads is to be inflammatory and reactionary to a right that we’ve already got. This has Michael Scott’s “Fun Run for Rabies” written all over it. A lot of work for something that in the end is pretty pointless.

    February 17, 2009 at 9:11 am
  • BTW: The reason I’m NOT an atheist but an agnostic goes to something the great Canadian writer Margaret Atwood said and with which I agree.

    “Atheism is just another form of religion. It says, I know for certain that this is how it is. That reasoning is just as flawed as any formal religion.” Here, here Dame Peggy.

    February 17, 2009 at 10:42 am
  • tva

    Absolutely no truer words have been spoken.

    Aslan summed it up in TLTW&TW. Words to the effect of, it don’t matter who you side with, it all goes down the same pipe.

    February 17, 2009 at 11:01 am
  • Shawn

    I wrote a very long diatribe and then didn’t publish it by accident ARGHHHHHHHH … starting over

    In short, I liked what Scott wrote and agree with most of Rick (beer guys?). These ads are already on buses in Toronto and Calgary I believe. The wording was chosen quite carefully I’m sure. When I first read about this coming to Canada awhile ago I thought well, they really chickened out by saying “Probably”. Your argument that it might be more effective if let’s say Allah were singled out would be construed as a hate crime I’m sure and no-one would run them at all. This was the basis already for OCTranspo refusing to run them here in Ottawa but for some reason it’s okay to run ads promoting the Anglican church and a belief in gawd. Now that I’ve read Scott’s comments I can see why they’ve chosen to include “Probably”. Obviously they don’t probably believe there’s no gawd, they know there’s no gawd so why pussyfoot around it. Now I can see that to leave out the “probably” and just say THERE IS NO GOD might be a little too provocative and harder to get on a bus or anywhere else for that matter.

    I think it’s never been more important for atheists to “Advertise”. If anything it’s well past time to fight fire with fire (thanks Bugs). The last number of Bush years has seen religion play an ever increasing role in political decision making. This is surely a huge step backwards, I don’t think anyone can disagree with that. I mean who would have thought that “creationsim” would ever, and I mean ever in our times, be thoughtfully included as a possible fact in a science classroom? And you may think wellll, that was only some back water U.S. States but it gained so much momemtum that at one point it was considered for the public school system here in Ottawa and not that long ago (I’m guessing about 8 years ago during the Harris years). This is just one example of which there are many. So yeah, I think it’s time to advertise and I think it can be affective in getting people to think about what’s important in their lives and maybe push a few pussy agnostics over the edge.

    But hey, I can maybe thank that push for creationism in the classroom thing for helping swell the ranks of professed atheists everywhere. I think that issue alone helped to galvanize a movement and spurred a backlash. It’s created a number of gorilla atheists of the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and made them number 1 selling authors. As a hard core atheist I can only applaud this development. This would’ve been unheard of not that long ago and I find it encouraging that it’s even being discussed. I love the bus ads for that very reason as well.

    So I started this thing with agreeing with most of what Rick said … I only disagree with him and that bitch Atwood ;o) when they say atheism is another form of religion that has the same flawed reasoning as religion itself. I disagree with that with the simple argument that religion is really devoid of reasoning. I always find that agnostics are atheists in the end. Much like Pascal’s Wager, they just wanna keep the option open “just in case”. Hell, I got no problem with that … never burn your bridges.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:32 pm
  • Shawn

    Ah crap, I need an editor too … Ottawa should be Ontario, it was Ontario wide *sigh*

    February 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm
  • Greg Walker


    I’m surprised as a fellow PK (Preacher’s Kid) that you’re not more ambivalent. I’m sure you know I’m a confirmed atheist myself, but don’t let that affect your reflection on my opinions.

    My take is somewhere between Shawn’s and Richard’s, which pretty much puts me in conflict with yours. Yes, the motivation behind the ads and the movement that is funding it is no doubt driven by some weird desire to inflame tensions between the religious and the non-religious, (shouldn’t “areligious” be a word, like “amoral” is to “moral”?).

    The good ole’ US of A is *supposedly* founded on a separation of church and state. Does anyone realistically believe that an “outed” Atheist could hold the office of President in the next 10 years? The next 100 years? Yeah, right. Even Obama would’ve stood a better chance of being a confirmed Muslim instead of a Native-Born American Christian(TM) than if he were a self-declared Atheist.

    What we have here is a classic “tyranny of the majority” that was so feared by John Stuart Mill. In the face of that, why not cause some upset? Why not raise a stink? Fact is, Atheists are not only a minority, they are a systemically repressed minority.

    Do I think the bus ads are the best way to change the situation? Do they improve tolerance? Maybe, maybe not. At least somebody’s trying.

    Greg “Worm Food” Walker

    February 27, 2009 at 7:35 pm