Atheist Bus Ad: What Exactly are We Worrying About?

"There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." So says the silly atheist advertisement that has been making its way around London on the side of buses. While Ariane Sherine is the inspiration behind the cruising commercials, Richard Dawkins has inserted his publicity seeking self (or accepted an invitation to have his publicity seeking self partake) as the face of the movement. I earlier commented on Dawkins' interview with an irrelevant atheist interviewer in a blog entitled It's Easy Not to Worry When You Ignore the Problems, but now I want to return to what originally drove me to the story.

On the Last Laugh, blogger Laughing Boy published a short article about the advertisement. Entitled Dick says, "Enjoy your life", Laughing Boy posted a photo of Richard Dawkins standing between the memorable Ariane Sherine and the forgettable Polly Toynbee clearly showing Dawkins' right hand resting rather low (some would say scandalously low) on Ms. Sherine's backside. Laughing Boy noted,

The 'visual context' of the ad seems basically to be saying, "Hey, I can grope this woman as much as I want, despite my marriage, and frankly I'm thinking of going further the first moment I get a chance (if I haven't done so already) -- AND YOU CAN, TOO! ISN'T ATHEISM GREAT!?"

While I don't want to suggest that Dawkins has gone farther with Ms. Sherine, he has a point. Laughing Boy continued by asking a few very pertinent questions -- the last of which was the most pertinent and which he most directly answered:

Is this the first ever ad campaign for a philosophical position? Who's paying for these ads and how widespread are they? How successful can they possibly be? What couldn't that brunette [Ms. Sherine] sell me? Is she cold? Is Dawkins' left hand as far down the older woman's backside [Ms. Toynbee] as his right hand is on hers? This lead naturally to the most obvious question—as believer in God, what worries inhibit my enjoyment of life?

Laughing Boy is onto something here. What does belief in God hinder in the typical person? Well, I suspect that belief in God can be seen as repressing a person's desire to engage in sins that the person may want to pursue. So, I suppose that belief in God leads some not to rob the local bank, although I suspect that the risk of going to jail would be enough to disuade most people. And it's equally true that belief in God probably has disuaded at least one person from killing his neighbor when her dog does its business in the wrong front yard. But it hardly seems reasonable that the bus ad should be saying "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and start killing your neighbor when her dog piddles on your bushes." So, I suspect that the ad is aiming at other things.

I'm fairly certain that the type of activities that skeptics believe God interferes with are the social vices: gambling, drinking, sex, smoking, drug use, etc. Perhaps, what Icky Dick is really saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and get plastered if you want." Maybe he's saying, "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and gamble away the family fortune." Of course, these vices are what can be called "Anonymous sins." All of them are addictive, so they all come with support groups that contain the name "Anonymous", e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Nicotine Anonymous. That adds a new slant on the advertisement. What Icky Dick may be saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and engage in addictive, self-destructive behavior." Yup, this is sounding more appealing all the time.

In all sincerity, I have been avoiding the most obvious solution to what the existence of God may cause Mr. Dawkins, Ms. Toynbee and the other God-deniers to worry about. It is the biggest of the social vices and the same answer that Dawkins' overly enthusiastic right hand suggested. believer in God, what worries inhibit my enjoyment of life? The answer was just as obvious. I was worried that I displeased God with my fleeting desire to be Richard's right-hand man. I felt ashamed that I had never confessed and sought forgiveness for my infatuation with thin chicks of Mediterranean heritage. All became clear. God was interfering in my sex life. If I would only lay aside my belief in God and His meddling ways, that brunette—or another like her, or not like her at all, anybody who struck my fancy—would be mine for the taking.

Yes, belief in God (at least, as He is accurately described in Christianity) clearly inhibits rampant sexual gratification. In God's world, sex is supposed to occur only between two people of different genders within a marital relationship. That definitely throws a monkey wrench in the whole copulate copiously thing. So obviously if God exists then that should be something to worry about to the free love crowd. So, this makes a great deal of sense out of the bus ad because now the saying is "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and start ..." well, you can fill in the rest. (Of course, free love isn't exactly free -- it isn't working out too well for Tiger Woods.)

Is this what we ought not worry about? It seems to fit, but I personally believe that the ad is addressing a mixture of several of the social vices and free sex. But I think that Dawkins' bus-bound advertisement is not so much a cry for freedom from the sexual limits placed on us by a good and holy creator, as an unrecognized acknowledgement of a common argument for God's existence.

What exactly is the common thread of all of these possible things about which we need to stop worrying? They all relate to moral limitations that God has placed upon us as the result of his holy, moral nature. So, the advertisement is actually saying that belief in God is causing people to worry that they are breaking the moral laws put forth by God. Logically, if there is no God then you are free to do what you want. So, here is the new configuration of the bus ad: "There is no moral lawgiver, so stop worrying and do what you want because you can't violate His moral law."

Isn't that admitting the main points behind the Moral Argument for the Existence of God? I mean, the ad is basically implying that if there is a God then there are moral laws that we must follow. (A very logical conclusion.) But since there is probably no God, i.e., there is probably no moral lawgiver, then morality is subjective and relative and we are free to do whatever we want that makes us temporally happy. Isn't that the mirror-image of what Christians argue when they say that that without God there is no way to explain morality? And isn't the fact that we have to be told not to worry by atheists while we ride the bus home from the office evidence that Romans 1 is correct when it teaches that God's law is written on our hearts which is what leads us to feel guilty when we violate that law?

For myself, I suggest that the better bus ad would read, "There's probably no, who are we kidding? You have to be in serious denial to believe there's probably no God." That's an ad that is truly something to consider.


Mark said…
I grew up in a Jewish household in the South and attended a quasi-religious private school composed almost exclusively of rich Christian kids. Though I thankfully didn't suffer from any discrimination, I was still excluded from all the Christian ceremonies, and learned from an early age to worry about whether I and all of my family would be damned to eternal torment because of our religion. I'm sure I wouldn't be the only Jewish kid to have this experience; and many ex-fundamentalists report to still feel pangs of religious terror engendered by childhood indoctrination about apostasy. The fact is that for many, the prospects of what religion says God will do to us is a fairly significant source of suffering. The billboard is a reassurance: the whole God-concept, with all its maliciousness that many non-theists still have to wrestle with, is a ridiculous, repulsive idea. Your attempt to trivialize it by characterizing it as an excuse for sexual promiscuity is little better.
BK said…

First, there is no "maliciousness" in the "God-concept". If you think that there is, you are seeing a full cup and thinking it is half-empty.

The question of salvation is not something to be taken lightly. If you are wrestling with it, I think that is a good thing. If you believe that Christianity is false, then that's the decision that you are making and I respect your decision (while arguing that it is wrong). No one is forcing you to accept God's gift -- least of all God. But there are consequences to everything that we do.

And you actually make a good point. Kudos. So you think that what people are worrying about is the afterlife and the atheist bus ad is saying, "don't worry about what's going to happen to you in the afterlife because God probably doesn't exist." Which, of course, means that you don't have to believe in any particular way.

To me, that is the more scary viewpoint. Basically you are living your life on the premise (which itself lacks any evidence -- note that it is only "probably no god" because there is no real way to establish that intellectually) that this life is all that there is. There is nothing beyond this life so you shouldn't have to worry about God or anything like that. The biggest problem I have with that is that there is way too much evidence supporting the existence of God for that to be a credible foundation on which to live life. You are basically saying, "Gee, I have these concerns that how I live this life will affect me after I have died, but I am going to ignore them because they make me uncomfortable and there's probably no God." Am I getting that right?
Mark said…
The ad isn't saying, "Ignore your worries about God and the afterlife." The ad is saying, "Your worries about God and the afterlife are unreasonable, so try to relax." You're a Christian apologist, so obviously you disagree that they're unreasonable; but that's a separate and much larger point to make.

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