It's Easy Not to Worry When You Ignore the Problems

Recently, on the Last Laugh, blogger Laughing Boy published a short article about the advertisement that some atheists have placed on buses around England. The article, entitled Dick says, "Enjoy your life" showed a photo of a nattily-dressed Mr. Richard Dawkins (obviously enjoying the money he has made from the sales of his books and probably enjoying standing next to Ariane Sherine, the beautiful young lady in the photo who was responsible for starting the bus ad campaign) in front of a London double-decker emblazoned with the slogan, "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Quite a motto. It's probably the first time that a religious philosophy has been adapted from a satirical magazine. Alfred E. Neumann would be proud.

I begain to wonder where the photo came from, and found that the photo had come as part of a press event about the atheist ad. had a video taken of Richard Dawkins discussing the bus advertisment with Polly Toynbee of the Guardian. The video is both sad and hilarious at the same time. I mean, consider the following exchange between Dawkins and Toynbee concerning the wording of the atheist ad that "God Probably Doesn't Exist."

Dawkins: It's funny. It gets people to talk about it. And if we said there's definitely no god, you can't say that. You can't say there's definitely no Father Christmas. And so it gets people to think.

Toynbee: You and I get accused a lot of being real haters of religion....

Dawkins: Yeah, we're strident and shrill and (mumbled). Isn't it amazing that you say the mildest thing against religion and it's automatically strident. You ever notice that?

Toynbee: It's strident, it's offensive, people are automatically outraged...

Dawkins: Outraged.

Toynbee: ...they're offended. And what I think is good about this campaign is that nobody could call it offensive.

Dawkins: No, Oh, they will, they will.

Toynbee: I get offended when they acuse us of being soulless spirits, spiritless, emotionless, dry rationalists and brutal haters. I'm very offended. But then I don't expect them to respect my offense. I'm expect my....

Dawkins: You stand up for yourself. Exactly.

Toynbee: Yes. Stand up for myself. Why can't they? Why do they need special....

Dawkins: Because they've got nothing really to stand up for. They've got nothing....they've got no decent arguments. They have to take offense; it's the only weapon they've got.

Never has so short a video been so short on credibility. I can't believe that they even remotely believe what they are saying in the video. "Isn't it amazing that you say the mildest thing against religion and it's automatically strident" C'mon. I mean, listening to Dawkins claim to have said mild things against religion is like listening to Hitler telling Himmler that he had treated the Jews with respect.

By no stretch of the imagination can Dawkins claim to be someone who has said mild things about religion. Consider the following from Dawkins' awful The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
~"The God Hypothesis", The God Delusion, p. 31

This is not an isolated statement by Dawkins. (I certainly hope no one is claiming that the quote is taken out of context -- the context is quite clear from the sentence.) Mr. Dawkins has made outrageous claims about Christians and others who hold religious views, such as:

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When a million people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.

So, for Dawkins to posture in the video like he is Clark Kent subjected to the bullying of the evil Christians despite saying nothing offensive, he is simply suffering from a delusion much deeper than the one he claims religious people to be suffering.

But that isn't the only disconnected thing that Dawkins and Toynbee say in this short video. The more egregious statement is the claim that religious people "got nothing really to stand up for. They've got nothing....they've got no decent arguments. They have to take offense; it's the only weapon they've got." Dawkins must have spent a lot of money on his blinders for them to be so incredibly effective.

I encourage Dawkins to read God and the New Atheism: A critical Response to Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens by John F. Haught. In a few short pages (only 124 pages including footnotes), Haught shreds the arguments made by Dawkins (and similar arguments put forward by his equally mild-mannered atheist cohorts). Still, even with this book it doesn't surprise me that Dawkins believes his work has been unanswered -- he is not the least bit interested in looking beyond his shallow understanding of religion. After all, he can't maintain his strawman approach if he is presented with a theology that has substance to it. Haught points this out in the introduction to his book. After indentifying a number of serious Christian thinkers like Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Haught writes,

Clearly the new atheists [which includes Dawkins] are not familiar with any of these religious thinkers, and the hostility to what they call "theology" has almost nothing to do with theology as I use the term. Occasionally our critics come close to suspecting that there may be a whole other world of relevant religious thought out there, but they want to make things easy for themselves and their readers, so they keep theology, at least in my sense of the term, out of their discussion altogether. Their strategy is to suppress in effect any theological voices that might wish to join in conversation with them. As a result of this exclusion, the intellectual quality of their atheism is unnecessarily diminished. Their understanding of religious faith remains consistently at the same unscholarly level as the unreflective, superstitious and literalist theology of those they criticize. * * *

Ideally, the authors of the books I shall be evaluating will also peek into the following pages, but since their own writings so far show no interest in theology, it is probably to much to expect that they would wish to tune in now.

Dawkins may be a mild-mannered man in his personal life. He may carry himself calmly and be an absolute gentleman. But, like so many atheists who populate the Internet, his writings reflect a boisterous, intolerant man who makes his case by first ignoring and then denying true Christian thought and charity.

But don't worry, ignorance is bliss after all.


Jason Pratt said…
So... .... in his bus ad, he admits to being a Dick.



Jason Pratt said…
Okay, now that the easy jab is done...

No, I think I'll poke it a little further. I recall that Mr. D's wife divorced actor Tom Baker (of Dr. Who fame; also who played Puddleglum in a BBC production of The Silver Chair, which may arguably be the greatest stunt casting in the history of all time {g}) in order to marry him.

Setting aside any ethically valid reasons she may have had for leaving TB and finding a new husband, I think I may recommend she re-evaluate the likelihood of... how should I put it... substantial ethical spousal failure here. 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!?"

It isn't as ridiculously funny in a philosophical sense as the American Humanist Association's bus ad last year (discussed here on the Cadre Journal at the time), where the slogan was not only borrowed from an overtly theistic context but ultimately only makes sense if trinitarian theism is true. ("Be good for goodness' sake!") But I think I'd be outright ethically offended this year if I was an atheist. (Well, if I was an atheist who believed in what amounts to the sanctity of marriage fidelity; and I know some who certainly do. I strenuously doubt they're the only ones who exist, either.)

Well, picking on Mr. D is like picking on Limbaugh or Coulter. It's main use is amusement value; it isn't like there's any intellectual challenge to it. But he does represent and propagate a... hm... a cultural memetic force (to put it in terms I've heard somewhere before {g})--as do conservative and/or religious provocatuers who make a living by being what amounts to cultural trolls and flamebaiters--so...


(and yes, I meant the first two sentences as a {rimshot} moment in connection to my subsequent ethical criticism. {wry g})
BK said…
Dang, you're good. You're already exploring part of the angle I am taking in part II. :)
Jason Pratt said…
Whoops! In fairness, I misread: I thought the bus ad had the "Dick" thing as the primary text (with the other as secondary text). Opps.

So he doesn't admit to being a dick in the bus ad. And tries to pretend he isn't being one in the interview. {g}

(I was going to add some more, but while previewing the comment I suddenly realized there was supposed to be a forthcoming Part 2. Sorry, Bill! {g} I'll wait to see if you snipe the point I have in mind. It has something to do with something Ms. Toynbee says.)

David said…
"Clearly the new atheists are not familiar with any of these religious thinkers"

I think Dawkins must be a bit mad. He (and his ilk) are not only unfamiliar with religion, but unfamiliar with thought. And no, that isn't a cheap shot: I mean that someone who has grown up in a Western society and remains so ignorant of the most fundamental religious and cultural concepts on which his civilization is based can have nothing serious to contribute to that august body known as "Western thought". Forget newcomers like Tillich or Whitehead; forget even the entire corpus of Medieval scholarship; Dawkins' arguments[sic] demonstrate an utter lack of knowledge of theology even in the Ancient world. The poor fellow tries to criticize Christianity from a starting point that was obsolete centuries before Christianity even began.

Yet Dawkins is not simply retarded — he apparently can dress himself and write in complete sentences, etc. He just has this inexplicable blind-spot when it comes to religion. It's not that he doesn't believe in religion, or doesn't understand it; we're all ignorant of something (most things, in fact, given how much there is to know!), and I don't fault him for knowing nothing about religion per se. But most of us do not set ourselves up as authorities on those topics about which we know little. There is where Dawkin's madness lies. Apparently he simply has no clue that he is ignorant, that there is a massive body of theological and philosophical work that he is completely failing to address. Certainly, it's not possible that he merely failed to notice that it exists — he's heard of the Bible, for instance; somehow it's just never occurred to him to actually read any of it.

I suppose there is always the possibility that Dawkins is a cynical machiavellian manipulator, who is well aware that he is not even scratching the surface of true religious criticism, and plugs through regardless on the grounds that enough suckers will fall for it nevertheless. He's got an audience somehow, he's making money anyway, right? ...But that still makes him a fool, because anyone that unscrupulous could target a larger audience if he tried to exploit religious people instead of atheists. (Or is the hidden moral that religious folk are less gullible than non-believers?)
BK said…
Good points, David. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
Personally, I think last year's AHA campaign would have been a lot mor effective and piqued a lot more curiousity if it just said "Be good for goodness' sake... explore humanism" or something and left it at that.

A little more inviting, and no less atheist. Could ANYONE have claimed that was offensive?

While I don't believe in god or an afterlife, I fail to see how antagonizing someone's belief, right off the bat in such a public way does anything but turn people off.
Jason Pratt said…

That would have been a great ad campaign! In a way, I hope they do something like that next year.

Speaking of last year, I'll repeat something here that I mentioned last year, too: the Humanist associations are only doing what Christians do this time of year. We evangelize, to remind people of "the reason for the season". In effect, they're doing the same thing. Everyone has the right to make the best public case they can make, for whatever they believe, with the resources at their disposal.

No one has the right to be free from criticism for doing so, either way, by exactly the same standard, of course. But in principle I don't actually mind the Humanist Associations doing what they're doing during Christmas nowadays.

Anonymous said…
My other thought for an AHA holiday campaign is "Reason's Greetings!"
Jason Pratt said…
I remember that from last year; I liked that then, too!

BK said…
Reason's Greetings? Actually, that's pretty clever. But, of course, as a Christian I think that reason supports Christianity so it really isn't anything that would advance humanism.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said…
Deleted those last commens because (for whatever reason) my last comment published several times. Sorry.
Anonymous said…

I disagree.

I'm not saying reason and Christianity are exclusive of one another-- anymore so than atheism and being a good person are exclusive of one another.

My only point is that "reason's greetings" or simply "be good for goodness' sake" are better, more inviting ways to encourage people to explore humanism and decide for themselves, as opposed to the slogan's we've seen so far that probably turn a lot more people off than on.

Do you think a sign on a bus that said (at least in essence) "Atheism is irrational, consider Christianity" would garner more interest among humanists than, say, I don't know, "God is love"?

We're talking pure marketing here, not merits (which we'll obviously disagree on).

Can you at least agree that honey attracts more flies than vinegar? {Although we both know you get even more with dead squirrels?}
BK said…
Oh, I see where you are going now.

Yes, I agree with you that "Atheism is irrational, consider Christianity" is not the best apologetic with the general public. It is something that I think is appropriate to argue in certain circumstances, but as a bus slogan that would be a horrible idea. So, on a purely marketing standpoint, I agree.
Anonymous said…
Since you mentioned John Haught please notice I did a review of his book which he responded to here. I also mentioned Haught's critique in a talk I did last week for the Society of Biblical Literature on Bill Maher's movie Religulous.


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