14 January 2009

Get on board the Atheist Bus. Next stop Ireland?

If you’re commuting or touring around the UK in the next few weeks, you may see a strange looking advertisement on the side of public transport city buses.

The slogan is simple and thought provoking:

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”

It all started when a writer, Ariane Sherine saw a religious ad on a bus and after following the URL, found it to be a Christian website which stated that non-believers would be“condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

She started campaign on the Guardian’s Comment is free blog to raise money for an atheist bus ad. Her initial intention was to raise around £5000. So far the campaign has raised nearly £140,000. Supported by the Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins, the campaign has taken off spectacularly.

The “probably”, in my opinion, serves two purposes. It provides a less strident, less dogmatic message, so as not to preach to the reader. But it also gets it past the Standards Authority as it’s not making a claim it cannot back up. I find this last one hilarious, as any alternative message claiming the existence of a god is completely un-provable.

There are plans for a second wave of bus ads in April so maybe Dawkins can get to show his teeth on those. He’s already suggesting, on his website risharddawkins.net, “there’s no such thing as a …. Child” (insert religion of choice), or a long list of ex-Gods (Mithras, Zeus, Horus, Wotan etc), all crossed out, with Yahweh and Allah crossed out, or, a favourite of mine, “Religions: They can’t all be right. They can all be wrong”.

Meanwhile buses around the world are being adorned with atheist messages.
In Washington DC, USA, the American Humanist Association launched the bus ad "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness' sake."
In Genoa, Italy, the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists plan to launch "The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that you don't need him", in February.
In Barcelona, a translation of the London slogan is used.

According to Irish Times, the Humanist Association of Ireland has no plans to follow with its own campaign. This is a shame, as it so obviously hit the public mood in the UK. I see no reason for it to fail here in Ireland.

Zero Albedo
15 Jan 2009

03 January 2009

Santa Claus - First step to critical thinking

This post is a bit late. I was hoping to have it up on or about xmas day.

The question is: What's the difference between belief in Santa Claus and belief in Jesus Christ?
Further to the question, children are disabused of their belief in Santa and it's seen as a right of passage into adulthood, whereas Christians continue to believe in Jesus into adulthood and old age.
But, what is the difference? Two fictitious, bearded men, with some tenuous, millennium-old basis in reality.

In the Western world, children are encouraged and taught to believe in Jesus and Santa. The former to be a Galilean carpenter, born to a virgin, son of a god, performer of miracles, raised from the dead and sent to this planet to save every human soul. The latter to be an inhabitant of the North Pole (or at least Lapland), master of an army of toy-building elves, owner of flying reindeer, able to overcome time and space by visiting every child’s home in a single night and can enter any home at will via the chimney.
(However he can also gain illicit entry to apartments by some other as-yet-unexplained method.)

Two supernatural, immortal, beings. Each possessed of magical powers beyond the explanation of science.

Adults conspire to teach children that both of these men exist and have some sort of magical powers. Each can see if we’re “naughty or nice” and each has the ability to reward and punish us, in this world and in the next respectively.

Children all over the world believe in both Santa and Jesus with equal fervor. And by the age of 10, they have realized, either by themselves or with the help of older friends and siblings that one is a fake. It can be traumatic at the time, but I don’t think any adult has been emotionally or psychologically damaged by the Santa Claus conspiracy.

As easy as it is to make people realize that Santa is a fake, it is equally difficult to overcome the cult that is Christianity. Any attempt to persuade someone that the Jesus-myth has as much relevance as the Santa-myth results in accusations of blasphemy, heresy and disrespect for the church.

What is the reason for Santa? In the familial sense, he is a method of delivering presents to children. Why can’t parents own-up to giving these gifts? In the commercial sense, he fuels a huge industry of toy, game and equipment manufacturing as well as advertising and distribution. Christmas as a season is grossly commercialized event that has evolved out of control.

Ironically, the celebration of the birth of Jesus has been overshadowed by visit of his Nordic counterpart.
At least the adult population is aware of Santa’s status. i.e. Fiction.

These two peas in a pod should be treated with equal contempt. One for encouraging commercialization and unnecessary consumerism, the other for discouraging free-thought and critical thinking about the world around us.

Perhaps we can take some solace from the fact that it is easy and harmless to prove the non-existence of Santa. That every child experiences the reality and accepts it. Maybe belief in Santa and the inevitable reality-check can be used as a prototype for helping others to see the equally ridiculous beliefs held as true.

Happy New Year 2009.

Zero Albedo
03 Jan 2009