On my way home tonight I saw three Atheist Buses in under ten minutes on Tottenham Court Road. Is this a record?
Of course, it may mean that all the cheery posters, saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”, may have been confined to bus route 29 (a very fine route which can take me from Finsbury Park to Trafalgar Square), but I prefer to believe that it means that the message will be seen by most Londoners as they go about their daily lives.
My optimism that rational thought might prevail was unfortunately punctured when I got home and read Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian. Her (somewhat confused) argument seems to be that the Atheist Bus campaign is the product of middle class patronising triumphalist atheists intent on destroying the hope of downtrodden poor people that their faith will lead them out of poverty, that Barack Obama is a practising Christian (which she says will upset the trio of intellectuals who launched the campaign) and that faith-based institutions are helping address disadvantage in the Inner City.
It is hardly “triumphal atheism” to say, “There’s probably no God” – if anything it is “tentative agnosticism”.
The fact that Barack Obama is a believer simply explains his personal motivation and the background to his philosophy – more dangerous are those political leaders who believe that they should use their political position to impose their religious beliefs on others (Madeleine Bunting seems to be suggesting that this is what Barack Obama is doing, but I would suggest that it is rather premature to define his Presidency in these terms when he has yet to be inaugurated.).
And, of course, there are many faith-based organisations that are doing good things in the Inner Cities and elsewhere. However, the list of terrible things that have been and are being done in the name of religion would more than fill an article and could indeed be the framework for describing much of world history.
So, I remain convinced that the Atheist Buses, encouraging people to think for themselves, are a rationalist beacon that we should cherish rather than rubbish.