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Bigots on Buses

Who would have thought public transport would become the site of a battle between hellfire and damnation Christians and fundamentalist Atheists? Apparently, after getting fed up with religious messages on bus-ads in London, science author Dawkins has agreed to pay for ads with the tag-lines: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Well, of course where you sit in life affects your perspective on things: if I’d sat through a series of annoying religious ads, I might find Dawkins’ response amusing.  Gladly, that kind of religion doesn’t have such a high presence in pubilc life here in Aotearoa New Zealand (though we do seem devoted to economic growth and fearful of the oracles from ‘the market’). And from my perspective, Dawkins’ contribution to public debate on religion with this action is unhelpful and disrespectful to millions of thinking religious people.

In rebuttal of Dawkins’ then, I offer four quick points:

  1. Since Dawkins claims to be so big on science and evidence,  I’d point out that a number of studies (e.g.) have shown that faith, and participation in a community of faith, far from making people guilt-ridden and fearful, tends to make people happier and more peaceful.
  2. Second, to conflate “some elements of some religious traditions” with “all believers in God” (as Dawkins’ ad implicitly does) is faulty logic. Many believers in God believe that God is (or is primarily, in relation to humans) a loving, supportive presence, and that the kind of judgmental, guilt-based religion Dawkins is responding to is based on a misunderstanding of what the great spiritual teachers were saying. (See for example Marcus Borg: “Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time”)
  3. Third, much philosophy in recent years (post-modernism etc) has attempted (successfully, I believe) to demonstrate the frailty and limits of human reason: this is not to say that good reasoning and evidence don’t matter, but rather to say that some of the more extreme (Popperian and positivist) notions of ‘science’ have much in common with religion – notably the leap of faith required for acceptance of the basic premise (in this case the infallibility and existence of the scientific method, underpinned by the power and capability of disinterested human reason).
  4. Fourth, while it’s easy, on a childish level, to chuckle along with Dawkins at poor misguided souls who are in fear of God as portrayed by trying-to-be-scary preachers, this is a completely inadequate response to those (who must number in the millions over the centuries) who have had a deep spiritual experience of ‘the numinous’ (A.K.A. God) – to which, often, the only adequate human response is a deep sense of awe. It’s like the difference between laughing at a comedy movie of
    someone running away from a Grizzly Bear, and laughing at the feelings of someone who has (or at least believes they have) actually come face to face with a Grizzly.

So, in summary, I hope the bigots on both sides get off the bus…and let us all get on with our lives, in faith, or however it is we get by.

Shalom, Barry

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