Friday, February 06, 2009

Dogma Dogma Dog ma' Dog is Brown

The debate over god and religion is currently being waged on the sides of busses in London.

It started with an atheist campaign in which a sign on the sides of busses proclaimed "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Several religious groups and churches have responded with upcoming ads of their own:

"There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life."
"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."
"There is a God, believe. Don't worry and enjoy your life."

What is most interesting, however, is the response from the head of the organization sponsoring the atheistic ads.
Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Society, said the society supported the right of religious groups to post their messages but said the advertisements were "dogmatic and declaratory, leaving no room for reason and debate."

"Our ads were undogmatic and funny, with the addition of the 'probably' in line with the continuing openness of humanists to new evidence," she said in a statement on the British Humanist Association Web site.

She misses the point--and her own hypocrisy. There were two prongs to the atheist's attack. The first prong, contrary to what she says, is only less dogmatic (to be truly "open" they might have said "there may be no god", whereas "probably" implies a statistical weighting that does not exist). While some religous persons might still get upset at this declaration, most would just shake their heads and move on. I'm sure most relgious people have entertained at least once the thought that there may not be a God.

No, it's the second prong that is likely to elicit objection, and is dogmatic and declaratory. It's the strong implication that religious people A) are unduly worried because of their belief in God, and B) do not enjoy their life as a result. Conversely implied is that atheists are not worried and do enjoy life. They don't seem to be leaving the door open for reason or debate on what causes this worry, even though the current economic climate, for one, seems every bit as likely a candidate.

Furthermore, what exactly is funny about calling a group of people fussy and depressed? It's only funny for people who agree with you. So the British Humanist Society ads are divisive, dogmatic, discourage reason and debate, and are intentionally insulting. Hence I also have reason to doubt Stinson's " new evidence" based on the dogmatism of her own statements.

In short, Stinson's belief seems to be "We are open-minded and clever. They are depressed, close-minded, and daft. End of discussion." She's a true humanitarian--in the culinary sense.

Now if open, respectful debate were the goal, I'd have kept the whole debate off of busses. Such advertising--on both sides--does not provide a forum for discussion. It thrusts inflammatory statements in front of people while giving them no means to respond. Other than buying an ad of their own, anyway, which excludes the average person lacking the $22,000 to splurge on legalized graffiti. This is bound to leave most people with any strong beliefs to the contrary feeling publicly attacked and helpless to respond. Neither of which is likely to endear them to one's cause or convince them to listen to you.

The BHS fired the first salvo. Stinson can defend the message of the ad all she wants, but she purposely or ignorantly fails to mention or defend the reason for the ad in the first place. What exactly were they hoping to accomplish? Funny or not, if I were to buy a bus ad that stated "People who wear red are probably covering for their own insecurity", I should not be surprised if people who like red get upset with me and ascribe uncharitable motives to my actions.

No, such unprovoked and insulting attacks (for that really is what it is) are little more than bully tactics: build camaradarie with the presumed majority who agree with you by putting down the presumed minority who do not. It is reinforcing unfair and unsubstantiated stereotypes in an attempt to establish them as truth by repetition.

So let's call a spade a spade, Stinson. You attacked a group in an attempt to demean and cow them. Your gracious support of their right to respond is both unnecessary and irrelevant. Your conceding them a right they already possess does not give you the high ground. That is only an attempt to both confirm your self-righteousness and deflect the issue.

What's more, you couldn't even support their right to a response without taking another potshot and implying that A) you won, and B) you're still right and better than they are. Why are you so insecure in your position? If you were at all secure you wouldn't have needed to buy the ads in the first place, let alone fell a need to defend them.

Unfortunately, Stinson saw, in her insecurity, a wrong that must be righted. Oh dear, oh dear! People are sad and uptight! It must be because of their belief in a god! I must save them from themselves! Quick! To the bus company! We shall win them over with a clever and carefully worded ad! Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that make Stinson the one who needs to stop worrying and just enjoy her life?

Would it have been so wrong to have the ad simply read "Don't worry! Enjoy your life while you have time!"? Leave it up to the reader to decide what it is they really shouldn't be worrying so much about. I fail to see how that would have made the ad less effective, unless it truly was meant as an attack.

And if it was meant as an attack, that doesn't speak well for humanists. We've got enough to worry about without dragging religion into it and turning us against one another. Or is she just trying to prove that humanism can be just as devisive as religion is reported to be? If so, who needs it? To quote from Star Trek, "We need no encouragement to hate humans!"

Au contraire, my dear Stinson.

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