29 November 2008

The success of the “Atheist Bus” Campaign prompted the Bishop of Leicester to ask in his column in the Leicester Mercury “do we really want to live in a world that is Godless?” (presumably his particular C. of E. brand of god) and “leave society at the mercy of human values and decisions”.

This provided an opportunity for LSS members and others to suggest that “God's law” isn't quite as beneficent as the Bishop indicated.

Harry Perry responded:

Bishop Tim Stevens (Mercury, November 1) asks a good question: “Does society truly want to be Godless?”

He says society must choose between living under God's law or "at the mercy of human values and decisions". I couldn't have put it better myself.

God's law tells the Jews of Israel that they can steal Palestine from the Palestinians, by force. The-Bible-obsessed Christians of America show their agreement by providing the finance and weaponry to carry it out.

It is God's law that tells Muslims they must stone women adulterers to death, regardless they had been forced into loveless marriages under God's own sharia law in the first place.

It was God's Bible that allowed Christians to enslave millions of Africans to work in sugar plantations in the Americas. Likewise, the Dutch Reformed Church found in the Christian Bible complete justification for Apartheid.

Women in devout Muslim countries have their throats cut for showing their faces in public – sanctified by the Qu'ran. It is God's law that tells Indian Muslims to blow up Hindus because they are idol worshippers.

Abortion is forbidden to Catholics by their God, regardless that the pregnancy results from rape. God's law forbids Catholics from using condoms to prevent Aids. God's law tells Afghan Muslims they can shoot dead a young British charity worker because she is a Christian.

I could go on, but I think this makes the point. What can secularism offer in the place of God's laws?

Yes, I'm afraid we can only offer man-made laws – created through a free democratic process and based on the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So, I pose the same question as the Bishop: do you want to live at the mercy of God's laws or those created by human values and decisions?

You choose.

George Jelliss took a different tack:

The Bishop is being mischievous in interpreting the atheist bus slogan as asking people to "stop worrying" about their mortgages.

Clearly it is aimed at all the unnecessary worrying that God-belief engenders. Worries over whether enjoyment of pleasure is "sinful". Worries over what might happen in some mythical afterlife.

The slogan is not "enjoy life" but "enjoy your life" because it's the only one you have. Enjoyment comes from achieving things, not from mere self-indulgence.

As for trying to "airbrush God from public life", it is hardly possible to remove something that was never in the picture in the first place!

Dave Leighton found another perspective:

I have to offer an answer to Bishop Tim Stevens' question "do we really want to live in a world which is godless?" and answer it from an "ordinary Joe" perspective.

Yes, the Godless world is so much better being based upon a reasoned set of arguments and a challengeable position, than outright prejudice based upon unquestioning opinion of any faith.

I do not understand the issue about leaving society to the "mercy of human values". Surely that is what is great and beautiful about the human race – our capacity for goodness and thought, irrespective of God, especially in Leicester!

How can any major religious leader claim the right to decide what the nature of life will look like without deeply questioning what right they have to determine this?

I love living in Leicester, one of the most integrated societies in the world, what a statement of fairness and rationalism. How can one of our "faith leaders" make such crass statements about a set of views that may challenge his own. I am personally looking forward to the time when the
views of Richard Dawkins are actually challenged rationally, not just with the bias of one religion.

And of course we can rely on Wilf to put things in perspective.

Wilfred Gaunt

The original objective of secularism, as defined by Holyoake in the Victorian period, was the separation of Church and state.

This was to give people the freedom to follow their own faiths or none without state interference (on the United States' model) and to campaign against the intrusion of puritanical fanaticism into the laws governing the normal daily progress of people's lives.

Among other things, Sunday trading (shopping) was banned, as was the playing of games on Sunday. As a child, I had to put my toys away on Saturday night, and could only bring them out again on Monday.

Much medical and scientific research has been resisted in the House of Lords, purely on the basis of scriptural interpretation: not on the basis of need or democratic representation.

Naturally, the main campaigners for secular governance on this basis have been non-believers, and it has pleased the religious propagandists to therefore equate state secularism with no-god atheism.

They have almost succeeded in the nefarious miracle of convincing people that the secular ideals of freedom of thought, speech, and religion are anti-God.

My own copy for a bus advert would read: "Only a secular government gives you the freedom to follow your own faith."

Bill Hill from Birstall made another point:

Is the Bishop of Leicester really concerned that the atheists are getting some publicity (Mercury, November 1) or is he just peeved because we are paying for it?

To relate the current financial crises to believing in God is missing the point – many people are convinced that there is no God.

What really riles me, is that the religious seem to believe that atheists have a lack of moral judgement and are, therefore, inferior.

If he truly believes that adverts on buses will help us to have a "sense of solidarity" or, that we believe "in nothing" he really is desperate.

Atheists are people who have the capacity to think that the universe is, well, universal; and certainly not created in six days by a mythical being!

More to the point, I cannot see the justice in having unelected representatives of the Church of England attempting to rule us from Westminster. Atheists not only want to "airbrush God from public life" but, where it really counts, from Parliament.

The Bishop should encourage a level playing field, revelling in atheists having similar access to advertising – just as God does!

Perhaps a start could be made in the Mercury?

Allan Hayes summed it all up:

When 8,000 people give £116,000 to put notices on London buses that "there probably is no God..." it is surely better to recognise that there is a serious issue we need to talk about rather than escalate the matter into confrontation by painting the bogy of a godless world round the corner, as Bishop Tim did (Mercury, November 1).

Many people in Leicester will agree with the notice, including some in the Bishop's own Church. The question that needs to be asked is: "How do we live well together, enriched by our diversity, rather than divided by it?"

It is encouraging that religious bodies like the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army and the think-tank Ekklesia have welcomed the proposed bus-side message as a healthy encouragement for dialogue, but we must not get fixated on differences over God – creating
goodwill and trust is better.

Leicester Secular Society has, for more than 150 years, provided a forum for people with different views. It has always encouraged dialogue and will continue to do this.

So what do you think?