As atheists roll out London ads, believers unruffled
Billboard campaign promotes atheist beliefs on buses.
(Page 2 of 3)
Some organizers wanted a flat "there is no God" statement. Dawkins favored an "almost certainly no God" wording. But Ms. Sherine says that British advertising officials advised that a phrase less absolute and not subject to proof would ensure the ad did not run afoul of the advertising standards authority.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This led to amusement by atheists and believers alike that a statement pro or con about that which has been known through the ages as Creator, First Cause, Deity, divine Love, the laws and powers of the universe, the "Christ consciousness" of Teilhard de Chardin, the Great Shepherd, that which answered Job out of the whirlwind and guided "Arcturus with his sons" – could be adjudicated by mid-level British civil servants.
On the website of the British newspaper, The Guardian, Sherine said the word "probably" is "more lighthearted, and somehow makes the message more positive."
Believers have criticized the second part of the message, "stop worrying and enjoy your life." Nick Spencer, of Theos, a public theology think tank in London, felt the "enjoy yourself" message – coming in the midst of an economic crisis that is taking jobs and spreading anxiety across Europe, possibly implies selfish indifference, and "could not be more ill-timed.... But since Brits are frightfully embarrassed about bringing up God in public, it is a godsend in some ways to have the atheists do it for us."
Dawkins, whose book, "God Delusion" sold 1.5 million copies, told the Los Angeles Times that "We've all been brought up with the view that religion has some kind of special privileged status. You're not allowed to criticize it."
Christianity does have a history of intolerance, theologians admit. But it also has a healthy history of doubt and skepticism, as well as interchanges between faith and science – and has reformed itself through a seeking of truth in and outside the church. Some of its best-known modern thinkers have expressed admiration for nonbelievers.
Swiss Protestant Karl Barth, a leading 20th-century European theologian, wrote the forward to the English language version of Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach's prominent atheist critique, "The Essence of Christianity." Barth wasn't worried about the atheism, says Herman Waetjen, professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, because Barth felt Feuerbach exposed many fault lines, mistakes, social and collective projections, and other falsifications of Christianity that had arisen around the 19th-century church. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the religious affiliation of Karl Barth, who was a member of the Swiss Reformed Church.]