The London Atheist bus Campaign (“Probably” no God – probably acceptable) seems to be encouraging similar ideas in other cities. The American Humanist Association recently announced an ad campaign in the New York Times and Washington Post. There will also be messages on the sides and interiors of over 200 Washington DC Metro buses (Humanists Launch Godless Holiday Campaign).
The message – “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,”
It’s the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.
“Humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “So that’s the point we’re making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience.”
Some Christians insulted
If the London experience is anything to go by the messages should be well received – partly because than are not dogmatic. However, the campaign is predictably being criticised by some Christian organisations. Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association said (“Group’s new Christmas message: Be good, not godly):
“It’s a stupid ad. How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”
The Chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group based in Orlando, Florida, said:
“It’s the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ. Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want, but this is insulting.”
These are common arguments used to attack non-theists. But they are stupid and sterile because the reality is that non-theists can be just as moral and ethical as theists. Those arguments are on the same level of those parents who try to blackmail their children to be good because Santa Claus will not bring presents to bad children at Christmas time.
Goodness that comes from within, rather than imposed by blackmail, is what makes humans moral. And religious people are just as capable of this goodness as non-religious people. The problem is that some religious people use their religion, their god, as an excuse or explanation for their goodness.
When we start attributing human morality to a god or religion we fall into the trap of using that belief to excuse other human attitudes. One’s god then becomes an excuse for guilt and judgementalism. And once we start attributing anti-human attitudes to a god we can provide divine justification for things like interfering in human sexuality, banning same sex marriage and stoning adulterers, apostates and rape victims.