'Atheist bus' more like a bandwagon on highway to hell
We shall have some sport, I daresay, in January when the "atheist bus" arrives in Belfast with full fanfare. The "atheist bus" is already established in London: it is a public transport bus, or series of buses, carrying the advertising message: "There is probably no God. So relax and enjoy life."
The advertising campaign has cost around stg £100,000. It was all started up by -- predictably -- Professor Richard Dawkins, the neo-Darwinist scientist and atheist campaigner. He put down a deposit of some £8,000, and the rest came from public contributions -- mostly from readers of The Guardian newspaper, in which the campaign was publicised.
It says something about the affluence of Guardian readers that, in a time of recession, they can contribute £90,000 to a bus campaign dissing the notion of God.
Not that the project has been without controversy, within its own ranks. Hardline atheists wished the message to be: "There is definitely no God." But it seems that those atheists who shade somewhat towards agnosticism prevailed, with their slightly more moderate "There is probably no God ... "
As it happens, I was invited by The Guardian blog to comment on this atheist bus project, and air my views on what line Christians should take.
I said truthfully that I believed in free speech, and I also believed in the exercise of advertising as a form of communication. They could put whatever they liked on a bus. Except that I found the atheists' coda "so relax and enjoy life" ludicrously implausible.
I've never yet met an atheist with a sense of joie-de-vivre (unless, in the case of one well-known public atheist, a certain drunken cordiality) most of them seem to be miserable blighters. Read GK Chesterton's great poem 'The Ballad of the Sad Athiest'. It perfectly describes this kind of dreary and austere puritan.
Well-meaning folk might suppose that atheists are simply searchingly honest persons who, doubting the tenets of faith and committed to reason and logic, conclude that they just cannot commit to faith.
There may be some of this ilk, but militant atheists, in particular, are deeply unpleasant and caustically intolerant. Any time I have written about this subject, I have received offensive e-mails from militant atheists. While professing themselves to be campaigners for "freedom of thought", "reason", and "logic", their main tool of argument is often personal abuse; they quickly start shrieking that believers are simply "stupid", or, in the case of a female believer, "a stupid cow".
Despite such abuse, I still believe in freedom of speech and freedom of debate: although it is clear that if the militant atheists had their way, there would be no space whatsoever for Christians or other believers in the public realm. That doesn't mean, however, that I am not concerned about the effect of militant atheism. I am convinced that this injection of atheism into the culture is directly responsible for the increase in drug-abuse, in crime and, most specifically, in the five-fold increase in suicide that we have seen in these islands over the last 25 years.
A life without a spiritual sense of purpose, or the moral parameters set by the Ten Commandments -- is a living hell.
Troubled and immature young persons, given a nihilistic message that there is no meaning to life -- that we are just reasonably clever animals who evolved from a set of molluscs, quite by chance -- are easily driven down the road to despair.
Britain has been hugely shaken, over the last month, by the public tragedy of 'Baby P', and the tormented infant's young life has been taken as an all-too-accurate indictment of an aspect of British life today.
That is a life without moral parameters; in which fathers walk away from their children because the state provides all welfare; in which relationships are casual, and a variety boyfriends and serial stepfathers move in; in which mothers spend the day smoking dope, drinking vodka and cruising for sex on the internet, while their children die with broken backs -- among filth and excrement, dead mice and pet snakes.
A Hogarthian picture of an underclass without any sense of a higher moral and spiritual aspiration has emerged, to whom the atheist bus campaign is scant help, or indeed comfort.
Some involved in the atheist bus campaign believe that by "converting" Ulster to atheism, they will do away with religious divisions. A naive and shallow view, indeed, of the North's conflicts, in which religious affiliation is by no means the only factor.
When the atheist bus appears in Belfast, it is far more likely to unite Catholics and Protestants in their common Christian rejection of its message.
So God works in mysterious ways after all.