Feel like bashing a disgusting religious apologist?

15 01 2009

Have a crack at Madeleine Bunting, who not only completely misses the point of the atheist ad campaign on London’s buses, but in the same breath manages to be excruciatingly patronising about religious working poor (but we’ll get to that).

At first I thought it just plain daft; why waste £150,000 putting a slogan on hundreds of London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It managed to combine so many dotty assumptions – belief in God as a source of worry or as a denial of enjoyment – that I couldn’t see who it was supposed to convince. Besides, how can “probably” change someone’s mind?

What is the point of the campaign, by the way? Let’s take a look at the FAQ section of the campaign’s official website, which is more than Bunting bothered to do:

The campaign began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

Incidentally, some Christians in the UK have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the ad—which reads “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—is “offensive” (while, presumably, ads condemning non-believers to eternal torment and hellfire are not offensive).

Anyway, Bunting continues:

Then I thought about how it might look through the eyes of some of the people who travel on the buses I use from Hackney. The ones who look exhausted returning from a night shift of cleaning. Often they have a well-thumbed Bible or prayer book to read on their journey. And along comes a bus emblazoned with that advert. A slogan redolent of the kind of triumphal atheism only possible when you have had the educational opportunities, privileges and material security of the British middle class. The faith of this person is what sustains their sense of hope and, even more importantly, their sense of dignity when they are confronted every day by the adverts of affluence that mock them as “losers”, as failed consumers. Ouch, I winced that we can be so blindly self-indulgent to this elitist patronising.

Yes, Bunting: how can you be so elitist and patronising—not to mention positively Straussian? Suggesting that while we middle-class types can afford the luxury of our non-belief, the poor benighted plebs with whom you are forced to share a bus, and into whose psychology you claim profound insight in spite of such a fleeting acquaintance, need a faith to cling to. And who do those mean and nasty atheists think they are, with their mean and nasty bus slogans, making her fellow passengers, whose inner life Bunting purports to know intimately, feel bad about themselves? Perish the thought that the atheist bus campaign might be directed at these passengers also. No, no, says Bunting: they haven’t the education to cope with that.

Madeleine Bunting is a textbook illustration of the argument that religious moderates give cover to religious fanatics. Not in the least because, like many other religious moderates, she seems more concerned with demonising non-believers than with combating extremism and fundamentalism. To a moderate like Bunting, secularism, not fundamentalism, is the real Enemy.

Oh, and she doesn’t miss the opportunity to scoff at atheists’ support for Obama:

The irony of course is that the trio of intellectuals roped in to launch the advert, led by Richard Dawkins, are in all likelihood going to be celebrating the presidential inauguration of a passionate Christian, Barack Obama, next week – a man commonly agreed to be one of the most intelligent politicians of our age. But what they might prefer to overlook is that he chose – after an agnostic upbringing with doses of atheism from a distant father – to become a Christian in his 20s. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me and I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth,” he writes in his book, The Audacity of Hope. You can’t do pick and mix on Obama: he is pretty forthright that Jesus died to redeem his sins.

There is no irony, of course, because simply being an atheist or a secularist does not preclude one from supporting public figures who have strong religious beliefs. (Even when they invite bigots such as Rick Warren to preside over the inauguration.) What matters is whether they advocate policies based on an appeal to reason, evidence and reality . . . and not on the basis of “because my sky-daddy says so.” And on that score, I’ll give Obama himself, c. 2006, the final word:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.



20 responses

15 01 2009
Personal Failure

ooohhh . . . such fun. i do like that she says right out that ignorance breeds religious belief. that’s usually my line.

15 01 2009

Bunting is a moron.

I can’t really say much more than that.

15 01 2009

I briefly considered writing something about this ridiculous woman. I live in a working class area and it pisses me off when she gives the whole ‘take religion away from the masses and you mock their poor empty lives’ thing.

Her attempt to claim Obama for the pro-faith left is also laughable, for the reasons given above.

So thanks for saving me the effort.

15 01 2009
Can you be arsed? « Max Dunbar

[…] I let it go, and then I discovered that Five Public Opinions has saved me the trouble. Its writer has done an excellent piece that should be read in […]

15 01 2009

I’m poor. I’m an atheist and I’m happy. I’m not alone in this.

Do you think that Bunting could react like this and be a happy woman, deep down?

15 01 2009

Well done pointing out this woman’s ridiculous arguments, unfortunately there will probably be many people who agree with her.

I have seen the argument “why waste so much money” several times from christians, which is rather laughable when you see all the money they waste. As Ariane says, she thought of the idea after seeing a religious advert on a bus!

15 01 2009

Well spoken! And what’s the deal with the Obama comparison? Atheism is a thing of plurality; live, and let live. Why would an Atheist interfere with anothers’ right to be religious, so long as it does not violate others’ democratic rights? Interesting assumptions there, Bunting.

And understanding the poor? Puh-leaze. I’ve got a sister in jail right now, and am honestly disgusted at the Christians who go in and impose their beliefs on the vulnerable, in spite of lack of funds for real classes (uh, so they don’t just end up back in jail). I know they mean well, but apparently they’ve never read Foucault. Seriously, step outside of your own context for some mental oxygen for a change–you do live in a democracy, you know. It is an incumbent responsibility to respect others autonomy, privacy.

15 01 2009

I’d say her reaction bespeaks a deep-seated insecurity about her faith, which she doesn’t like atheists and secularists challenging. The poor figures clutching their Bibles on the buses in her anecdote are a projection of herself.

Fundamentalists don’t challenge her, on the other hand, because at the end of the day they are on her side.

15 01 2009

Maddy Bunting, of the liberal Guardian, is attacked, rather pointlessly, in the God Delusion. So that may explain her dislike of Dawkins. Or perhaps she doesn’t like bigots? In this rather dull book, he claims one of his values is “Question everything”. (p.299, i think). Except, of course, evolution. Or Dawkins.

15 01 2009

❤ Obama

16 01 2009
Top Stories and Blog Review - 15th Jan – Politics Unlimited | UK politics news

[…] Five Public Opinions dissects Madeline Buntings recent railing against the athiest bus. (hattip: Max Dunbar) […]

16 01 2009
Misery-Guts Madeleine does it again… « The Thinkers’ Podium

[…] the power to bring a passion for social justice to politics”, Madeleine tells us… (HT: AV). “The ones who look exhausted returning from a night shift of cleaning. Often they have a […]

18 01 2009

In the rib-tickler du jour, a London bus driver has refused to drive a bus carrying one of the atheist adverts.

In other news, a London bus driver who is a vegan has refused to drive a bus carrying a Maccas’ ad. Another London bus driver with a moral objection to hyperthin supermodels has refused to drive a bus carrying an advert for women’s clothing. Yet another London bus driver with an objection to protesters has refused to drive his bus until the xian driver who refuses to drive a bus carrying the atheist ad shuts the fuck up and goes back to work.

18 01 2009


The news story indicates that the bus company found a reasonable resolution to the problem, by finding the driver other buses to drive, even though it does illustrate the special treatment religious sensitivities receive in our culture . . . not to mention the weakness of said driver’s faith.

18 01 2009

Indeed, Arthur, the special treatment of faerie-tale believers was my main objection. If the bus company found the reassignment solution reasonable, then the vegan (and other protesting) driver scenario is equally reasonable. Perhaps Mr Xian should have been reassigned to driving a WHAAAAAAAAAAmbulance.

29 03 2009

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

23 11 2010

In America it’s political suicide not to be Christian . Far be it from me to scroutinise obamas beliefes , but I dare say his poltical ambitions may have been a contributing factor towards move from agnostisisum to believer. Lest he be branded an atheist and lumped in with rapist and pedophiles in the eyes of the Christian American voter

23 11 2010
Just Me

FOX will be proud of you.

As well as Andrew Jackson, now deceased, still on one of the US currency notes, who OK’d the trail of tears, in recent history.


23 11 2010
Just Me

By the way, in the English language, proper nouns are capitalized


23 11 2010
Just Me

Did you ever watch one of those rally talks by Adolf, or Boner, getting emotional,

I did JM

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