I wish I had more time to post entries as we receive ongoing press in the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign, but as President of the sponsoring organization, I wanted to share a short report on some of the attention we’ve been getting. So here are a few highlights from one of the busier days this week. It started, appropriately enough, with an odd phone call. I was asked
Are you the atheist?
After some hesitation over how to approach an answer, I simply gave my name and addressed my title with the Freethought Association of Canada. After a first awkward question where he asked how the bus campaign was
meant to make me feel better
he proceeded to inquire about our motives. I stated we wished to introduce our perspective into an ongoing discussion on the role of faith in a secular society and sincerely hoped it would create fruitful dialogue. That he took as an invitation to embark on a one on one debate with me at that very moment. Fair enough, but I was technically at work.
His questions showed a depressingly low lack of understanding of secularism. He couldn’t figure out the difference between having an open public space like the side of a bus on which every group – religious or not – could publish their ads, and having the government actually endorse a single worldview through publicly funded catholic schools or opening prayer at legislative meetings. He kept repeating that
atheists just want to get rid of god everywhere
When he said that atheists should just keep in their place and happily fund public god-invoking ceremonies, I told him, rather passionately, that the entire point of this campaign was to make it clear that atheists are a large percentage of organized individuals and that we are no longer accepting marginalization from public debates concerning the role of religion and secularism in a democratic society. Realizing he had hit a nerve, he promptly pulled out the “atheists are all angry about trivial things” card to which I kindly reminded him that he had called me for a half hour debate on this “trivial matter”.
In short, it quickly became clear he wished to engage in a never-ending diatribe. I had to end this, which I hope I did respectfully by letting him know that I would have to be going and that his next question would have to be the last one.
Fortunately, I ended up ending that call just in time to pick one up from the Toronto Star. It ended up being a rather challenging interview for Saturday’s Ideas section. I was forced to think quickly about such issues as how the different political climates in the UK and Canada vis a vis religious tolerance would effect the dynamics of these atheist bus campaigns, and whether my skepticism and scientific inquiry was another brand of ideology. I hope I said something coherent. While there’s nothing so annoying as reading back your own inelegant words quoted in the paper and knowing that’s not what you said, it’s much worse to realize that that inelegance is precisely what you said.
Later in the day I was able to field a call from a reporter with the National Post (which we’ve been debating already), as well as one from the Corriere Canadese, an Italian language paper I have not yet come across. These interviews were more laid back, although I recall one question regarding my concern that parents would feel threatened by an atheistic message that might undermine their ability to effectively brainwash, sorry indoctrinate, sorry educate, yes educate, their children in their faith tradition. I really have no apologies coming to parents who feel that years of focused efforts to instill their version of reality on their vulnerable children – sometimes including isolation from other points of view and outright lies – will be overturned by the sheer knowledge that atheists exist and such an offensive statement as
There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.
If your faith is that easily shaken it hardly deserves my respect in the first place. Plus, with a stance you might term a “child-centred libertarian,” I believe children are not owned by parents. They should not be forced to undergo anything that so permanently marks them that they are unable to make a free and informed decision or change later in life.