Adfail, God edition
So, a couple of days ago I was walking to the chemist’s and passed a church with a sign outside featuring a picture of a hippo (not entirely sure why) and the slogan “There’s obviously a God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
This (and several other slogans like it, notably one for the far-right Christian Party which was rejected by the ASA) are all attempts to parody and/or counter the line adopted by the Atheist Bus Campaign*: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The atheist bus campaign got the nod from the ASA precisely because they used the word ‘probably’. While most of its high-profile backers are pretty solid and vocal in their belief in the lack of a god, they were also all perfectly willing to admit that this can’t actually be proved to a standard that will satisfy the Advertising Standards Agency. (I do feel sorry for the ASA – usually the worst they have to handle is dodgy statistics or unsubstantiated claims about yoghurt. And then suddenly they were all over the news with headlines like “ASA to rule on existence of God”.)
This church is only advertising on their own space, rather than public billboards, so doesn’t have to fulfil the ASA’s requirements re: hedging unprovable claims. They also cannily avoid one line of criticism by using ‘obviously’ (which doesn’t actually include a truth claim – it merely asserts that someone agrees something is true) rather than something like ‘definitely’ (which claims a fact).
I have two things to say about this, one cheap, one vaguely thoughtful.
The cheap one is, naturally, that it isn’t obvious to me, and I don’t know how they’d go about getting past that, very basic as it is. When it comes down to subjective spiritual experience, you hit an impasse very quickly: one person takes some event – a beautiful sunset, a lucky coincidence, an amazing escape – as proof that there’s a god, another doesn’t, and there’s really no way to move the debate on from there.
The more nuanced point is that I’m not sure they’ve fully thought through the implications of what they’re asserting. I may be an agnostic atheist** these days, but I’m reasonably solid on how faith is supposed to work. And one of the core tenets of Christianity is that God is not self-evidently extant in the way that the things of this world are. 1 John 4:20, New International Version:
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
Not commenting on the main thrust of this passage – that’s another discussion, and one that Slacktivist is conveniently having here if you want to talk about it – but it’s a concise statement of the Christian principle that you cannot verify God with your own senses in the way you can verify, say, another person.
Thomas demanded that the divine (in this case, Jesus’ resurrection) make itself obvious to him, and got gently but firmly told what was what. John 20:29, NIV:
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Asserting the obviousness of God’s existence is trivialising, if anything. Because really, a god obvious to everyone would be . . . not much of a god at all, really. It’s easy to believe in things that are obvious: it requires no struggle, no self-questioning, no trust, no faith. Way to do your adherents a disservice, Random Church I Walked Past.
Quite apart from the dodgy theology, though, asserting that the existence of god is perfectly obvious to you brings some nasty implications with it. Really? You can look at the state of the world as it is right now and say that yeah, clearly there’s a god? That worries me.
Doing battle with doubt and coming down on the side of faith is one thing, and I respect anyone who’s had that conversation with themselves, whatever conclusion they came to. Finding no cause for doubt in the first place, despite all the shit in the world, is somewhat more disturbing, and again, I have to wonder whether they really thought this through.
Following from which, if one assumes that god does exist and that this is obvious from a cursory examination of the world (as seems to be implied) then you’re looking at a god who’s either evil or incompetent or both, at which point their suggestion that you stop worrying and enjoy life is a bit . . . silly, really.
*I had a fictional band called Atheistbus in my 2008 NaNovel. They were an insufferable indie-punk outfit who made two albums – Gods and Rockers and Sodom and Tomorrow – before splitting acrimoniously. I never got to do anything with the characters, and the novel is never going anywhere outside my hard drive, so the names and album titles are up for grabs if anyone wants them.
**I don’t believe a god/s exists, but I don’t believe its/their nonexistence can be proven, either. I use both words because it’s a more precise statement of my position than either taken separately (especially given the wilfulness with which people misunderstand the world ‘agnostic’). I’ve also heard my approximate position – happiness-focused nonbelief, appreciative of the nice things the universe spits out whilst bearing in mind their randomness – described as ecstatic atheism, which is an excellent phrase.