Thursday, February 05, 2009

...And Let the Religious Censorship Cold War Begin!

Atheist bus ads banned in Halifax

As more and more cities in Canada continue to emulate the now-famed British atheist bus ad campaign, at least one Canadian city has put the brakes on it.

Humanist Canada has been blocked from putting ads on the side of Halifax buses.

In an admirable break from the tactic of simply copying the British campaign, the Halifax campaign was to carry a message that read, "You can be good without God".

"We're a public transit system first, and then we sell advertising," explained Halifax Metro Transit spokesperson Lori Patterson. "So, if anytime we feel there's a message that could be controversial and upsetting to people, we don't necessarily sell the ads."

Charles McVety, who described the ads as "attack ads" must be pleased.

But Halifax's intervention in this affair should have some consequences that McVety shouldn't be altogether pleased with.

As Paul Knoechel quips in the University of Alberta Gateway, these atheist groups have triggered responses from well-funded Church groups that have begun with Church ads, but may in time move up to bus ads of their own, and maybe even billboards.

Naturally, one would have to expect atheist groups to counter this with billboards of their own, and maybe even radio ads, to which the religious groups could counter radio and television ads.

As the attempts to trump one another in advertising escalate what eventually emerges is a sort of theist/atheist Cold War.

But with Halifax stepping in and refusing the atheist ads, this Cold War will likely inevitably move into the censorship realm as well. It will only be a matter of time until some Halifax-area atheist busybody will make use of the precedent this sets to insist that religious ads should likewise be banned.

After all, it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine that religious advertising is controversial to atheists.

A poll released over this past summer indicates that up to 25% of Canadians don't believe in any god, Judeo-Christian or otherwise.

If the rationale of the Halifax decision is really not to use public resources to offend people, it should be worth the while to avoid offending 25% of the population.

Not to mention the fact that the message of these ads -- that religion isn't necessary for morality -- shouldn't be considered all that offensive to anyone.

While the argument that religion's provision of an objective sense of morality is philosophically persuasive, the real world applications of this idea are highly dubious. After all, many atheists behave in a manner that is no more or less moral -- by nearly any standard -- than anyone else.

If anything, the idea that religion is necessary for morality could rightly be considered offensive.

One can only wonder if Halifax Metro Transit would have given that message the red light.


  1. If the metro wishes to avoid an advertising war on it`s buses then they should ban all such advertising. Both sides can take things to a ridiculous level and I can see why metro would not wish to be stuck in the middle of such a stupid argument. What I REALLY don`t like is the idea that both sides feel that they desperately need to convince everyone that their way is the only way to live! I would like to fucking decide for myself and not be condemned for whatever I decide to do. In religious circles I`m hellbound and in secular circles to be religious means only that I am just a fucking idiot with no credibility whatsoever. I take a big shit on the fanatics on both sides! Btw, my parents and most of my family on both sides are very, VERY religious and some push it and some don`t but all understand that the choice of what to believe is an individual choice. I resent the condescending attitudes of BOTH sides and frankly wish they would all just STFU.

  2. I think most people would agree with you on that one.

  3. This is nothing new. It's the same thing that happens anywhere-the religious debate in Northern Ireland, the eternal Jews vs. Arabs conflict in the Middle East, even here in Canada when you've got polarized debates over the Quebec question or Aboriginal rights, with the likes of Tom Flanagan on one side and Shawn Brant on the other, or the radical sovereignists who hold protest marches on Canada Day on one side and the francophobes who trampled a Quebec flag in Brockville on the other.

    Richard Dawkins and his followers point to the reaction of the religious to the bus ads and decry the banners as censorship. The likes of Pat Robertson and the rest of the evangelical Christian right point to the missionary efforts of the radical atheists, who become as determined to win converts to their cause as any Christian, as proof that they need to stand up and fight for their faith.

    It's the same bullshit over and over and over. The radicals on both sides depend on each other to survive, each pointing to the other as a means of justifying their crusades, and condemn anyone who dares to disagree with them.

    It's no accident that Yitzak Rabin, for example, was murdered by one of his own people.

    You have Quebec sovereignists condemning federalists as traitors and sellouts, and Aboriginal radicals doing the same to Native leaders who try and bridge the gap between their people and mainstream society. On the other hand, as Leon Dion wrote, those who question the status quo are viciously condemned in one way or another. Aboriginals run the risk of being called "apples"-red on the outside, white on the inside.

    It exists almost everywhere-if you question the value of things like free trade as it currently exists or are leery of Canada getting too closely tied to the U.S., you're dismissed as an anti-American crank. On the other side of the fence, anti-free trade activists and Canadian nationalists, for all that I might agree with a lot of what they have to say, often take a bitter, adversarial tone that criticizes opponents as traitors and sell-outs and otherwise risks putting off many people who might otherwise listen to them.

    There might not be any actual violence, as in the case of the religious cold war, but the same feelings of anger and frustration remain, and that often end up simmering long after the initial conflict blows over.

    If you've gotten this far and are wondering what this all has to do with the religious cold war, these are all just examples of the same damn thing-radicals too obsessed with winning the fight to try and find a compromise and balance, whose militancy only perpetuates the cycle and doesn't get us anywhere.

    I need a fucking drink.


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