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Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the buses

Football grounds, football on the telly, football in the papers, football in schools, football discussions in the pub... It's time the balance was redressed. Ultimately I'd like to see regular anti-football programmes on Saturday night TV and stadiums where non-football-fans can congregate and watch nothing happen, but as the opening shot in my campaign for visibility I aim to put 'You Don't Have To Be Interested In Football' ads on as many London buses as possible. I understand it would cost a few thousand quid to do this on a reasonable scale, so any help would be welcome.

Maybe Norm would consider a small donation.

UPDATE: Norm finds my analogy "stretched". I'm unrepentant. The specific provocation here was that Norm conceded that adverts on buses probably wouldn't convert anyone, but thought they were still worth doing just on a "Look, everyone, we exist!" basis (aka "registering an atheist presence in the public domain"). My feeling is that to seek visibility and public validation for an identity defined by a shared lack of belief is pretty much a reductio ad absurdum of identity politics.

Another attempt at making the point by analogy. I have a lot of time for the proposition that our public space is grossly oversexualized. But the last argument I would think of supporting it with is that people who aren't interested in sex are unfairly marginalized. It's precisely because sex is interesting and important that the claims of privacy and modesty deserve attention.

It seems reasonable to expect that people who aren't interested in sex will not in general spend a lot of time advertising the fact, simply because they're busy getting on with whatever does tickle their fancies. If you don't do God, do whatever it is you do do. Be a socialist, be a Zionist, be a cricket-lover, be a country music fan. If that's enough, fine. If it's not, the first thing to be clear about is that unbelief won't fill the hole however much noise you make about it.

The right not to believe is certainly worth making a noise about. But that's a different matter entirely. Actually, atheism is only interesting so long as it is contested. When the battle for the right to be an atheist has been won, all that's left is - literally nothing. The victory is doomed to be a Pyrrhic one. And so, it seems to me, the militant atheist (and I'm not getting at Norm now - he's not really as militant as all that) can't, after all, do without belief. The belief he clings to is that the battle is still raging - even if the battlefield is a public space so comprehensively secularized that even the - until recently - most powerful believer in the land "didn't do God". Every expression of belief must be an affront, an implicit threat to freedom of unbelief - so the struggle continues and the void need not be faced.

Someone very dear to me finds himself unable to believe in God because of Auschwitz. He has no illusions that doing away with God does away with Auschwitz. Not for him atheism as happy pill. Tragic atheism I can readily respect. The kind that splashes itself over the sides of buses is a different animal.

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