Friday, November 20, 2009

BHA Billboards and the Multi-Faith Irony

The BHA reports that it's final ad spend on the "bus campaign" has been a rip-roaring success. The billboards, which were unveiled this week, promote the idea of allowing children to decide for themselves what religion they belong to; of not labelling them a "Christian child", or a "muslim child", or, for that matter, a "Humanist child".

The previous campaign "There's Probably No God..." drew fire from many sides, but the current campaign is much trickier ground. The BBC, whose journalism tends to seek out and occasionally manufacture conflict, found Graham Coyle, of the Christian Schools Trust:

They seem to be saying that they don't want parents to pass on to their children their fundamental beliefs - about what is right and wrong, about respect for other people and living in harmony, ...
If that is what they are saying then they are asking parents to abrogate their responsibilities. And if parents don't pass on these beliefs who is going to fill the vacuum?
To say that we are labelling our children by passing on our fundamental values is mistaken.
This is largely blether, because it falls into the mistake of thinking that morality is based on religion, when clearly religion just formalises the morality that emerges from society. That's why we don't stone to death rape victims and children so much these days.

The thrust of the campaign isn't to attempt to bring up amoral monstrosities, but to bring kids up in a loving environment where they can encounter various religions and, when they are old enough, to write out their own religious label.

What I love about this campaign, though, is that it is much harder to argue against. It exposes, whether intentionally or not, the lie at the heart of interfaith relations. Stephen Green puts out a pamphlet entitled "Winning Muslims for Christ". I'm neither a Muslim or a Christian, but the existence of this title offends me. That said, it is a more honest position for the faithful to take. The notions of interfaith exchange is this "Let's all get along (but inside we know you're wrong)." and that's the button that the BHA campaign is pushing - it is asking the faithful to risk the salvation of their kids for the possible salvation of other people's kids, those idolatry types who are very nice and all, but are sadly mistaken. Few faithful people wish to speak too loudly against a poster campaign that may lead someone to their god.

The path to my own atheism involves in part this dilemma. Dawkins goes on about pantheons that have long-slipped from the religious focus of man, the Thors and the Zeuses. We tend to adopt the religions of our parents first and foremost, so our religious convictions, unless we have the strength to break free from it, are a product of when and where we are born. The salvation of human kind is a postcode and epoch lottery.

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