Saturday, November 21, 2009

Way to entirely miss the point

Billboards and bus ads for atheist and humanism organizations have been around for a while now, both throughout the U.S., and in other countries.  The latest ads by the British Humanist Association touch on a subject that Richard Dawkins talks about in his book, The God Delusion:  that labelling children with their parents' religious beliefs is wrong.**





The message is that calling a child a "Christian child" or "Muslim child", for example, is incorrect.  Children don't have the ability to understand what this label means.  Just as we would never call a child a Democrat or Republican, socialist or capitalist, deontologist or utilitarian, we should not give children religious labels.


I think the message is fairly clear.  It says nothing about atheist children, because that would be equally ridiculous.  Unfortunately, not everyone seems to get the point, including Ruth Gledhill, who wrote an article about the ads on Times Online.  Let's start with the headline:

Children who front Richard Dawkins' atheist ads are evangelicals.

Really?  WTF?

First, the obvious.  THEY ARE NOT FUCKING EVANGELICALS!  It's as if she can't read.  Second, these aren't Dawkins' ads, he is not affiliated with the British Humanist Association.  Nor are they pro-atheist ads, its equally silly to label children as atheists as it is to give them a religious label.

At least she correctly identified them as children. 

The kids in the ad are children of Brad Mason, a Christian pastor.  He says:

“It is quite funny, because obviously they were searching for images of children that looked happy and free. They happened to choose children who are Christian. It is ironic. The humanists obviously did not know the background of these children.”

They happen to choose children who are Christian children of Christian parents, because the majority of people in the UK are Christians.  But again, it doesn't matter, because the kids are not Christians.  Their parents are Christians, and in all likelihood, they will end up being Christians due to that influence, but they don't yet have the capability to make those decisions themselves.

In fact, the BHA said as much, later in the article:

The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians. “That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director. “People who criticise us for saying that children raised in religious families won’t be happy, or that no child should have any contact with religion, should take the time to read the adverts.
“The message is that the labelling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies — and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster — should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”


If I haven't mentioned it before, I enjoy a well-designed figure: a simple, graphical representation of some complex data.  I'm a big fan of Edward Tufte's books. Jen over at Blag Hag gets a nod from me for representing the complexities of this article in a great graphic:



Well done.




**Dawkins argues that this is actually a form of child abuse.  You may disagree with this particular argument, but its not that important for the ad.  It's enough to realize that labelling a child is incorrect, because they don't have the capability of understanding and really accepting freely the label.

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