Rebecca Barry

Rebecca Barry is a Herald columnist

Rebecca Barry: Stop worrying and enjoy your disbelief

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It's a shame the NZ Atheist Bus Campaign slogans won't appear on Auckland's buses. Some drivers could do with a reminder that a higher power won't necessarily watch the road on their behalf.

On a recent trip from the city to Grey Lynn, the driver spent the majority of the ride shrieking into her walkie-talkie, eyes locked on the rear-view mirror at the bus behind us.

I couldn't help but wonder if a whacking great sign along her wheels reading, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" might have rubbed off.

That second sentence could have done all of us good. The guy next to me practically chewed his thumbnail off he was so distracted for his safety.

Secular sentiment seems appropriate on a bus. You'd hardly associate this steaming mode of transport with godliness.

I don't know anyone who has married on the bus, been baptised or christened as they gripped the greasy handrail and pulled the buzzer.

Perhaps a more appropriate slogan would be, "There's probably no God on this bus but you could check the 725. Now stop worrying and catch the train". (Although, as a friend who recently sat on one for more than an hour waiting for it to leave Newmarket told me, that's run by the devil.)

We'll just have to make do and have this debate somewhere else. It's high time because faith is on the nation's mind this year.

First, the questionable conduct of a certain man at the forefront of Destiny Church. Then the controversy surrounding these bus ads, which NZ Bus have refused to run. We now have a new Anglican Bishop of Auckland.

Simultaneously, atheism is supposedly on the rise. This week the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne had an impressive turnout of 2500 paying punters keen to worship at the altar of rational thought, while defending enlightenment "from deliberate attack from organised ignorance", according to speaker Richard Dawkins, who spoke more sense in New Zealand last week.

An atheist convention does seem a bit pointless, a bit like holding a convention for meat-eaters. I'm bored with hearing non-believers blame religion for everything.

That just gets in the way of a debate about what law-abiding, non-radical individuals believe, regardless of the doctrine they choose to follow.

Why must a religious debate stray into lectures on terrorism or apocalyptic themes when ordinary citizens are more concerned with doing the right thing by their neighbours?

Shouldn't atheists just stop worrying and enjoy their lives?

I'm no atheist, nor have I ever been religious. While schoolmates wrote Anglican or Catholic on their school identity forms, I wrote "None".

At school we did Bible readings and sang hymns and the only thing I remember, other than the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians which we had to learn, was the sound biblical advice, "Take the log out of your own eye", the imagery of which I found amusing.

Even our non-religious maths teacher taught us it was statistically beneficial to believe in God because at least then you have a shot at getting into heaven.

Perhaps I should've paid more attention. Because in later years, realising how little of the world I understood, and with a few bizarre experiences that I cannot explain away as an over-active parietal lobe, I now lie somewhere in that ambiguous area between logic and faith.

In Aotea Square one night I almost choked with laughter when a group of well-meaning Christians offered to instantly heal a friend's broken leg.

But when I prayed really hard for a carpark in the city that night, I got it. I can only put this down to some kind of miraculous force at work because the park was on K Rd.

Seriously, though, if scientists can believe in the possibility of parallel universes without testing the theory, and the experience of faith is so real to so many wise and intelligent people, why is it a scary concept that needs campaigning against at an unholier-than-thou convention?

As long as our minds remain closed to the beliefs of others, barricaded firmly rather than open even just slightly ajar with curiosity, no mutual understanding or change can ever ensue.

Even Dawkins, the world's most famous atheist and whose brilliant and inspiring observations of the evolutionary process I'd come to hear, gave a less than compelling argument against the case for God, calling him an invention to channel our gratefulness for life. Which is silly because I've always prayed to pixies for that.

I wanted to ask him why atheists chose to use the word "probably" in their not-on-the-bus campaign to promote their cause to the world.

And what, other than shrieking bus drivers, they think believers are worried about.

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