Friday, 20 November 2009

Stars of latest atheist ad are from Christian family

Ruth Gledhill of The Times (London) reports that the children featured in the British Humanist Association's latest atheist bus ad campaign belong to a well-known Pentecostal Christian family.

The youngsters appear next to the slogan "Please don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself." The message is not strictly atheist, but the campaign grew out of the controversial "There's probably no God" ads placed on London buses by the society earlier this year. The society is most definitely atheist, and the thought behind the ad is certainly that "religion is bad for kids."

So what was going on when the children of Bradley Mason, the drummer for Noel Richards, one of Britain's most popular Christian pop artists, ended up on this more-or-less atheist banner? The most likely explanation is that the photos were bought from an agency, and Mason had no say in how they were used.

But if the children participated with the consent of the family, I would suggest it is not quite so incongruous as it first appears.

Of all Christians, fundamentalists (which I would say includes most Pentecostals and conservative evangelicals) are actually the most likely to agree that it is wrong to identify a child as a member of a religion. Most positively scorn the notion that a person can be born a Christian. The evangelical argument begins with the hackneyed statement that "being born in a garage doesn't make you a car." One must be born again. For Pentecostals, who are traditionally Arminian, being born again is essentially all about personal decision.

Roman Catholics and middle-of-the-road Anglicans are those I'd most expect to object to the text of BHA's ad. The bare bones of the message - that children should not be called Christians until they decide for themselves - is something most Pentecostals readily accept. It's not likely that Mason knowingly put his children on the ads - but nor is it inconceivable.


  1. Well, my fundy parents would never have given me the lable christian, but at the same time, I was brainwashed so much from an early age that it really wasn't as though I had much other choice when, just aged four I was asked to "give my life to Jesus", and had a total submersion baptism.

    I found that advert... interesting. Because I'm not sure exactly what it's advocating. I agree with not "labelling" children, but at the same time, I do feel like some atheists *cough*richarddawkins*cough* would like us all to bring up our children free of religion until they are old enough to choose, and then drop a few books like "my [name of faith] faith" on them and say "there you go, you could always be one of these".

    And I say this as an atheist too.

    I don't think it's necessarily a terrible thing to bring up your child in a faith, as long as that child is free to leave at any time without being pressured back into it, or without love being withdrawn.

    I'm hyper conscious that although I don't really have a faith, it's my personal choice to lead my life without a deity/deities in it, and not my child's choice. It may never be his choice, but it may be, too. I'm still working through how best to do this.

    I find it interesting the children in the adverts where from Christian families. I'd really like to know what they think of the pictures being used in this way.

  2. The Times had a report that I hadn't read when I wrote this. The photos came from an agency, but the parents seemed relaxed with them being used for the BHA campaign. The leader of their denomination, Gerald Coates (very important figure in charismatic circles, at least historically), shrugged it off and thought it was "hilarious."