Mr Heather told BBC Radio Solent: "I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror. I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven't got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did. I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God."
When he returned to work on Monday he was called into a meeting with managers and agreed to go back to work with the promise he would only have to drive the buses if there were no others available.
First Bus said in a statement: "As a company we understand Mr Heather's views regarding the atheist bus advert and we are doing what we can to accommodate his request not to drive the buses concerned."
Oh, yes, saying that may be no gods is just so stark. Atheists in Britain should have tried not to beat people over the head with such a stark and insensitive message. They should have, you know, tried to be more cautious and humble in what they said. You never know when children or people with delicate sensibilities will be reading and it just wouldn't be right to unnecessarily insult them with egregiously strong messages.
What if a vegetarian didn't want to drive a bus with advertisements for meat? What if a person who abstains from alcohol didn't want to drive a bus with advertisements for whisky? What if a person waiting for marriage before having sex didn't want to drive a bus with advertisements for condoms? Somehow, I doubt that their "concerns" would be accommodated.
But what if a Muslim didn't want to drive a bus advertising something Jewish? What is a Jew didn't want to drive a bus advertising something Muslim? Those concerns might be accommodated because they are religious concerns -- I don't see nearly as much interest in accommodating secular interests but employers and government fall all over themselves accommodating religious objections to standard job duties.
And what if an atheist objected to driving a bus with Christian advertisements on it? Oh, you can forget about that. Atheists have no right to object to what Christians are doing.
Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "I have difficulty understanding why people with particular religious beliefs find the expression of a different sort of beliefs to be offensive.
I don't find it so difficult to understand, though I frankly find it ridiculous: some people are so accustomed to their religious beliefs being privileged that any public expressions of dissent, disagreement, and criticism is treated as a serious offense. Christians advertise their ideas publicly all the time and all over the place, but they can do this because Christianity is traditionally privileged. As soon as atheists do anything analogous, though, that's wrong -- because, apparently, public promotion of one's ideas is something for Christians rather than atheists.
'I do understand that the advert is not breaking any laws and that the campaign by this group is set to end at the end of February. However if it goes on any longer then I will have to think again and I will seriously consider giving up my job - I feel that strongly about it.' ...
He added: 'If this had been a slogan which had been as derogatory about another religion then I'm sure people would be up in arms. There would be no way buses be able to drive around with an anti-Muslim message like that on the side mentioning Allah. There would be uproar.'
Source: Daily Mail
Wait, suggesting that there might not be any gods is derogatory? Talk about an inflated sense of personal and religious privilege -- how does such a person ever deal with any sort of disagreement in their lives? Has Ron Heather ever had to deal directly with disagreement? Does he feel insulted any time anyone suggests that he might possibly be mistaken in some small way?
And isn't it interesting that Heather imagines that the atheist advertisement is aimed directly at his religion rather than theism (or at least monotheism) generally? I find this to be another sign of an inflated sense of privilege: people who disagree with your beliefs are regarded as disagreeing with you in particular and even personally, not simply disagreeing with your type of position generally. Thus atheists are regarded as directly and specifically attacking Christianity in particular rather than religion or theism generally.
This is probably at least part of why an atheist ad was banned on busses in Genoa:
The ads reading "The bad news is that God doesn't exist. The good news is that you don't need him" were to have been put on buses in the northern city of Genoa, home to the Catholic cardinal who is head of the Italian Bishops Conference.
The mock-up was ready and the contract was sent to the group for signing but the publicity agency changed its mind and said the ad could not run it because it violated an ethics in advertising code, according to Giorgio Villella of The Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (UAAR).
According to Villella, "Right-wing politicians criticized us ferociously ..It's strange that in a country where ads depicting near-naked women wearing skimpy lingerie is permitted on buses that we can't run ads about atheism." Perhaps following the example of Ron Heather, one Genoa bus driver threatened to refuse to drive any bus with the phrase "No God" on it.
Simon Barrow comments on the kerfuffle:
The reality is that we now live in a mixed-belief society, and Christians and others are going to need to get used to this. Being offended that other people think differently to you achieves nothing. We need to learn to talk and listen to one another better.
Uh, we are now living in a mixed-belief society? Now? How long has Simon Barrow been cryogenically frozen for? American and Britain have been mixed-belief societies for quite some time by this point. People who are only waking up to that fact now are well behind the times. Barrow is right, though, that Christians need to get used to the presence of non-Christians who are willing to be very public, direct, and vocal about their ideas -- even if it means disagreeing with Christians.
Christians who can't stand to see or who are offended at the sight of statements disagreeing with them have a real problem which they need to work through.
"The larger issue in all this is the way that beliefs, religious and otherwise, are increasingly being 'commodified' in a consumer culture - sold like products. But what convinces people of the value of a way of life or belief is its fruit in good lives, not an endless endless cycle of propaganda and anti-propaganda.
"Given the suffering, conflict and injustice in the world, one would hope that people of faith and people of general good will would want to find common purpose through investing in humanitarian causes rather spending vast amounts of money sloganeering."
Well, Simon Barrow has a point about the importance of spending money on humanitarian causes, but he's way off base suggesting that the atheist advertisement is an inappropriate use or waste of money. It's easy for people who belong to a majority class to look askance at minorities who spend time, money, and effort to simply publicize the fact that they exist, to explain what they think, and to work to get others to recognize that there is nothing wrong with them.
Members of privileged groups may not see the importance of this because they take it for granted that they won't be viewed as strange, immoral, or a threat to society. Members of privileged groups take it for granted that just about everyone already knows what their beliefs are and therefore don't need so much "propaganda" just create a bit of familiarity. For members of minority groups, though, it's not "propaganda" or "commodification" to get others to recognize that minorities exist, aren't any less moral and don't deserve to be treated with any less dignity.
It's easy for people like Simon Barrow to dispute the need for advertising and publicity because his belief system doesn't need it -- or shouldn't, though Christians do it all the time anyway. Maybe he should focus his "concern" on Christians who surely don't need publicity instead of on atheists for whom publicity and advertising are still critical.
Simon Barrow almost gets it, kind of, but he doesn't quite get there because he insists on wallowing in his own privilege and socially superior position. In contrast, Stephen Tomkins really does seem to get it:
Considering the number of religious groups who advertise on public transport, if all drivers took Heather's stance, the result would be pretty chaotic. No Christians, Muslims or other believers could drive an atheist bus. And if a bus had a poster with a verse form the Bible about Jesus dying for our sins, no atheist or Muslim could drive it. If it advertised the Qu'ran - you get the picture.
And what would happen with a bus that had an ad for the Qu'ran on the inside and for Jesus on the back? It could only be driven by someone who believes all religions lead to God.
In fact, "There's probably no God" is more a statement of agnosticism than atheism, so a really principled hardline atheist ought to refuse to drive the so-called atheist bus too.
That's the practical bit and it implicitly reveals some consciousness of Christian privilege because it points out the absurdity of what would happen if everyone behaved like the Christians involved here. Far better, though, is the next bit where Stephen Tomkins explicitly reveals his awareness of Christian Privilege -- an awareness which escaped Simon Barrow and which seems to escape so many other Christians:
In fact, speaking as one myself, I think it shows quite a cheek for Christians to make a fuss about this. We've spent decades covering public places with verses from the Bible, and posters promising that if you let Jesus into your life everything will be all right for ever.
Then as soon as the opposition get the money together to do the same thing we're outraged, and think that God is as cross as we are.
Christians have spent years and years and years doing things which no other religious group -- and certainly not atheists -- have been doing. Now, though, atheists are trying to do just a little of the same and suddenly they are nasty, horrible, intolerant people for it. Atheists aren't trying to do anything remarkable or strange, and the sentiments they are trying to express are far less blunt than the sorts of ideas expressed by Christians on a regular basis.
But many Christians will brook no serious competition when it comes to the public square. These same Christians may whine incessantly about how they are being "shut out" of the public square by laws and regulations which require that all groups be treated equally, but the truth is that they are using the tactics of bullies to keep others out as much as possible. They want to dominate the public square like they have been accustomed to doing for centuries and atheists are making that more difficult.