Row erupts over humanist poster in Belfast


THE war of words between atheists and religious believers has entered a new chapter with the launch of Northern Ireland’s first ever humanist advertising campaign.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) yesterday unveiled a billboard with the slogan:

Please Don’t Label Me. Let Me Grow Up And Choose For Myself.

Located on one Belfast’s busiest routes, the poster is a follow-up to its atheist buses campaign that ran earlier this year in parts of the UK.

The giant poster, at the junction of Great Victoria Street and Bruce Street, shows a photograph of a young girl against the backdrop of “shadowy” descriptions such as Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

Organisers said the descriptions were mixed in with other labels that people would “never apply” to young children like Marxist, anarchist, socialist, libertarian or humanist. They argue that children should be given the freedom to decide for themselves which, if any, ideology they follow.

According to this report, religious leaders across Northern Ireland are furious, and have hit out at the BHA, accusing it of arrogance and hypocrisy.

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church ranted:

It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in their religion.

I would totally reject the advertisement. It is reprehensible and so typical of the hypocrisy of the British Humanist Association today. They have a defeatist attitude and are just trying to draw attention to themselves. I think it is totally arrogant, presumptuous and sparks of total hypocrisy. I believe this doesn’t deserve a counter campaign. I will be expressing my public position on it in my own church on Sunday. I will be saying that this advert is another attack on the Biblical position of the family and will be totally rejecting it.

Phew! And he grumpily added for good measure:

It is a wasted campaign that will have no impact on family life in Northern Ireland.

Father-of-four Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre added this depressing tosh to the pot:

We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth.

The BHA said the billboards were being unveiled to coincide with Universal Children’s Day on Friday.

Atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins, BHA vice president, added:

Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a ‘Marxist child’, an ‘anarchist child’ or a ‘post-modernist child’. Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions and our adverts will help to do that.

Dean of Belfast Dr Houston McElvey said the humanist poster would have little impact on Christian believers.

I am glad to live in a society where people have the right to express their point of view on a God in which I believe doesn’t need defending.

But Fr Gary Donegan, from Holy Cross in north Belfast, said he hoped the campaign would open up debate on religious issues.

One positive thing that could come from this is if it opens a debate on faith. I am not offended by it, but perhaps the money used for it could have been channelled better into a humanitarian cause.

70 responses to “Row erupts over humanist poster in Belfast”

  1. Phil E. Drifter says:

    Everyone is born atheist and most are converted, against their will and long before they understand, into the religion of their parents.

    There is no god. Get over it. You do humanity a supreme injustice by refusing to use your brain which has spent countless millennia evolving to do precisely that.

  2. Faint says:

    Poor James…

    Stealing is wrong, and that moral can be shown to have developed over time. As shown in animals, a being that takes from one for themselves will often be “shunned” or even “cast out” of the group… for animals that require numbers for protection, that can be a death sentence. But why? Why do they shun them? Because any group that rely on numbers is less likely to survive if one (or more) of it’s members are taking from one (or more) for itself. The group as a whole is harmed, and groups that didn’t take steps to protect themselves were less likely to survive. Hence why, over time, such things got codified into laws… to enable the protection of society (the group) from the ones who would harm it, and to enable society to remove the harmful elements without going so far as to cause it’s death. (most times… some societies still allow death as a punishment)

    Is it philosophical? Yes, it is… is anyone trying to ban parents from passing philosophical beliefs on to their children? Not at all. Are philosophical beliefs the same as religious beliefs? No! You conflate the two, and manage to come out with a flawed and useless argument.

    Oh, and what I’ve just put shows that morals can indeed be derived scientifically… especially since Philosophy is a branch of science.

  3. Des says:

    You’re being terribly scientific by citing “animals” as your example of how morals can be developed over time. “Animals” just called me on the phone and said “Faint rather embarrassingly missed the point”. Must be true, by your reasoning.
    Philosophy is not a branch of science, not by a long stretch. Philosophy predates, and is indeed a precursor to science as you know it.
    Many religious beliefs are indeed expressed as philosophical ideas (had you actually read any religious texts this would have been obvious to you). Check out Sufism, Christian Mysticism, Buddhism, Hinduism… Well pretty much every religion, really.

    This ad campaign is ridiculous. Every child is labeled in one way or another (actually, in many ways) as soon as they are conceived. Nobody complains when a child is labeled as “British”, for example. Nobody complains when a male child is labeled a “boy”, either. Both of those labels bear connotations which may or may not be favourable in every instance, and yet still we go ahead and do it. Shocking. How is a child expected to “grow up” without the guidance of its parents, or without being influenced in some way by others around it? Suggesting to a family who may have a long and proud history and tradition which has been passed down over centuries to just let their children grow up is insulting, arrogant and seriously lacking insight. It’s a naive view, to be expected from the soft-headed humanist bourgeoisie.

    Atheists approach the world from a very unusual position. They appear to claim the non-existence of something of which they know nothing other than other people’s descriptions, and use as evidence for their arguments their own poverty of experience. It’s not terribly bright is it?
    Or they say, “God doesn’t exist because organised religion is bad, and holy books seem a bit fanciful when you read their meaning literally”. At the end of the day, religion is the creation of man, and yes, man can certainly be very, very bad. God is something wholly other, and if you can’t understand that, then shut up. Go ahead and ruin organised religion, leave god out of it, because you don’t know anything about it, and clearly are incapable of knowing. You can’t be scientific about something you can’t experiment upon. You can’t have a hypothesis about something you refuse to believe exists. You might as well say “I’m testing my theory that square circles taste like jam” as say “I can prove god doesn’t exist”.

  4. Matthew Zunder says:

    How can he say “It is none of their business how people raise their children”? All religions work on the indoctrination of children, they are the height of persuasion and contradiction. How dare any religious figure claim a purely humanitarian project, motivated ONLY by free choice and equality is arrogant, especially when the Christian church, in the past, has burned people alive for not believing in what they preach – any act of arrogance pales in comparison to this. What’s more is it isn’t arrogant to say you believe what you believe through choice, that is, by my understanding, the antithesis.

    I’m proud of the BHA and I hope to see more of these things happening. It’s about time we took a stance against religion, too long has society said “be respectful” to religions. All religion is a massive lie and frankly it’s laughable how poor their logic is. It’s time to prove them wrong once and for all. Vive la revolucion!

  5. rog says:

    “You can’t have a hypothesis about something you refuse to believe exists. ”

    Oh, I do beg to differ – we could spend all day thinking up things that we refuse to accept as reality, some of us would make great theologians, if only we could keep as straight face whilst selling it to the likes of you.

    For me, Faint was bang on the money about the animal nature of the origins of morals, we are after all just clever apes with opposable thumbs; maybe being unable to accept this is why xians have such difficulties with the real world.

  6. max says:

    “One positive thing that could come from this is if it opens a debate on faith. I am not offended by it, but perhaps the money used for it could have been channelled better into a humanitarian cause.”

    Stopping people from branding childrens’ psyche with metaphysical constructs IS a humanitarian cause.

  7. Des says:

    Yes, well you’ve rather missed the point too. You know nothing about me. My objection to atheists has little to do with the existence of god. I’m more perturbed by the manner in which they begin their arguments from a flawed premise and then have the cheek to suggest religious folk use bad logic. “Clever apes”, indeed. This is simian reasoning, is it?
    It’s also pretty objectionable that their justification for proselytising rubbish like these buses and billboards is “Well the Christians did it first!” How puerile. I don’t want any of your nonsense thrust in my face any more than that of the organised religions.

  8. bill says:


  9. Logical Thinker says:


    We have to start somewhere. How then, would you suggest logical thinking should be promoted? Do you actually believe a “God” jerked off in heaven and spent his load into a virgin mother to make a clone of himself to kill himself to “die for our sins” which he made in the first place? If he is omnipotent and omniscient, then why is there a need for churches and priests? Do you believe in ancient gods, such as the Egyptian gods, Greek gods, and the like? If not, then what makes the present religion significant? It really is the same old crap just refurbished and changed a little here and a little there. I live in a highly religious community and have Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, and so on knocking on my door all of the time early in the morning trying to convert me to their religion. You don’t see atheists doing that. I try to have intelligent conversations about the subject with believers, but the intelligent part stops with me when conversing. When facts about their bible are presented, such as stoning your kids to death, often times I am called a liar. It is in the old testament and most of the “hardcore” believers have no idea it is there. Why is this so? The reason why is because it is bashed into people’s brains from an early age, and most of them never read the bible. They only hear the good parts in church. No one ever quotes the bible verses about stoning, polygamy, or anything of that nature. Instead, you hear stuff like loving god, caring god, and so on. Why then would a loving, caring god instruct Moses to slaughter people? I don’t care what those people did, no one deserves to be slaughtered (oh and women raped, while children are enslaved, can’t forget that great stuff).

    Defending religion is completely and totally ludicrous. Atheist promote thinking and questioning. Is that really such a bad thing?

  10. Des says:

    @Logical Thinker

    It’s utterly untrue that atheists promote thinking and questioning. The word “atheist” means someone who believes that it isn’t possible for a deity to exist. Atheists can’t actually prove in a scientific manner that god doesn’t exist (well, if something doesn’t exist you can’t very well find proof of it, can you?) so instead they say to believers “The onus is on you to prove that god does exist, because you’re the ones making the claim! Ah ha!”
    A bit of logical thinking will, of course, lead one to the conclusion that a believer obviously can’t hope to prove the existence of god to someone who doesn’t believe it’s possible for one to exist. That’s usually the part where the atheist gets all huffy, and the believer becomes self-righteous.

    Tell me, how exactly does this promote thinking and questioning? It’s just absurd.

  11. Wolfy says:

    Oh, this makes me want to cry.
    I LIVE there..

  12. Rob says:

    You’re not the only one Wolfy. I don’t live in Belfast, but I do live in Northern Ireland. Adverts like this were always going to cause outrage here, mainly because the country is still controlled by the religious right. Like someone said previously the DUP and Free Presbyterian labels are interchangeable.

  13. Rob Gordon says:

    I believe we have hit a nerve. I was raised Catholic, so had never thought of it before, but a neighbor who was raised by more open minded parents said he believed forcing children into a particular religion was “child abuse”. Just some food for thought.

  14. Brandon says:

    I find it ironic that they’d cry hypocrisy at a poster asking for objectivity. This poster isn’t even endorsing humanism, since it affords a child responsibility in faith, something most faith leaders would preach about. Apparently Confirmation is just a formality?

  15. David Eddy says:

    Just keep this up please
    We all know the results of the power of religion on all or our various societies from genocide to child abuse. We have to hold them to account.

  16. Ian says:

    this could also apply to circumcision. keep your jesus off my penis.

  17. Rosita says:

    Barry Duke said:

    “It’s becoming more and more common for Muslims to claim that people who convert to Islam are actually REVERTING!”

    Does thie mean we will now hear:

    “I used to be an atheist a Muslim, but now I am a Christian. “

  18. Rosita says:

    Des said:
    “It’s utterly untrue that atheists promote thinking and questioning. The word “atheist” means someone who believes that it isn’t possible for a deity to exist.”

    No, Des. That’s not the definition of an atheist. An atheist is someone who does not believe in the existence of gods, usually because they lack convincing evidence for one.

    Most atheists state that they believe it is extremely unlikely that gods exist but that they would change their minds if evidence was forthcoming.

    The few atheists (so-called strong atheists) who state that there is categorically no god usually do so on bhe grounds that the attributes asserted about gods (or at least the local god) are logically incompatable in the same way that black cannot also be wight.

    The Christian god is dismissed in this way by the Epicuras argument from evil: since evil exists in the world then if a god exists it cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Ergo the Christian god either does not exist or the characteristics ascribed to him cannot be correct in which case why bother to worship it. Of course, this still leaves open the possibility that a god exists that does not care about humans.

    On the other hand, most right wing religionists believe that it is impossible for a god not to exist. They are the ones who state that they would not stop believing in their version of god if they found evidence to disprove it. That makes them the bigots, not non-believers who are willing to change their mind based on the evidence.

  19. Rosita says:

    Those complaining about the ads have missed the point – naturally.

    The point is not that parents should not teach their children about their prefered religious beliefs. The point is that they should not label their children as adherents of their beliefs until they have had a chance to hear about and investigate other belief systems.

    That, of course, is what scares the pants off them. They are terrified that their children will abandon their pet beliefs if they are exposed to other belief systems or, worse, to scientific knowledge. They know, but cannot admit, that their beliefs are extremely fragile and will not stand up under objective investigation.

    Religous Believers are the polar opposite of those who have real knowledge. Those with real knowledge go out of their way to stress and test their beliefs over and over again. If they break they amend them or throw them out. They are not terrified of how they will cope with their lives if their pet beleifs are proved wrong.

    This is basically about the right to prevent one’s children from being exposed to other people’s differing ideas. That’s indoctrinated mis-education at its terrifying worst.

  20. Jordan Hardy says:

    I really can’t imagine how this can actually be a charged issue. Are these religious people seriously against letting their children choose for themselves? How secure can you be in your beliefs when your actions suggest you think that no adult would choose them given the choice?