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Faith Meets Life: Bus ads raise big questions

Michael Veenema | Interrobang | Opinion | February 9th, 2009

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“There probably is no God. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Recently this message has appeared on the sides on buses in London, England. Transit buses in Toronto may soon carry the ads. Closer to where I live, the public transportation people in Halifax are refusing to carry them.

The message of the ad has caused a lot of controversy. Some of those opposing it question whether there is an issue here of truth in advertising. They argue that since it is not really possible to prove that there is no God, the ad violates truth in advertising standards.

To me, that argument seems difficult to take seriously since the message does not claim that God does not exist. It only assumes that as a likelihood. Besides, most ads are not designed to prove things as much as they are designed to persuade us to change our behaviour.

But what proofs could there be for the existence of God? Any introduction to Philosophy course will probably put you in touch with the five classical “proofs” for God's existence. You don't actually have to sign up for a course; they are on Wikipedia under “Thomism” (after the Catholic philosopher, Thomas Aquinas).

The five can make you think, but not everyone will find them convincing. For many people, proofs for God's existence are less about arguments; they are more about clues.

There is the clue of the wonder of the universe — it's astounding complexity and it's yielding of life. (Some conjecture that there are multiple universes, which makes things even more complex and suggestive of God.) There is the clue of the desire for meaning to give substance to the joys and desires that continue to haunt the human race. There is the world of spirituality and self-sacrificing love which suggests to many a God who is, at the core, love, mutuality and self-giving. There is the powerful desire for justice in a world where many live without it. Without God and without healing and grace beyond death, such desires seem to be a cruel joke the universe plays.

For many people, these are clues that there is indeed a God. But perhaps the “proof” needed goes beyond arguments and clues. Maybe it's more about lives lived and whether we observe believers whose lives draw out trust in God from us.

That has been part of my own journey. I was inspired to follow Jesus more deeply when I met a Christian chaplain at McMaster University while I was student there. His willingness to stand alongside students who were in trouble moved me. And his connecting with faculty and students as a Christian believer made a big impression on me.

These are some of my thoughts this week as I see the reports about the bus advertisements. In the meantime, the United Church of Canada has offered a clever response of its own:

“There probably is a God. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your life.” If the original ad makes people think in the direction that there is no God, that comeback can get us thinking the other way.
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