The Times: Now comes in “stupid”

When it comes to missing the point, it is hard to miss it harder or more intensely that in this piece from The Times’ Ruth Gledhill.

Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’s latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery he associates with religious baggage. With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the youngsters with broad grins seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.

Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of the country’s most devout Christian families.

The British Humanist Society have in the past run bus adverts proclaiming “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Sick of adverts informing non-believers they were heading for hell, they decided to strike back in to defend the godless, moral majority.

Following the success of the last campaign they have decided to run a new one on an altogether more serious topic.

The new campaign is at least in part inspired by this passage from Dawkin’s The God Delusion (excerpt from Friendly Atheist) (H/T Joé McKen):

At Christmas-time one year my daily newspaper, the Independent, was looking for a seasonal image and found a heart-warmingly ecumenical one at a school nativity play. The Three Wise Men were played by, as the caption glowingly said, Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharraf (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian), all aged four. Charming? Heart-warming? No, it is not, it is neither; it is grotesque […]


Imagine an identical photograph, with the caption changed as follows: “Shadbreet (a Keynesian), Musharaff (a Monetarist) and Adele (a Marxist), all aged four.” Wouldn’t this be a candidate for irate letters of protest? It certainly should be.

Children are innocent, they are yet to develop the power to choose for themselves, and so it is unfair to arbitrarily label them with the philosophical beliefs of their parents. Nothing controversial here, not least if you’re a Baptist.

This campaign has generated a lot of hot air from morons comparing Dawkins to Stalin and Hitler. But little can compare to the utter lunacy, the true idiocy of the Times today.

The headlines says it all really. In bold type across a page is emblazoned: Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals.

No. They aren’t. They are children. Let me reiterate once again; if these children cannot be Monetarists or Marxists then they cannot be evangelicals.

This is the whole point of the campaign! And for around 700 words Ruth Gledhill misses this point, again and again and again.

She even quotes a demolition of her argument:

The British Humanist Association said that it did not matter whether the children were Christians [LO: they are not Christian]. “That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director[LO: Well, duh!].

Not only that, but her sub-editor thought this piece was cogent enough to be put on page seven. Her editor thought it was worthy of printing at all. It is not worth the fish and chip wrapping it is printed on (in fact, I don’t think I’d want my chips wrapped in a turd sandwich like this).

This argument falls over before it is even put up. It is a nonsense which is deconstruction by twelve words from the Humanist Society and the picture of a cute, philosophically agnostic 8 year old.

Not that Ruth Gledhill knows that. Oh no, she’s just written a terribly clever article for The Times.


10 thoughts on “The Times: Now comes in “stupid”

  1. Completely agree – with one caveat, that children as young as 7 or 8 do have a mind of their own (and children mature at different ages), and could well be evangelicals, just not because their parents are. Regardless, it does not mean they should not star in the advert whether they are Christians themselves or simply the children of Christians.

    FWIW, I asked my (Baptist) church to baptise me when I was around 8, but was refused. (It came from me; my parents were Christians but probably a bit unsure thinking it was quite young, and told me to ask the minister.) The minister had a chat with me, and obviously decided that he couldn’t be 100% sure I was capable of making a meaningful decision that was 100% my own at that age, & told me to come back at a later age. I continued to read, pray and reflect on the issue regularly and asked again at 12, when the minister had a longer chat with me and was convinced that I was ready.

    I actually think it would’ve been ok to baptise me at 8, but I’d much rather ministers erred on the side of caution on this issue as mine did.

    1. I am not sure I can agree with you entirely, there. Although I was probably too forthright to say that children of 7 or 8 cannot be religious of their own volition, I think it is fair to say they are definitely not in the right position to make up their mind as to which sect they belong.

      While I can accept they are probably fairly sure if they feel religious, the idea that they could possibly pick between Evangelical and Roman Catholicism on a sound theological footing is a step too far.

      That is of course assuming their parents have informed them of the whole gamut of religious options open to them; Islam, Buddhism etc.

      I like Rational Ignorance as a term in general, as a way to explain others behaviour and as an excuse for my own; but when it comes to eternal damnation then I don’t feel an 8 year old is in any possibly position to make an informed decision.

      It sounds like your priest thought along the same lines too and I have to agree with him. You may want to think that the fact you went back four years later proved him wrong, but I think you know it did not.

      Its not fair for Ruth Gledhill to label these children evangelical, its clear from the piece she hasn’t spoken to them herself and if they are mature enough to choose their religion I assume they are mature enough to inform the press of that too.

      (I always wonder if I sound too combative on the internet, if I do I apologise, but I must respectfully disagree with your position.)

      1. (Don’t worry about seeming too combative; you’re not, and I can cope with combative anyway.)

        Many Christians see the denomination they’re part of in terms of convenience, rather than a matter of absolute principle – the worship style, the people etc in a particular church are more important to them than the denomination label. (I happen to strongly identify theologically with Baptist principles, and always have done, but I’m probably at one end of the spectrum in this regard rather than somewhere in the middle.) Certainly the vast majority of Christians would see Christians from all denominations as “real” Christians, even across the Catholic/Other divide, which is probably the biggest distinction. Many Christians will attend or even be members of different denominations through their lives.

        All that is a way of suggesting that it doesn’t really matter a great deal whether kids are capable of choosing between different denominations, as that is flexible and may change as life circumstances change anyway. What is important is whether they are capable of making a faith commitment of their own volition – and I believe they are, not least because I did.

        That notwithstanding, I was probably happier with the label “evangelical” as a kid – but that’s not because I don’t think I am an evangelical now, it’s because the term is bandied about by caricature US Christians who I disagree with on many, many issues, and self-identifying in that way encourages people to think I am like them! I think it is possible for kids to self-identify as evangelicals, although granted most 7-8 year-olds wouldn’t, even if they are Christians.

        I also think that if a kid does self-identify as a Christian, no-one can prevent them from doing so. This campaign is about children’s parents not labelling them, not preventing kids from labelling themselves. An identification as a Christian is a matter between the individual and God. My example was a bit different because baptism in a church setting requires the consent and participation of a believing community. As a commitment to God doesn’t in itself require the consent of other people, I don’t think anyone can then turn round to a kid who has made that commitment and say “it doesn’t count; you’re not old enough”.

        I think there is an implicit suggestion in your third paragraph that choosing a religion is a matter of exercising preference, which I’d dispute.

        I think my minister (we don’t have “priests” in Baptist churches as we believe in the “priesthood of all believers”, all believers having access to God and not needing a human mediator; no reason why you should’ve known that but just saying) was wrong in my individual case – after all I know myself and my own thoughts, but he wasn’t wrong because I came back 4 years later. (In fact, you could make the argument that I was always going to come back at some stage if I was serious about it.) Equally he couldn’t see inside of me, and from his perspective I can see why it was the right decision at the time and quite possible one I’d have made in his position too. But I was certainly a Christian at that age, and my position was basically one of obedience to the biblical command that believers should be baptised, although I was less capable of articulating that than I was 4 years later.

        I agree completely that it’s not right for Ruth Gledhill to label the kids evangelical – but I don’t think you can say with total confidence that they are not, either.

        (Oh, and I was capable of exercising freedom of conscience at 8 – but not of putting out a press release ;p)

        1. The point at which a child can be responsible for criminal acts in this country is 14. They can vote at 18 and have sex at 16, there are innumerable ways to divide children into groups and categories but all of them belie the simple truth that none of them are going to be suitable for some, or perhaps all children at any time.

          We are of course coming at this from two quite different view points, one Christian, one rational (for want of a term which sounds less insulting to you), but I think it is obvious on most levels that labelling children, in any way, is unfair and ultimately foolish.

          When you going to get blogging more regularly btw? You’ve bagged a good blog name and I hate to see a good name go to waste.

          1. re blogging, not going to make promises I can’t keep, but I do mean to keep writing. The trouble is the format I’ve chosen is quite limiting; I have to write about issues in a particular style. Perhaps at some point I’ll keep the name but convert it to a more normal-blog where I write substantive stuff as well as satire.

      2. Incidentally, (and on a bit of a tangent), while I welcome this campaign, the labels “girl” and “boy” are foisted on kids at a much earlier age, and consistently reinforced. So I think there are labels that are more damaging and more pervasive through society than the ones this advertising campaign targets.

        1. That is a very good point, but of course a discussion for another day. The same can be said of sexuality too.

          In short, my position:

          They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
          They may not mean to, but they do.
          They fill you with the faults they had
          And add some extra, just for you.

          But they were fucked up in their turn
          By fools in old-style hats and coats,
          Who half the time were soppy-stern
          And half at one another’s throats.

          Man hands on misery to man.
          It deepens like a coastal shelf.
          Get out as early as you can,
          And don’t have any kids yourself


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