The Kids in the “Don’t Label Me” Ads Are Not Evangelicals November 21, 2009

The Kids in the “Don’t Label Me” Ads Are Not Evangelicals

These bus ads from the British Humanist Association have been getting a lot of media attention this week:

The point of the campaign is to point out how absurd it is to thrust a label — any label — onto a child who doesn’t even understand what that label means. It would be foolish to call any kid a “Republican child” or a “Catholic child” or an “Agnostic child.”

That idea hits home any more when you read this ridiculous column by Ruth Gledhill in the Times Online.

She quotes Brad Mason, a Christian pastor, whose kids happen to be the ones featured in the ads:

He said: “It is quite funny, because obviously they were searching for images of children that looked happy and free. They happened to choose children who are Christian. It is ironic. The humanists obviously did not know the background of these children.


It is ironic, indeed.

Wait. There’s more:

Gerald Coates, the leader of the Pioneer network of churches, which Mr Mason and his family used to attend before they moved to Dorset, said: “I think it is hilarious that the happy and liberated children on the atheist poster are in fact Christian.

Clearly, they couldn’t get past the kids’ images to read the words written on the ads.

These are not Christian children.

They are the children of Christian parents.

Get. It. Right. And stop labeling them.

On a side note, what’s with the headline for this article?

Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals

These are not Dawkins’ ads. He may support them, but this is not his campaign. And they’re certainly not pro-atheism.

Who the hell is writing this stuff?!

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  • littlejohn

    Aren’t all young children, by default, atheists? In the case of babies, one might even say new atheists.

  • Valdyr

    My first, uncharitable thought was “I doubt a debate with a child evangelical would be markedly less stimulating than one with an adult evangelical.”

  • JQA

    Perhaps future versions of this ad should feature generic hand-drawn images of kids. It will at least prevent the delusionals from thinking they know what religion/label the kids are ‘supposed’ to be. Yes, I know it doesn’t matter. But if it helps prevent the message from getting ‘lost in translation’, I say its a good idea.

  • Carlie

    Besides the fact that the whole thing is ridiculous (and wouldn’t it make even more sense if the kids were from an evangelical family, since that’s the point?), what’s the normal course in getting images? It seems weird to me that the kids’ father wouldn’t have known what the images were being used for, unless he just sold them to a modeling agency who could then use them at will (um, the pictures, not the children).

  • Matto the Hun

    It’s shit like this that makes me wonder why the hell we even bother. Clearly there are far, far too many people who a far, far too stupid to even speak to.

    I know that isn’t really the case (I hope), this just makes me feel that way.


  • Heidi

    wouldn’t it make even more sense if the kids were from an evangelical family, since that’s the point?

    Exactly what I was just thinking. “Please don’t label me… a Christian Child.” And then they do.

  • I’ve told my daughters what I am, an atheist. I’ve never told them what they are. That’s for them to decide.

  • Oh, that’s tame stuff. I’m the one who (selectively) got stuck with a Telegraph article by Ed West who spent paragraphs equating the message of not labeling children as atheist fascism, authoritarianism and whatever. Crazy bugger.

    Best part was when his argument boiled down to, “So, you don’t want kids to be labeled as religious? Then, find something else we can label them as”. Talk about missing the point by a hundred miles.

  • swoosh

    fascism, authoritarianism and whatever.

    I think they’re looking in a mirror.

  • wouldn’t it make even more sense if the kids were from an evangelical family, since that’s the point?

    Exactly what I was just thinking. “Please don’t label me… a Christian Child.” And then they do.

    Same thing I was thinking. These children “are” christian because someone is telling them that there was a man named jesus who was the son of god, etc, etc. They would have never come up with that on their own.

    Picking on the detail of who these child models are in real life is SO silly. It’s so amazingly funny how the religious side grasps at smaller and smaller straws as the voice of secularism and reason grows.

  • Neon Genesis

    I looked up Ruth Gledhill on Wikipedia and she’s the daughter of an Anglican vicar:

  • SeekingDuck

    Aren’t all young children, by default, atheists? In the case of babies, one might even say new atheists.

    Eh, that’s strictly accurate by the definition, but it’s misleading and in the context of this campaign probably not helpful. Young children don’t believe in anything much — they don’t believe in gods, but they also don’t believe in other countries, or evolution, or gravity, which makes the atheist label (yeah, ‘label’) pretty meaningless. Just let it be enough that they aren’t old enough to decide for themselves yet, and don’t worry about scoring points with who is / isn’t an “atheist” on a technicality…

  • Sandra S

    Aren’t all young children, by default, atheists? In the case of babies, one might even say new atheists.

    Wrong! As Sheikh Anwar so kindly points out for us:

    Father-of-four Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre added: “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.”

    Also, I think this column by Ruth Gledhill makes the very definition of missing the point, not to mention irony.

  • Sackbut

    Oh, for goodness sake. What did they think, that atheists would post pictures of “atheist children” with the caption “Please don’t call us ‘atheist children'”? If they were choosing models based on labels, of course the picture would depict children labeled as Christian; children of a pastor are a perfect choice for making that kind of statement.

    Trying to figure out the misinterpretation a little:

    It’s apparent from the article that they think the ads are saying, perhaps, something like, “Please don’t bring me up in a religion, so I can be happy and free.” They see the phrase “let me grow up and choose for myself” as meaning “don’t teach me your religion, don’t bring me up in your religion, let me defer all that to adulthood, where I’ll make my own decision without your influence.” I have to admit, there is some of that sentiment in TGD and elsewhere, so I don’t think the misinterpretation is terribly far off the mark.

    People wear their religion like an ethnicity. There are “Polish children” and “Italian children” and “Irish children”; so, similarly, in their view, there are “Catholic children” and “Jewish children” and “atheist children”. The child doesn’t get to choose not to be Italian. Try telling an Italian family they can bring up their kids with all the Italian traditions and rituals and language and holidays and history and family structures, but they should not claim the kids are “Italian children”, the kids should be unlabeled until they choose to adopt a label as adults. It doesn’t make any sense.

    Really, the primary mental construct they need to learn is that religion is not an ethnicity, it is a choice. Unfortunately, this simplistic ad is addressing a symptom of the problematic construct, not the construct itself.

  • Stephen P

    Aren’t all young children, by default, atheists?

    Contrary to what some people insist, there is no generally agreed meaning of the word “atheist”. There are at least the following common usages, moving from sensu lato to sensu stricto:

    1) Someone who doesn’t believe in any gods, for whatever reason.
    2) Someone who is old enough to be able to believe in gods, but doesn’t, for any reason.
    3) Someone who has consciously considered the claims of religion and who rejects them.

    Then there are some who seem to favour the following definition:

    4) Someone who follows a completely rational lifestyle, eschewing all forms of religion, woo, etc

    But I’m not convinced that’s a very useful usage. Rather sensu strictissimo – even if most people here would fit in.

    And finally there’s this one, which seems to be used almost exclusively by people who are not atheists and have never met any:

    94) Someone who has a religious conviction that no gods exist.

    So under definition 1 (only), yes, you are correct.

    (Should anyone be puzzled by the numbering, look up “Private Eye”).

  • I reject all of the above for what [A]theism is.

    Atheism can be split into three parts. A – the- ism.

    A = Without.

    -the- = god
    -ism = … er… Let’s go for some exemplae gratae. Vegetarianism? Judaism? … Wiktionary sez: a principle, belief, or movement. That works for me.

  • I might call babies agnostic, but I wouldn’t call them atheist. They don’t believe in a god, but they don’t not believe in a god, either. So maybe agnostic by default? If we need to label them as anything, that is.

  • Valdyr

    They don’t believe in a god, but they don’t not believe in a god, either.

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be working from the assumption that ‘agnostic’ means “I don’t know whether there are any deities or not” and ‘atheist’ means “I declare that there are no deities”. If you answer ‘no’ to the question: “Do you believe in any deities?”, you are, by definition, an atheist. You are also presumably an agnostic, because to say that there are definitely no deities, unicorns, goblins etc. is a philosophically unwise stance to take.

    So, to summarize my ramblings, all agnostics are also atheists and the vast majority of atheists are also agnostics, and I’m not sure why exactly there is so much confusion.

  • JimboB

    I think comedian Ron White said it best when he said, “You can’t fix stupid.” But that’s a little mean… maybe the Christians just need a little time to process the ad. Maybe.

    As far as newborn babies go, if you really wish to label them, I would think that they would best be considered ignostic. The word/concept of God is non-existent until impressed upon them. As children mature, they should be free to make their own informed decisions

  • Eskomo

    So, to summarize my ramblings, all agnostics are also atheists and the vast majority of atheists are also agnostics, and I’m not sure why exactly there is so much confusion.

    No, some people can be agnostic and still believe in god. How about that Pascal’s Wager so many people profess?

  • Miykael Poly

    I think the best reaction to this labelling, would be to use more children in the ad. So we got the christians covered, why not use images of children by jewish, hindu or even muslim parents?

  • One response I’m sure some Christians will make is “I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was six!” I have friends who have said similar things. When I tell people I was a Christian for around 20 years, I don’t include the time before I actually made a real choice which was at 18 or 19.

  • Sure, everyone is born without religion, but are those kids really not known to the people who started that ad campaign?

    They make a point: If we show a photo of a child, we’d better make sure we know WHO that child is, and that they agree with the message in the ad.

    Clip art is great if you’re making an ad for something that isn’t controvertial. We have to be careful about things like that. We’re on the side of honesty.

  • stogoe


    You seem to be unaware of the most common definition of ‘agnostic’ – there’s all these mountains of evidence against the existence of any deities and zero evidence for their existence, but even so I arbitrarily declare the odds of deities existing to be 50/50 because Jesus gives me warm fuzzies.

    In short, ‘popular-usage-agnostics’ refuse to take a stand one way or another, rather than ‘atheist agnostics’ who recognize that while you can’t prove a negative, the odds are so miniscule that it’s pointless to even pretend there’s a real chance.

  • I would describe babies and toddlers as “default atheists,” if one has to have a term for them.

    My question would be how/when children transition from default atheists to regular atheists. In my own case, I’ve never believed in any gods, so I consider that I’ve been an atheist all my life. However, I’m unclear at what point the switch took place. Was it when I was 7 or 8 and first heard about the concept of gods? When I was 11 and began to realize that people actually took such things seriously? Or when I was a young teenager and began to pay more attention to religious and philosophical topics?

  • As SeekingDuck pointed out above, wouldn’t calling children “atheist by default” be the same as calling them “evolution-deniers-by-default”?

    You can say it, but it’s really taking away the practical meaning of it.

  • I don’t think it takes away from the meaning of the word. By its very definition, atheism is the absence of theistic belief. Babies do not have those kinds of beliefs, in addition to being ignorant of their very existence. Until such time as the beliefs are implanted in their brains by well-meaning religious parents, I don’t see how they could possibly be called anything other than default atheists.

    Of course, they are atheists in the exact same way that Golden Retrievers are atheists. The difference between a baby and a Golden Retriever is that the baby is eventually going to have the mental capacity to comprehend the idea of deities. More likely than not, the baby will grow up in a culture permeated by theistic belief. I would suspect that most children in American society are only default atheists until they are two or three years old.

    And, yes, babies also do not believe in evolution. However, they don’t deny evolution; they simply don’t have knowledge of it. It’s not a concept that is in their brains. If atheism meant overt rejection of gods or the god-concept, then I would agree that it would be improper to call babies default atheists. But I take a broader view of the term. I think one actually has to have the god-idea inserted into one’s brain before one can properly be called a theist. Before that time, “default atheist” seems (to me) to be a useful and correct term.

  • This is merely more atheist propaganda as Richard Dawkins wonders whether there is occasion for “society stepping in” and hopes that such efforts “might lead children to choose no religion at all.” Dawkins also supports the atheist summer camp “Camp Quest.” Furthermore, with this campaign they are attempting to piggy back on the United Nations.

    Phillip Pullman states the following about his “fictional” books for children, “I don’t think I’m writing fantasy. I think I’m writing realism. My books are psychologically real.” But what does he really write about? As he has admitted, “My books are about killing God” and “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”

    More evidence here:

    Yet again, atheists are collecting “amazing sums” during a time of worldwide recession not in order to help anyone in real material need but in order to attempt to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be—while actually loudly, proudly and expensively demonstrating their ignorance and arrogance—need any more be said?

  • Heidi

    Dude, WTF does Phillip Pullman have to do with this post? Seriously? I really liked his books, btw. Although the Golden Compass movie could have been better. And no, they’re not “about” killing any gods. The god dies, but nobody kills him, and it’s hardly the main plot point. I’ve actually read them, and can give an informed opinion. Have you?

    In other unrelated news, how’s that mountain of gold in Vatican City doing? Helping any poor people? Does your pastor drive a Mercedes or a BMW? Does your church pay the taxes that fund their local police and fire departments? Was Jerry Falwell hurting for money? Did Jim Bakker go to jail? Oh.

  • Kelly

    This is all very strange. Why would this group drag children into politics this way? How sad! I also want to say that common sense should tell us that if a family is Christian they will be immersed in their beliefs. Ex. Listening to Christian music, watching Christian programs, reading the bible. You know, the bible tells us to teach our children line by line, precept by precept, here a little, there a little. I wouldn’t be a Christian myself if I didn’t do that. Also, the bible tells us that we must be born again because the first time we are born we are not born into Christ but into this sinful world. You can call it atheism or what ever word you want and it doesn’t matter.
    My children had incredible insight into the bible and choose to be Christian at very early ages. Yes it was because I taught them. I have a personal relationship with Jesus and no one can take that away from me. I’ve had hundreds of experiences with answered prayers and have felt His presence. Now to tell me not to pass that to my children would be to tell you not to warn your children that the house was on fire and let them decide weather or not they felt the heat and let them try to get out on their own. Why are schools allowed to instill their atheistic beliefs on our children but Christians aren’t allowed to instill theirs on their own children? There is an agenda here.

  • Kelly

    BTW, if you are going to let your children decide for themselves with out any parental guidance what they are going to be as adults, then thank yourselves if and when they choose to be a druggie or a murderer. Perhaps your sweet little princess will choose to be a prostitute and suffer from STDs most of their lives. At least you didn’t interfere right? Complete craziness!!

  • Heidi

    Holy Thread Necromancy, Batman!

    I have a personal relationship with Jesus and no one can take that away from me.

    So, like he comes over for coffee? Babysits the kids when you get stuck working late? Drops you off at the airport so you don’t have to leave your car there? That kind of thing? That’s a “personal” relationship. Or do you mean you think in his direction and assume that he exists, and can read your thoughts? Because that’s more like an Easter Bunny relationship.

    Btw as long as I’m here…. looks like Troll Guy hasn’t read those Pullman books after all. Vatican is still solid gold. Earth still orbiting local star.

  • Kelly

    Heidi, actually he does a lot more than those things. He provides us food when we can’t afford to buy groceries, he helps us find beautiful houses at 1/2 the going rent,(3 separate occasions) he provided the school tuition for my daughters boarding school when we where at the brink of pulling her out because we couldn’t afford it anymore. Everytime we are in need of financial help He has provided it. No one else knew we were in need. There was the time that 2 vicious dogs came after me and my daughter and after I prayed they turned and ran home. I could go on and on. These things didn’t happen because there is something special about me, He takes care of His own. You could have the same thing. My husband was athiest before we met and one night he decided to try praying just to see what would happen. He prayed to know the truth and to find a wife. 2 weeks later we met. 7 months later we got married. You should sincerely give praying a try. Test God by asking for a sign between the 2 of you and see what happens. It is so exciting to have your prayers answered that you can’t help but want your kids to have the same protection and help that you have. I could write a book about all the answers to prayer that my children and I have had but instead of reading my stories, you should start your own journey. I’d love to hear your miracle stories.

  • Heidi

    Ok, I’m going to try and be very clear, and very informative in this reply. And I hope it helps. But before I start, I need to give you a disclaimer. You’re not going to convert me. If that is your aim, you’re wasting both of our time. Seriously. Also, this is going to be pretty blunt. If you still want to hear what I have to say, then by all means read on.

    You should be aware that just about everyone here is perfectly familiar with Christianity. You haven’t stumbled upon a tribe of South American “savages” in need of missionaries. Many of us have, at one point or another in our lives, actually been Christians.

    I am not a Christian for two separate reasons. First, I see absolutely no empirical evidence that anything in Christian dogma is accurate. None of it. And I find the likelihood of a married virgin giving birth to be at least as absurd as the likelihood of a goddess springing forth from Zeus’s forehead. Minerva, I think that was. Your god doesn’t even pass his own test for being a god. You know, the one Elijah used to test Ba’al? Ba’al didn’t answer prayers on command to prove his existence, but your god supposedly did. So… why isn’t he still doing it? This is why I don’t believe. Now if anyone ever comes up with some empirical, repeatable evidence, I’m quite willing to listen. And I’m quite willing to revise my opinion, if any Christian mythology is proven true.

    However (big however), I still will not worship your god(s), because of the second reason I am not a Christian. You see, I pass my own, personal judgment on things, and frankly, your god doesn’t meet my standard of morality. Because if your religion is assumed to be true, then you’re actually asking me to WORSHIP a being who killed all of first born children in Egypt to punish their parents. What?! You don’t think that’s horrific? I could come up with many, many more examples of your god not meeting my standard of morality, but there you go. Re-read the Old Testament as if it wasn’t your religion. Maybe you’ll understand my position. Jepthah’s daughter? Elisha and the 42 children who were eaten by bears??!! This is all ok with you?

    Now, if you’re still with me, I want to address your “miracles.” My parents were Seventh Day Adventists. I prayed as a child. And when I prayed for things, the outcome was no different than when I didn’t pray for things. Sometimes things happened the way I wanted. Sometimes they didn’t. No miracles.

    But now you’re telling me that your god answers your prayers. This is the same god who sat by and did nothing when those kids in Columbine high school said they believed in him were subsequently shot to death? The same god who apparently doesn’t have a problem with earthquakes in Haiti and tsunamis in Japan or hurricanes and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico? You’re saying the very same god who doesn’t do anything about hunger, AIDS, war and the like just felt like going apartment shopping with you so you could pay low rent? And he made sure your kid could go to private school? Do you have any idea how ARROGANT that sounds?? Because damn. I bet he helps you look for your car keys, too, right? And he helps your team win the Superbowl? And you don’t see the absurdity in this line of thought?

    Anyway, that is my speech of the week. If you have any actual questions, then I’ll be perfectly willing to answer them. But don’t expect me to respond to any more of your chain letter for Jesus stuff, ok? I don’t like your mythology, and I still wouldn’t be interested in joining the club if it was All Really True.

    tl;dr vesion: No thank you. I’m all set.

  • Kelly

    I’m sorry for your hard feelings and for any grief I caused you. There is nothing more I can say to you about that. I won’t try to convince you of anything because I know that being raised in an Adventist home you would have been well grounded and made an informed decision to believe what you do.
    I am also SDA but not because it was put upon me but because I studied and and experienced God for myself. I guided my children as all parents need to weather I agree with their beliefs or not. All children become adults and can obviously make their own choices as you did. But like I said before If you know the house is on fire would you leave your children to decide for themselves weather or not they wanted to get out? When you love someone you can’t help but push them to what you feel is safety. What if I’m wrong? Then I’m wrong, whose to know. If I’m right which I believe I am obviously, my children will be safe.
    Again, I am sorry if I caused you pain or hard feelings.

  • Heidi

    Oh, it’s not that I have hard feelings. I just… the claims religion makes are disturbing to me. And I get frustrated when people continually seem to think I just need their religion explained their way, in order to sign up for it. When, no, that’s not the case. So yeah, I’m sorry if got carried away there, but I often have trouble getting what I mean across on this topic while being extremely polite.

    Just one thing, though. Your last question assumes that if there is a god, it’s your god. But what if we’re both wrong? What if we all die and end up in front of Ba’al? I’m not a member of a group that did anything to his followers. And it seems about as likely to me that we’ll end up facing Ba’al’s judgment as any other god’s.

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