As someone who has been infuriated by the resurgence of the politics of religion this century, it’s a relief to have seen a backlash against it in popular culture this year, spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, and it’s refreshing to see column after column about atheism in the mainstream press as this year closes.
The horrendous Jeremy Clarkson inadvertently makes some good points about religion, in the midst of blathering nonsense about global warming. He does get awfully confused about the difference between believing in a God and being a member of an organised religion, but believing we have an innate moral compass and “we don’t need it reset every Sunday morning by some weird-beard communist in a dress” is quite priceless. Richard Harries actually agrees. At this time of year his willingness to engage in a secular argument about religion is impressively forward thinking, although his argument is flawed with some typically meaningless theistic language. Ultimately though his point “the crisis of moral values is such that we should simply recognise and rejoice in the good wherever it is to be found, while continuing to converse about whether it has its place in a larger scheme of things,” has much to be said for it. Anyone who truly is an atheist should have no difficulty in embracing this point. It’s a great seasonal message for any moral person.
Brendan O’Neill on the other hand seems wilfully to misunderstand how atheism is currently being politically used. Dawkins to my mind is reacting fundamentally to the rise of Christian fundamentalism in American political life. The battle against evolution, the rise of Intelligent Design and Creationism, narratives which are inexplicably entering British life slowly but surely, need the strongest counterargument in order to be dismissed adequately. Dawkins’ apparent fundamentalism remember is almost a lone voice shouting reason against the dismissal of reason. It’s true that his arguments don’t always add up – I don’t believe they mean to. Dawkins is forcing us to engage in a discourse supporting reason and to join all the dots in order for us all to fight for the principles of Enlightenment. Militant atheism of course, as came up in an earlier post, is hardly a threat to society in any form anyway. Clarkson points out that more people shopped online over Christmas than went to Church (in the UK), suggesting most people in this country realise this. O’Neill’s suggestion that “for new atheists religion exists precisely because man is despicable, little more than a monkey,” simply doesn’t add up.