Tuesday, January 23, 2007


What about us persecuted atheists and humanists?

It might just be me, but has anyone noticed the distinct whiff of anti-secularism that's been wafting around lately? All the usual suspects have been at it, of course, the run-up to Xmas providing Archbishop Sentamu with the perfect opportunity to blame the prevailing secularism of the chattering classes for the spiritual decay in Britain, while north of the border Cardinal Keith O’Brien continues to work himself up into a veritable frenzy over what he sees as the increasing secularisation of politics in Scotland.

What he doesn’t seem to realise is that many of us Scots are proud of our Enlightened history, even if we do celebrate with the bizarrely superstitious practice of rubbing David Hume's toe. And there are many of us for whom the sight of the esteemed cardinal getting himself into a fankle is so gratifying that we would do almost anything to ensure that his distress is prolonged. It does make me wonder whether one who's been elevated to such a lofty position might occasionally stop to consider whether one's hysterical rants are actually having the opposite effect to that which is intended, but maybe that's just me.

There's nothing so surprising in all that though. It'd be kinda weird if the head of the clergy didn't have something to say about what they regard as creeping secularisation, after all. It's the amount of column inches that individuals from the supposedly sane, less extreme end of the religious spectrum have been devoting to trying to trash atheism that have got me a mite pissed off. People like Theo Hobson and Dave Hill, clearly irked by the commonsensical pronouncements of AC Grayling and Polly Toynbee, not to mention the runaway success of Richard Dawkins God Delusion, have been having a right go.

The thing is, they haven't really been able to find all that much wrong with what Grayling et al have had to say, and given that they all cloak themselves in reasonableness and leave the hysterical offence-taking to the extremists, they've had to scrabble around to find some mud to sling that they hope might stick.

And what’s the best they can come up with? That the brand of atheism that Polly and her chums subscribe to is 'a faith position' and that it is as fundamentalist as any other. Oh, and that we atheists would like to see religion banned altogether.

How pathetic. I may be missing something, but I'm reasonably well up on this and I don't remember any of the stars of the atheist firmament saying anything about banning religion. If pushed, I imagine they would stand up for religious freedom as much as for any other kind, as would I. What does exercise them, and me, is the idea that in the 21st century we should still be having to fight for freedom from religion, and to have our worldviews recognised as just as valid as religious ones.

It does seem incredible, in particular, that there is no statutory requirement for teaching about humanism and other non-theistic worldviews in the RE curriculum, in light of the fact that the government look set to make teaching about creationism compulsory. So if we seem to have taken up the fight against what we perceive as the creeping 'religionisation' of our society with something resembling missionary zeal, is it any wonder? I'm sure you fluffy christians out there wouldn't stay fluffy for long if your worldview was left off the curriculum in favour of lessons in the wisdom of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Judging by the amount of bleating and whining that we've heard lately, you guys are pretty familiar with what it's like to feel persecuted, and before you snort with derision about me daring to call myself persecuted, why don't you come and talk to my nine-year-old daughter about it. Ask her how she feels about being told by her classmates that she must worship the devil and that she doesn't know right from wrong just because she had the guts to say out loud that she doesn't believe in god.

As AC Grayling points out in this excellent piece, religious people like nothing more than a bit of persecution. There's nothing like it for getting their juices flowing. The funny thing about persecution is that it gets other people's juices flowing too.

And what’s the best they can come up with? That the brand of atheism that Polly and her chums subscribe to is 'a faith position' and that it is as fundamentalist as any other. Oh, and that we atheists would like to see religion banned altogether.

Eh? I didn't say anything of the sort.
I apologise Steven, I got you jumbled up with the rest. I've taken your name out of the piece. I did want to say, however, that I was slightly bemused by what you had to say about the gay-haters outside the Lords. Of course a mob of athiest gay-haters wouldn't have been any better, but surely the point is that they were not, and if they were, they would be unlikely to use their atheism as justification for their actions.
Thanks for the link to the Grayling piece - a nice summary, well argued.
I am absolutely appalled and shocked after reading your blog, especially after returning from parent's evening for my twin P1s and complaining about religion being sneaked into the curriculum. What enrages me the most is the fact that they are creeping the sick and backwards idea of creationism during RE and teaching it as fact to children too young to be sceptical about it (until you go and complain to the head teacher and then she apologises and promises to speak to the teacher- a bit too late for the 5 year old who has two conflicting stories to sort out: the one from the teacher- an important authority figure- and the one from mum. The most ironic thing about this is: I grew up in a catholic country with guilt and god shoved down my throat on a daily basis. Yet NOBODY there would give a second's consideration to the idea that the world and all that's in it was created in 6 days. Even a priest once told me: "yeah, well, that's just a story in the bible written by people before we knew what we know now. So, what is happening to this country? Why is the education system regressing so fast towards middle-age darkness? Should we expect our children to be taught next that the earth is flat and stands at the centre of the universe?
Just worked out who you are, Anna. Welcome aboard! If you're having trouble with your school get in touch with June Maxwell at the Humanist Society of Scotland, www.humanism-scotland.org.uk. She's very good on this sort of thing and has a lot more clout than the humanists down here, thanks to the more secular nature of the Scottish Parliament.
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