In a couple of days I am going to lay into some religious people, but before I do I want to just let one off at Richard Dawkins.
This is an attack on militant atheism.
It is not an attack on Atheism. Atheism is the sincere belief that there is no God or gods. It is a rational, defensible belief, held many of my friends.
Nor is this an attack on secularism. Secularism is the belief that the Church and state should be separate. Secularism is the philosophy which underpins the university in which I work. Though it is often associated with atheism actually secularism as a philosophy was born of a desire for religious freedom. One of Britain's most celebrated secular educational institutions University College, London is now thought of as the brainchild of 19th century atheists like Jeremy Bentham. However originally the idea for a non-religious college in London came from non-conformist Christians who were barred from the Anglican Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Finally this is not an attack on the Atheist Society of Southampton University.
This is an attack aimed directly at Richgard Dawkins and militant atheism.
The first problem with radical atheism is it's oppressive evangelicalism. Its crusading zeal that wishes to sweep aside all in its path. Richard Dawkins has found his truth. I am pleased for him. Why therefore must he turn on me? It is not enough for militant atheists not to practice a faith, not to believe one? Faith is so disturbing and 'unholy' it must be destroyed.
Sam Harris for example has argued that believers are simply 'deranged'. Not misguided. Not in error but deranged. More disturbingly he believes that some beliefs are so dangerous that perhaps we should actually kill people for holding them. When you argue that, you're not very far from intellectual ethnic cleansing. The answer to 'dangerous' beliefs is not eradication but education. The answer to differences of opinions is not destruction but dialogue. It is hard to dialogue with someone who hates your beliefs and pretty much hates you for holding them.
The second and biggest problem with militant atheism is that it is political. Not that this is, in and of itself, wrong but it is misguided in its politics. You have to ask yourself the question why now? Why is radical militant atheism now so celebrated? Why are so many, until now, unknown scientists (like Harris) suddenly writing books about theology? I'll give you a one word answer: Bush.
This whole thing rests on a mistaken belief that the evangelical fundamentalists are in control of America and are driving policy there. This is partly to do with the media, particularly the British media misunderstanding both the US and it's evangelicals. It's not just US of course I received an e-mail recently arguing that people like me had put Bush and Blair into power. I did vote for Blair but because I'm left wing not right.
Evangelical fundamentalist are a minority in this country AND in the US. The news loves to show us pictures of packed US churches all promising to vote Republican and we think that is typical. This is far from the case. The news constantly blurs the distinction between evangelicalism, which can cover all manner of doctrines including some very liberal ideas and fundamentalism. Although 26% of Americans are evangelicals very few of those are fundamentalists.
Fundamentalist do not have an expansionist political agenda. Although they seek to convert the whole world this is not about setting up some kind of US empire so they are not pushing the war on Iraq for example. Most of them fear a one world empire as the fulfillment of the Great Beast of Revaluation. They are not in favor of a white house that will bring that about. Most of them are firmly isolationist.
If you look at the two things which are right at the top of the Evangelical fundamentalist agenda, making homosexual acts and abortion illegal you will see that apart from some noises actually the White House has done nothing in it's last 7 years. What the Bush administration has done has been to use the Fundamentalist vote as a convenient usable commodity. Not enough to settle an election but enough not to throw away. In return for their votes they have got virtually noting. If you look to a book called ‘Tempting Faith’ by David Kuo you can read about what the Bush administration really thinks of these people.
But radical militant atheism persists in it's view that religion is the driving force behind the Bush administration and thus ALL the worlds current problems.
Oh yes with a little help from Islamic fundamentalists. Oh look more evil religious people! Actually Islamists are mostly political groups pursuing political aims.
So Richard Dawkins and co. We are a minority. We are not powerful. We do not run the world. We did not 'do' the middle east. We are not interested in oil.
We are just quietly believing in God. Shut up. Go away and let us do that in peace.