Behind the Scenes

I heard something interesting on the US public radio show ‘Fresh Air’ last week. Peter Stotherd, a former editor of the Times (of London), has written a book called Thirty Days: Tony Blair and the Test of History, about Blair in the days on either side of the beginning of the war in Iraq. It’s all quite interesting, it’s a subject that interests me – for one thing, I was relieved to hear that (contrary to some reports I’d read) Blair has a business-like relationship as opposed to a friendship with George Bush. Absurd, isn’t it. What do I care, what business is it of mine? But there’s something so repulsive in the thought of a grown-up, intelligent man like Blair actually feeling friendship for such a proudly vacuous bully boy as Bush that it makes me queasy.

But that’s not the bit that prompted a Note and Comment. No, I’m still musing on this question of religion and the role it plays in the two countries (the two countries B and W originates from, the UK and the US). It’s well known that the US is far more fundamentalist and god-bothering than the UK – but then again the US does have an official, constitutional, written, explicit separation of church and state, which the UK doesn’t, and there are corners of Ukanian life where religion is allowed when it wouldn’t be in the US – in schools, for example.

Stotherd tells us that Blair badly wanted to say ‘God bless you’ at the end of a major speech on Iraq, but his colleagues wouldn’t let him, indeed were somewhat outraged at the idea. ‘It will sound like a crusade!’ they exclaimed. Yes, thought I, and more than that, it will sound so horribly American. Bad enough that he’s called Bush’s poodle (Stotherd had already discussed that nickname), what would they call him if he started sounding like Jerry Fallwell? For that matter what would I call him? I can’t stand it when presidents say that. And Blair’s colleagues must feel the same way, because Stotherd reports that they said ‘People don’t want that kind of thing forced down their throats.’ Blair was affronted, Stotherd says. ‘You’re a godless lot, aren’t you!’ he exclaimed.

And that’s the bit that irritates me. There we are again, you see. Indignation at people who are ‘godless’ on the part of the godfull. But what business do they have being indignant about it? Any more than they have getting indignant at people for not believing in the tooth fairy or the Great Pumpkin? Why do believers always think they have the right to upbraid the skeptics? Why is not the upbraiding all on the other side? Or at least why is the polite toleration not mutual. Why is non-theism not the default position? Why is the burden of proof not on the believers as opposed to the non-believers? No good reason, that I can see, apart from habit and contagion. Which is why there can be such a thing as too much toleration of religion.

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