Who Needs an Excuse?

Oh honestly. What was that I said about the unending flood? Here is another break in the dam – more nonsense than I’ve seen in one place for a long time. (Well not all that long. There was that Butlerian review the other day, and that item where paganism meets disability rights and gets spectacularly tangled in its own feet. But a long time if you’re waiting for lunch, anyway.) If you can read this without wanting to be violently sick – then there’s something wrong with your cognitive functioning and I want nothing further to do with you.

There are many species of atheism, just as there are many species of religion. But while many religions still thrive, most of the atheisms that have ever existed are now extinct. The non-religious person today is, therefore, rather like a person who wanders into a shop to buy a breakfast cereal and finds only one variety is for sale. Moreover, this variety isn’t very tasty, because the kind of atheism that flourishes today is old and tired.

Oh for Christ’s sake. Start off with a bang why don’t you. That is so stupid. There aren’t many species of atheism, because atheism isn’t like religion, so it’s no good saying ‘just as there are many species of religion’ as if that made it true. Religion is all about multiplying entities, and about making up stuff to believe; atheism isn’t, it’s just about not believing the stuff other people have made up. It’s not a belief, it’s not a religion, it’s not a mirror-image of religion only with minus signs where the pluses should be. It’s just not believing there is a god, that’s all. It’s not old and tired today because there’s nothing to be old and tired. It’s not a system, not an ideology, not a set of postulates or rules or myths; it’s just non-belief in a deity. It’s no more stale and tired than all the other things we don’t believe, because there’s no bread to get stale. My non-belief in the Great Pumpkin isn’t stale, so why should my non-belief in ‘God’ be? No earthly reason. People just think it sounds deep or wise or shrewd to say so. Well it doesn’t.

Today’s prominent atheists – people such as Jonathan Miller and Richard Dawkins – hawk around a belief system that reeks of the 19th century, which is not surprising, for that is when it was born. Dawkins is virulently anti-religious, passionately pro-science and artistically illiterate – thus manifesting all three of the main characteristics of the old atheism in a particularly pure form.

[Taking tight grip on temper and speaking through clenched teeth] It is not a belief system! It’s not even an it; it’s the negation of an it. Therefore it wasn’t born in the 19th century, because it wasn’t born. It’s just not believing in god or gods. Not believing is not believing. How else can one say it? Saying ‘I don’t believe X’ is not a belief system, it’s the opposite of a belief system, because it’s the rejection of one. It’s not incompatible with a belief system, or many, of course, but it itself is not a god damn belief system, it’s the refusal of one! Pay attention, dammit, Dylan Evans.

Furthermore, Dawkins is emphatically not artistically illiterate. Dylan Evans can’t have read Unweaving the Rainbow or he wouldn’t have said that.

My kind of atheism takes issue with the old atheism on all three of its main tenets: it values religion; treats science as simply a means to an end; and finds the meaning of life in art. When I say that I value religion, I don’t mean that I see any truth in the stories about gods, devils, souls and saviours. But I do think there is one respect in which religion is more truthful than science – in its depiction of the long ing for transcendent meaning that lies in man’s heart. No scientific theory has ever done justice to this longing, and in this respect religions paint more faithful pictures of the human mind.

Garbage. Complete, unadulterated garbage. Wrong and uncomprehending in every word. Wrong about atheism, stupid about science, wrong about religion.

Atheists who attack religions for painting a false picture of the world are as unsophisticated and immature as religious believers, who mistake the picture for reality. The only mature attitude to religion is to see it for what it is – a kind of art, which only a child could mistake for reality, and which only a child would reject for being false.

More nonsense. Atheists attack religions for ‘painting a false picture of the world’ because that’s what religions damn well do! Dylan’s hearts and flowers let’s sniff the buttercups version is very sweet and nice but it’s not religion, is it. It’s not the Vatican banning condoms and telling women how to live, it’s not Islam forbidding people to leave Islam, it’s not creationists trying to get religion taught in biology class. Dylan’s version might be a nice idea. If all believers read his article and decided ‘oh, I see, it’s all a metaphor’ and immediately began living accordingly starting right now today, I would be delighted. But guess what, they’re not going to, are they. That being the case, there is still every reason to ‘attack’ or rather criticise religions for painting a false picture of the world, and one doesn’t have to subscribe to a ‘belief system’ to do so; one can just recognize bullshit when one sees it.

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