All the hornets

Anthony Grayling considers the squawks of the offended believers.

To the annoyance of many, the alarm of some, and the satisfaction of others, the half dozen books recently published that powerfully set out the case against religion and religious beliefs – books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Michel Onfray – have all sold in large numbers…The appearance of these books shows that the immunity of religion to forthright questioning and challenge is over, and with it its claim to automatic respect, privilege, sensitive handling and a place at the high table of politics and public life….The hard truths spoken about it in these books and the public debate surrounding them are as genies freed from the bottle: they cannot be put back.

I do hope he’s right about that – and it does seem like the kind of thing that’s hard to put back. Once it’s out, well, it’s out. It’s hard to unknow it.

A trawl along the shelves of any major bookstore is enough to reveal the vast output of every conceivable specimen of religious view, though admittedly much of it consists of saccharine would-be uplift merely. There they are in their dozens and score and hundreds, where is the outrage, the condemnation, the complaining about this? Non-religious people simply ignore such books…Yet a mere half dozen anti-religious tomes have stirred up all the hornets in their nests, have offended and outraged the devout, and between them have exposed religious claims and beliefs for what they are.

It is quite funny when you think about it. It’s not as if Dawkins and Dennett and Grayling himself have been pitching huge fits in the Guardian for decades at every single religious book that is published. It’s not as if they’ve been screeching that theists are cowardly and pretentious and jowly and ageing all this time. But six measly anti-theist books, and my god you’d think they were advocating child porn spiced up with a spot of priest-murder. In short, there’s a major double standard in operation here. The books packed full of bullshit get a free pass, the ones pointing out that it’s all bullshit are treated to a chorus of screams and imprecations. Uh – it should be the other way around, you know?

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