This is our Thought for the Day, god damn it!

Giles Fraser demonstrates Christian generosity and clear thinking.

Contributors to Thought for the Day mustn’t attack the beliefs of others. It’s a basic BBC rule. This is not a place where Christians can fire pot shots at Hindus or Muslims have a go at Judaism. Which is why it’s just not appropriate for atheists. Not that they haven’t important things to say. The problem is that atheism is defined by what it’s against, that it is not theism.

Even before we get to the substance, that passage is odd for a grownup writer. All those short sentences. When they could perfectly well be made into longer sentences. Surely Fraser is sophisticated enough to do that.

But leaving style aside, consider the content: the assumption 1) that atheism is fundamentally about theism as opposed to being about all kinds of things in the absence of theism and 2) that atheism has nothing to do but attack theist beliefs. That assumption is wrong on both counts, and especially so in the context of a program like ‘Thought for the Day’ which is about anything and everything, from a theistic point of view. There is no obvious reason why an atheist ‘Thought for the Day’ couldn’t be about anything and everything from an atheist point of view. Ronald Aronson’s book Living Without God is like that, for instance; it doesn’t attack theist beliefs, it discusses various issues and questions about life from a nontheist point of view.

As individuals, atheists may have opinions. But on TftD I speak as a representative of a body of opinion that has a definable literature, a major place in world history and billions of adherents.

The stupidity of that first sentence is so obvious (whether it means he’s allowing us to have opinions or is conceding that we may be capable of having them) that I won’t say any more about it. But as for the rest: we too speak as representatives of a body of opinion that has a definable literature and a major place in world history, and if we don’t have billions of ‘adherents’ that will be partly because atheism isn’t about ‘adherence’ any more than it is about submission or veneration or spirituality or transcendence or any other of the pious sludge that theists like to pour over their commonplaces – and partly because theists won’t allow it. So if that sentence is offered as a reason to continue to exclude atheists from ‘Thought for the Day’ it’s a train wreck.

Then he gets downright snotty – but no more cogent.

I wish atheists would get a life and stop following believers wherever they go, demanding to join in. Perhaps they are incapable of leaving us alone. For atheism is parasitic upon religious belief, united only by what it is against. Just as TftD should not include religious fundamentalists denouncing heathens, so it should not include atheists denouncing believers. This is a place for a very different, gentler sort of reflection – and that’s why so many people continue to love it.

Yes and I wish theists would get a life and stop telling everyone to believe that which there is no good reason to believe. We wouldn’t ‘follow them around’ (which I take to mean disagree with them and/or dispute theistic monopolies of public media outlets) if they weren’t always telling us what to do or how to think or both. And to repeat, atheists are perfectly capable of engaging in gentle reflection, and I would even say (since this is not ‘Thought for the Day’ and I am allowed to be ungentle here) that we do it better than theists do.

In any case, Fraser himself points out that it is ‘a basic BBC rule’ that Contributors to Thought for the Day mustn’t attack the beliefs of others, so the rule would take care of any putative atheist propensity to attack the beliefs of others, thus there is no need to exclude them as a category in advance. So…what’s his point? Nothing, apparently, except to be rude and muddled about atheism. Once again theism shoots its own self in its own foot.

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