March 6, 2007

I can never quite work out whether the Grauniad is trolling for advertising clicks, a bit like those people who publish those “Linux sux, Microsoft rulez” articles in the hope of being picked up by Slashdot. The Dawkins blog linked to this piece on religion and secularism recently. One particularly choice quote:

“We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism,” says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark. “Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England.”

I mean, what? Writing a book or being rude about religion is apparently in some way equivalent to blowing up commuters. One of the Drink-soaked Trots has already delivered an excellent rebuttal (don’t miss the discussion of what HL Mencken really said about religion). Dawkins also addresses the question of whether he deserves to be called a fundamentalist in The God Delusion. Unsurprisingly, he concludes that he doesn’t, but his reasoning is that a fundamentalist is not merely someone who’s a passionate advocate of a particular idea, but rather, someone who clings to that idea come what may. I’m not a fundamentalist, says Dawkins, because I’m very clear about what would change my mind (fossil rabbits in the precambrian, presumably). A fundamentalist is someone who will not change their mind and cannot change the subject.

But wait, there’s more, this time from Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London:

“If you exile religious communities to the margins, then they will start to speak the words of fire among consenting adults, and the threat to public order and the public arena, I think, will grow and grow.”

Stuart Jeffries’s article says that the goal of secularists is the exclusion of religion and religious people from the public sphere. That’s not the feeling I get from reading the latest slew of books cheering for atheism. Rather, I think secularists are tired of seeing the statements of the religious taken with more weight simply because they are religious. Or, as Bishop Chartres (and Azzim Tamimi, also quoted) remind us, because of what the religious might do if they don’t get their way.

Another way of spotting the true fundamentalists is that they really don’t like humour, as one particular privilege that fundamentalist religion likes to claim for itself is the right never to be offended. If any of you happen to be alumni of Clare College, and, having had a nice phone call from a current student, you are donating to the college via a standing order or similar, I urge you to cancel the order, and tell them why.

Edited: added the link to the rebuttal.