Article: "Faith" (The Guardian)

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Article: "Faith" (The Guardian)

Also see,666,Faith,Guardian-Unlimited for comments.

What are people’s views on this article? It would be great to get just one negative article on atheism and atheists like Richard Dawkins which was not full of stawmen, misrepresentations and lies.

Here the article with my comments intersected…

by Guardian Unlimited

Britain 's new cultural divide is not between Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Jew. It is between those who have faith and those who do not. Stuart Jeffries reports on the vicious and uncompromising battle between believers and non-believers

The American journalist HL Mencken once wrote: "We must accept the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." In Britain today, such wry tolerance is diminishing. Today, it's the religious on one side, and the secular on the other. Britain is dividing into intolerant camps who revel in expressing contempt for each other's most dearly held beliefs.

"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. Most of them would regard each other as destined to fry in hell.

"You have a triangle with fundamentalist secularists in one corner, fundamentalist faith people in another, and then the intelligent, thinking liberals of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, baptism, methodism, other faiths - and, indeed, thinking atheists - in the other corner. " says Slee. Why does he think the other two groups are so vociferous? "When there was a cold war, we knew who the enemy was. Now it could be anybody. From this feeling of vulnerability comes hysteria."

There is no such thing as ‘fundamentalist atheism’. Being passionate is not being a fundamentalist. By definition being rational means you’re the opposite of fundamentalism.

Faith and atheism (even strong atheism) are not merely separate ends of ‘the spectrum’, rather, there on different spectrums altogether! One is belief held independent of argument, reason and evidence, a dogmatic belief, unthinking etcetera; the other is the rejection of theism and this methodology.

It’s embarrassing this still has to be pointed out to adults… PhD’s no less!!

"We live together but we don't know each other," says Tariq Ramadan, the Muslim scholar and senior research fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford. "And this is something not just true of secularists, but of people of faith. I moved to Britain shortly after the July 7 2005 bombings in London and since then things have changed radically. Everyone treats the perceived 'other' as a threat."

Or so one might be forgiven for thinking if one listens to the most vocal of dogmatic believers and non-believers.

For example, Richard Dawkins, the British scientist and chair for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, whose perhaps timely insistence on the hideousness of the other fellow's wife and fatuousness of his offspring made his book, The God Delusion, sell 180,000 in hardback - a figure that rivals sales of Jordan's memoirs, thus demonstrating what an appetite there is for unapologetically militant atheism. This is the man so voguishly intemperate that when speaking to the Times recently about Nadia Eweida, the British Airways worker whose employer refused to allow her to wear a Christian cross openly to work, said: "I saw a picture of this woman. She had one of the most stupid faces I've ever seen."

Before The God Delusion was published, Dawkins wrote about something called Gerin oil that was poisoning human society. "Gerin oil (or Geriniol, to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug that acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self-damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions that have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of September 11 were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time." Gerin oil, of course, was an anagram of religion. His bestseller charged that God was a "psychotic delinquent", invented by mad, deluded people.

The backlash against Dawkins' abusiveness, as well as his arguments, has started. Oxford theologian Alister McGrath has just published The Dawkins Delusion?. He argues: "We need to treat those who disagree with us with intellectual respect, rather than dismissing them - as Dawkins does - as liars, knaves and charlatans. Many atheists have been disturbed by Dawkins' crude stereotypes and seemingly pathological hostility towards religion. In fact, The God Delusion might turn out to be a monumental own goal - persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant as the worst that religion can offer."

It is worth noting that The God Delusion included an appendix entitled "a partial list of addresses, for individuals needing support in escaping from religion". In this Dawkins offers a similar service to the National Secular Society whose certificate of de-baptism is downloadable from "Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had," urges the site.

Dawkins and the National Secular Society, though, are no match for Christopher Hitchens in their hostility to religion. His new book, God Is Not Great: the Case Against Religion, is to be published by Atlantic Books in May. Its first chapter, drolly entitled Putting it Mildly, concludes: "As I write these words and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything." (Hitchens' italics.)

John Gray, professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, whose book Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia will be published later this year, detects parallels between dogmatic believers and dogmatic unbelievers such as Hitchens and Dawkins. "It is not just in the rigidity of their unbelief that atheists mimic dogmatic believers. It is in their fixation on belief itself."

Someone commenting on this article on the RDF page raised the following very true point:

”This isn't entirely inaccurate. However, 'militant' atheists like Dawkins are fixated on belief because they feel the rational, moral imperative to point out the problems with faith. An equivalent is like saying Martin Luther King was fixated on racism. Being fixated on people being rational, stopping indoctrination, and promoting logic and questioning is not a BAD thing, as this sentence implies.”


Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: "The core of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and (sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western Christianity."

The intolerance for people of faith, though, might not seem to be the preserve of only angry atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. Instead, there is a widespread fear that religion is being treated as a problem to British society, best solved by airbrushing it from the public sphere. British Airways' insistence that employee Nadia Eweida remove her Christian cross, and Jack Straw's plea to Muslim women constituents to remove their veils at his surgery, have helped bring a sense of mutual persecution to many people of different faiths (including yarmulke-wearing Jews and turban-wearing Sikhs) - and a sense of solidarity. Many people of faith share a concern that Britain may be following secularist France, where 2004 reforms meant that "conspicuous religious symbols" could not be worn in public places, such as schools.

One particularly fraught current issue creating inter-faith solidarity is gay adoptions. Many Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims and Jews last month united against the government's sexual orientation regulations that would mean all adoption agencies could not discriminate against gay couples in placing children with adoptive parents.

Catholic leaders warned that their seven adoption agencies could not breach Vatican guidelines against allowing gay couples to adopt. Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, supported the Catholics' stand, as did the Federation of Synagogues. And, of course, the issue of homosexuality is also dividing the Anglican communion. For evangelical groups such as Reform, the C of E is polarising into two churches, one "submitting to God's revelation", the other "shaped primarily by western secular culture". Again, western secular culture - if not of Dawkins' stamp - is seen as the worm in the apple, corrupting not just British society but the church itself. By contrast, for liberals in the church, whose number includes many gay vicars, the evangelicals' hostility to homosexuality seems unChristian, as does their stance on gay adoption.

The gay adoption issue also outraged many non-believers, among them philosopher AC Grayling, author of Life, Sex and Ideas: The Good Life without God. "These groups are trying to be exempt from the effort to be a fair society, and we are faced with the threat of a possible return to the dark ages. We are trying to keep a pluralistic society, and elements in the Christian church and other religions are trying to destroy it."

Why this departure from tolerant, if nicely ironic, Menckenism? Why the increasing division of Britain into shrill camps shouting unedifyingly at each other? One thing is certain: we've been here before. In 1860, one year after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and TH Huxley, the naturalist described as "Darwin's bulldog", went toe-to-toe at Oxford's Natural History Museum. According to a contemporary report in McMillan's magazine, "The bishop turned to his antagonist with smiling insolence. He begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey? Huxley rose to reply ... He [said he] was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor; but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth ... One lady fainted and had to be carried out."

"At that time the church was feeling very threatened and uncomfortable with non-religious society," says Hanne Stinson, executive director of the British Humanist Association. "There is a parallel with today - the church is feeling very threatened." Hence, perhaps, the nature of a dispute at Exeter University where the Christian Union was banned from using student union facilities after the Students' Guild charged that the CU was breaking equal opportunities policy by asking members to sign up to a list of beliefs that were discriminatory against non-Christians and gay people. The CU accused the guild of threatening its right to freedom of expression by imposing the ban: as in the gay adoption issue, anti-discrimination policy was running up against religious conviction. The Exeter ban has been repeated at other universities, prompting the Archbishop of Canterbury to argue that the bans threaten "the integrity of the whole educational process".

But today everyone is feeling threatened. Not just religious groups, but also pressure groups seeking to represent those without faith (who Stinson, citing last December's Ipsos Mori poll, suggests amount to 36% of Britons). Slee argues that low (below 7%) church attendance is a result of Christians being revolted by "the church presenting itself as narrow and non-inclusive".

In any event, the British Humanist Association campaigns against the existence of religious privileges in public life. Its symbolic struggle is BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day slot, which the BHA argues unfairly excludes humanists and other non-faith people. But Radio 4 isn't the chief culprit: "We believe that the church having privileged access to government is not good," says Stinson. "The government has had this whole thing about giving a voice to religion, which was connected to the aim of building links with minority groups. But religions have become more and more dominating . It does connect to the whole multiculturalism debate because the government is funding faith schools in order to bind British minority ethnic groups to British society. But in so doing they are paying for people to be indoctrinated, to put it bluntly."

The role of religion in education raises a terrifying spectre for Grayling. "People who cherish tolerant argument are fighting back against the teaching of creationism in schools." Last November the Guardian revealed that 59 British schools were using teaching materials promoting a creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution, called intelligent design. At the same time Dawkins, nicknamed "Darwin's rottweiler", announced he was setting up a charity that will subsidise books, pamphlets and DVDs attacking the "educational scandal" of theories such as creationism while promoting rational and scientific thought.

Atheists such as Dawkins and Grayling fear that Britain may become more like the US, where creationism has more than a foothold. "In the US, two and half million people are educated at home because their parents don't want them exposed to Darwinian thinking," says Grayling. "Instead, they are often exposed to fundamentalist educational literature such as the A Beka books that maintain the world was created in 6,000 BC and that tyrannosaurus rex was a vegetarian. These developments worry intelligent people when the faith school issue comes up."

Indeed, only last week such intelligent people were worrying when the Tory leader, David Cameron, said he would be sending his daughter to a Church of England primary school instead of one of the many non-faith state schools in his area.

Children's author Philip Pullman argues that atheism should be taught in schools. "What I fear and deplore in the 'faith school' camp is their desire to close argument down and put some things beyond question or debate. It's vital to get clear in young minds what is a faith position and what is not, so that, for instance, they won't be taken in by religious people claiming that science is a faith position no different in kind from Christianity. Science is not a matter of faith, and too many people are being allowed to get away with claiming that it is."

Others argue that faith schools should be abolished and religion have no role in public life. Such is the Dawkins-Hitchens position. Why such hatred for religion and the proselytisation for its removal from the public sphere? One answer comes from Rabbi Julia Neuberger: "I think they're so angry about Muslims being so strident," she says. "And then they become angry about the Church of England wading into the issue of gays and adoption."

Neuberger is to take on Hitchens, Dawkins and Grayling when she speaks at a debate against the motion We'd Be Better Off Without Religion next month. The debate has been moved to a bigger venue. "What I find really distasteful is not just the tone of their rhetoric, but their lack of doubt," she says. "No scientific method says that there is no doubt. If you don't accept there's doubt in all things, you're being intellectually dishonest. "

Who said they [atheists] don’t doubt. Richard has clearly stated that he thinks the biblical God probably doest exist. And he, like most other atheists, would be the first to correct himself given sufficient evidence. And even if an atheist declared certainty now it doesn’t mean they wont or cannot change their mind later. It is in actual fact theists who declare certainty, and unlike atheists and rational minded people, they are unlikely to reverse their certainty when given good reasons and evidence to.

This is a thought taken up by Azzim Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought. "I refer to secular fundamentalism. The problem is that these people believe that they have the absolute truth. That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight. They want to close the door and ignore religion, but this will provoke a violent religiosity. If someone seeks to deny my existence, I will fight to assert it."

Projection in high definition me things!

It’s ironic that his criticism of secular fundamentalism/atheism is more suited to theism.

Tamimi's words also resonate with what the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said last November: "The aggressive secularists pervert and abuse any notion of diversity for the sake of promoting a narrow agenda." They also parallel the chilling remarks of Richard Chartres, 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."

Another reason for secularist rage at people of faith, one might think, is exasperation on the part of militant atheists that religion has not died out as they hoped. "It has taken centuries and centuries to wrestle away from the churches the levers of power," says Grayling.

Tamimi contends that this was not quite what happened. Rather, he suggests that Christians were complicit in their marginalisation from power. "Christians did that to themselves - they allowed religion to move to the private sphere. That would be intolerable for Muslims." Why? "Partly because secularism doesn't mean the same for Muslims from the Middle East. The story of secularism in the Middle East is not one of democracy, as we are always told it was in the west. Instead, it is associated with tyranny - with Ataturk in Turkey, for instance. Islam is compatible with democracy, but not with this secular fundamentalism we are witnessing."

Grayling contends that during the late 20th century, Islam became more militant and assertive and this has changed British society radically. "In Britain we have seen Muslims burn Salman Rushdie's book. And to an extent other religions wanted to get a bit of the action - hence the protests against Jerry Springer: the Opera." When Stewart Lee, one of the writers of Jerry Springer, was interviewed amid protests against the allegedly blasphemous work being screened on TV, he suggested that Islamic culture had been more careful in protecting itself than Christian culture: "In the west, Christianity relinquished the right to be protective of its icons the day Virgin Mary snow globes were put up for sale at the Vatican. But in Islamic culture it is very different. To use a corporate image, Islam has always been a lot more conscientious about protecting its brand." Now other religions are becoming more publicly conscientious.

One example of this growing conscientiousness is a recent paper for the new public theology think-tank Theos, in which Nick Spencer concluded that in the 21st century, liberal humanism would face a challenge from an "old man" - God. "The feeble and slightly embarrassing old man who had been pacing about the house quietly mumbling to himself suddenly wanted to participate in family conversation and, what's more, to be taken seriously." Indeed, in Britain's ethically repellent consumerist society, even some atheists might consider it would be good to hear from the old man again, if only to provide a moral framework beyond shopping.

The refrain of Christians like Spencer is that unless religion is a part of public-policy debates, then society will be impoverished. Last November the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a lecture in which he distinguished between programmatic and procedural secularism. The former meant that in the public domain, everybody had to silence their fundamental convictions and debate in a value-free atmosphere of public neutrality. For Williams, this was a hopeless way of carrying on public discourse in a bewildering society that embraced not only many faiths but many anti-faith positions, and in which real disputes over very different values needed to take place. Better was procedural secularism, which promised that different groups could at least converse with each other in public discussions over sensitive questions of value and policy. This would involve, said Williams, "a crowded and argumentative public square that acknowledges the authority of a legal mediator or broker whose job it is to balance and manage real difference".

It is an idea similar to one set out by Yahya Birt, research fellow at The Islamic Foundation. "One form of secularism suggests that religion should be kept in the private sphere. That's Dawkins' position. Another form, expressed by philosophers suc has Isaiah Berlin and John Gray, is to do with establishing a modus vivendi. It accepts that you come to the public debate with baggage that will inform your arguments. In this, the government tries to find common ground and the best possible consensus, which can only work if we share enough to behave civilly. Of course, there will be real clashes over issues such as gay adoption, but it's not clear to me that that's a problem per se."

What should such a public square be like? It might not be Menckian, but it could be based on respectful understanding of others' most cherished beliefs, argues Spencer: "We should be more willing to treat other value systems as coherent, reasonable and even valuable rather than as primitive or grotesque mutations of liberal humanism to which every sane person adheres." It is, at least, a hope, albeit one, given our current climate, in which it would be foolish to place too much faith.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan