I find few things more boring than hearing atheists endlessly whingeing about religion but one of them is journalists whingeing about atheists. Madeleine Bunting in today’s Guardian is a case in point. And Bunting doesn’t just whinge, she has constructed from her fevered imagination a whole scenario in which the “country’s finest minds” are trying hard to have interesting and meaningful discussions about religions but are being “drowned out” by the “foghorn volume” of the so-called New Atheists.
This might be believable if it weren’t for the fact that in her short column, MB quotes no fewer than six (debatably) fine minds who seem to be having the kind of (arguably) worthwhile discussions about religion that Bunting claims are being drowned out. What’s more, they are having them publicly. In fact, Bunting herself points us in the direction of A N Wilson’s piece in the New Statesman — a piece Bunting describes as ‘thoughtful’ but which can pretty much be summed up thus:
I’m afraid of death so I’ve decided to start believing in God again. I’ve always thought religious people were more perceptive anyway.
I have argued elsewhere against the blanket condemnation of all religion and in favour of a more nuanced approach. I think the kind of questions about religion that Bunting mentions — “what it is, the loss of it, whether it matters, and what happens in a post-religious society” — are interesting and important. Where I part company with Bunting (and many others who bash atheists in order to attract readers) is over the suggestion that Richard Dawkins and the rest of them should just shut up and let others speak. Dawkins isn’t stopping anyone from speaking: not A N Wilson, not John Gray, not Karen Armstrong and certainly not the religious believers. In spite of the “collapse of British Christianity” that Bunting talks about, we still have an established church and bishops in the House of Lords. We still have compulsory religious education and collective worship in our schools, while schools that divide children on the basis of their parents’ religion are increasing, thanks to a government that evidently learned nothing from the experience of Northern Ireland.
I won’t go on about just how much power religion still has in the UK, let alone the rest of the world, and how much hurt it causes and harm it does because I’ll start boring myself. What I’ll do instead is ask why Richard Dawkins and the other “New Atheists” get so much media attention. Why do the likes of Madeleine Bunting use them as a hook to get people reading articles about stuff that has nothing to do with them?
Could it be because vast numbers of people who have been hurt, frustrated or infuriated by religious nonsense finally feel that someone is speaking for them?