Sunday, September 09, 2007

Daydream believers

Daydream believers

As the numbers of artificial belief systems boom and clamour for recognition, are they close to collapsing beneath the weight of their own foolishness?

September 7, 2007 11:30 AM | Printable version

It seems a barely fathomable distance down the list of things for which George W Bush should be apologising, but it's better than nothing. This week, the president phoned the widow of an American soldier to say sorry, after she was uninvited to a meeting held by the president with families of the fallen in her home state of Nevada.

Roberta Stewart, widow of Sergeant Patrick Stewart, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005, believed she was deliberately left off the guest list

because of the campaign she'd waged to have her husband's grave at the local veterans' cemetery emblazoned with the pentacle emblem of Wicca, the religion to which the Stewarts subscribed.

The White House said the Ms Stewart's omission was an error, not a deliberate snub, and Ms Stewart appears to have accepted her president's apology. It is the second significant victory she has won for her beliefs: in September 2006, a year after the death of Ms Stewart's husband, the state of Nevada finally agreed to adorn his grave with a plaque bearing the five-pointed Wiccan emblem. That breakthrough was followed, on Independence day this year, by a Wiccan consecration of a hitherto non-denominated grave at Arlington national cemetery in Virginia. This concluded a two-year standoff, during which the department of veterans' affairs had refused to admit the pentacle as the symbol of a legitimate religion - which, given that they were already acknowledging 38 others, seems a little fussy of them.

There will be those, especially among my fellow unbelievers, who will regard all of the above, like all genuflections before faith, as inexcusable pandering to the deluded and professionally indignant, another milestone on our progress to heck in a handcart, the continuing descent into coma of the sleep of reason, and so forth.
They will wearily recall such similar nonsense's as the closure of a play after Sikh protests, the cartoons censored to placate Muslims, the continuing willingness of anyone at all to take seriously the pronouncements of various Christian panjandrums. Verily, they will mutter, even the Royal Navy, back in 2004, permitted a serviceman called Chris Cranmer to conduct Satanic rituals aboard HMS Cumberland (reported in the Sun under the superb headline It's the Devil Warship).
At times like these, it's possible to start viewing the entire planet as a vast teeming conspiracy to drive the last sane people crazy.

The reality is that faith-based activists are among the most useful allies that secularism has, unwitting fifth columnists whose commitment to unreason is an inadvertent boon to logic.

The more, and more eccentric, artificial belief systems clamour for equal time and attention - to which, let there be no mistake, they are equally entitled, one being no more or less risible than the next - the less purchase on popular attention any one of them will have.
It behoves atheists to do everything possible to encourage the adherents of all beliefs - animists, Jedi knights, moon-worshippers, the South Pacific islanders who think the Duke of Edinburgh is a god - to demand recognition, rights and respect.
A critical mass must surely be reached at which even the most obdurate god-botherer can see that the whole lark is about to collapse beneath the weight of its own foolishness.

It needs to be said that, in and of itself, Ms Stewart's crusade to honour her husband's memory as he would have preferred is wholly admirable. It needs to be said many times more that Sergeant Stewart's service in the fight against the most malignant strain of divinely-inspired lunacy presently at large, which earned him a posthumous bronze star and purple heart, should also earn him our eternal gratitude.

But it cannot be said - or demonstrated - often enough that any concession to religious belief is as precisely as sensible as accommodating the sensibilities of the Flat Earth Society by banning the manufacture of globes.

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