Monday, December 24, 2007

Something to believe in

Adam Rutherford

When the faith v atheism argument is an 'issue' in Ambridge, you know the debate has, quite literally, reached Middle England

reposted from:
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes
Adam Rutherford

December 19, 2007 11:45 AM

On The Archers, poor Shula is rather worried because Alistair's curmudgeonly dad, Jim, is trying to indoctrinate his grandson Daniel into the atheistic dark arts. She anxiously consults Alan, Ambridge's kindly liberal vicar, who thinks it's all rather amusing, and nothing to fret about.

Retune the dial to Radio 2 and Richard Dawkins and Russell Brand discuss the nature of god, extraterrestrial life and spirituality. Brand's own haphazard beliefs comprise a mishmash of 12-step evangelising with a pinch of floaty eastern mysticism thrown in. No-nonsense Dawkins is unfazed by his vagueness and they get on famously. Brand offers to give the professor a hug. Afterwards, Brand's lackey unfairly compares Dawkins to Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss.

University Challenge, Monday night on BBC2. Jeremy Paxman asks Sheffield bonus questions to which the answers were: Sam Harris, AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. They get two out of three - they rather flatteringly offer Voltaire instead of Harris.

And so, at the end of 2007, atheism is mainstream. It's now so much part of the national conversation that it features as a storyline on The Archers.
Albeit a minor plot - Shula's unlikely acquisition of four (four!) turkeys forms the bulk of the current story. Alan, the vicar, is keen to engage with Jim's unwavering atheism and denial of a historical Jesus.

Now that everyone is talking about atheism, the real challenge is not Jim's mischievous plans for educating his grandson. I'm not interested in one-upmanship and hurling insults back and forth about sky pixies and Stalin (you know who you are, Cif regulars). It should be the responsibility of the faithless to make atheism an attractive option, compelling enough as a worldview that the undecided should choose to live life free of superstition.

The real challenge for 2008 is that of secularism. The secular achievement of 2007 has to be the government finally getting their act together and banishing the nonsense of intelligent design from UK science classrooms.
The US did the same in 2005, but don't think that this Christian fundamentalist smokescreen has gone away as a result of this legislative neutering. In Texas last month, statewide curriculum supervisor Chris Comer resigned, after forwarding an email about an upcoming talk from a scholar who traced the history of the ID movement and its creationist roots. And on Sunday the Observer reported the setting up of a UK creationist theme park somewhere in the Midlands. I love this line from Peter Jones, a trustee of the proposed park: "Today, all [youngsters] do is binge drink. We will be able to offer them an alternative."

Eh? What, exactly? An animatronic behemoth? Live action recreations of The Passion, that most gruesome of biblical yarns? Pass the alcopops, please. It's dead easy to ridicule such idiotic sentiments and daft ventures, but lord knows what to actually do in the face of such stupidity. Please, please go to the Natural History Museum instead, where you can find real truth and beauty.

UK schools are obliged to enact a daily act of worship; guidelines suggest a 50/50 split between Christianity and other religions. Schoolteacher friends tell me that in their school - in my home borough of Hackney - this is performed as a non-denominational token gesture to accede to the guidelines, and they only really do it properly when Ofsted inspectors are around. What a farce! State enforced non-specific gesture worship.
Which faiths are being appeased here? I don't know if this sentiment is felt in other schools, but surely this is a worthy starting place for revisiting and correcting the reasons for this waste of time.

It's great that we are all talking about atheism now. Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for getting that conversation into the mainstream. May it continue (or start, depending on your viewpoint) to be calm, constructive and reasoned.

And may it, crucially, engage with those of a faithful disposition, especially those who favour separation of church and state and view religion as a personal matter.
Mark 22:21 has Jesus saying "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's".

I do hope Shula and Jim work out their differences in an amicable way too, despite his being quite a git. So in this festive season of pagan solstice rituals and a dash of "happy birthday dear Jesus", this atheist wishes goodwill to all people (apart from the poster who prayed for me to burn and/or rot in hell: thanks buddy, very Christian, but I'm not sure which is worse).

In 2008, let's take a leaf out of the vicar of Ambridge's book of modern Christianity and focus on a better, proper dialogue between atheists and the faithful to combat the problems of fundamentalism and the undue influence of religion over public life.

No comments:

Post a Comment