The Atheist Delusion

“Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Mohamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.” Tweet from Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, New Atheism’s High Priest, made this comment about Mehdi Hasan about a month ago. I should have written about it in the days that followed but I am nothing if not procrastinatoryful. Hasan is a journalist who writes for the New Statesman. For those who aren’t aware, The New Statesman is a “left of centre Labour shit-rag”. If you’ve ever wondered who the leader of the Labour party is, pick up The NS, they have no choice but to cover him no matter how pointless he continues to be. So it’s largely worthless with the occasional brilliant article, a few of my heroes write for them (Noam Chomsky, Mark Thomas, John Pilger) so I check in fairly often.

Mehdi, who is Milibland’s biographer, often writes articles about Islam. Issues involving Muslims are never in short supply and if the magazine’s senior political editor is a Muslim, he will be tasked with writing about them. Needless to say, this is a highly educated man at the forefront of political journalism and his articles reflect this. At the same time, they often reflect his beliefs as a devout Muslim.

I’ve been an atheist since I was about 11 or 12. I was a prick about it from 14 until embarrassingly recently. A convergence of people, books and the fading of my youthful exuberance has allowed me to see my combative response to people’s beliefs for the childish, macho bullshit that it was. I wanted to know why I became so intolerant towards religion and Dawkins’ idiotic tweet helped me to do that.

I realised that the central problem with my hostile attitude was that it was shaped by the experiences of others. Many of the artists I admired as a kid had problems with the institutions of religion: the opposition to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the televised debate which I highly recommend, Bill Hicks’ stories from travelling on the bible belt of the US and Marilyn Manson’s battles with the Christian right. All of these situations left my team: the funny, talented and rational lot, looking much better than the reactionary idiots who opposed them. From then on in my under-developed mind, I stopped separating religious people in general, from their crazy, swivel-eyed activists.

Reading Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Dawkins’ The God Delusion I was able to become a better equipped and informed, yet still intolerant, atheist. Trying to prove that people’s beliefs were false using history I could barely remember and science I barely understood. I think where my particular brand of atheism was flawed was in the desire to talk about it incessantly. (Instead, why not write a self-indulgent 700 word blog?)

If you’re an evolutionary biologist, as Dawkins is, I’m sure there are occasions to debate people, who disagree with your subject based solely on an interpretation of an old book. However, he doesn’t have the right to throw his intellectual weight around wherever he pleases, as Dawkins does. If you’re a Saudi women’s rights campaigner, I imagine the lack of control you have over your own body based on an interpretation of an old book, really gets on your tits. I think teaching creationism as a scientific theory is imbecilic and I think a woman’s body is her own fucking business but I have never had to have these arguments with creationists or oppressive regimes. My ‘debates’ have been with reasonable people who happen to believe in God and the straw men arguments I constructed were usually dismantled with an easy intellect I couldn’t show myself.

If one lived in a place like Alabama, Jerusalem or Costa Rica then maybe the church has the kind of influence over people’s lives that could make an atheist angry, but my experiences don’t reflect this. I quite like ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, no matter who made them all. Churches and cathedrals are some of the most beautiful buildings in the UK. And as a group, atheists have never offered me tea and toast when I needed it most: in the rain, drunk at 3am.

So this is my penance. I intend to be a better atheist in future.