My bile levels have been heightened slightly by this anonymous piece in the Irish Independent, starting with the atheist bus campaign and going onto far darker things. The author has clearly written through their rage rather than checking any facts. For a start, the piece is written by one Mary Kenny, clearly fearful for her life what with all the 'militant atheists' hanging round her area has decided to omit her details for the piece. It's clear that she fears and loathes such people by the writing style employed, a mix of barely controlled anger and clumsy mocking of the subject. I guess that the Daily Mail rejected her rantings because even they could see that she was letting her emotions get the better of her.
Where to start? There are the small things, such as:
The "atheist bus" is already established in London...
Nope. For starters, there is no atheist bus - there is a slogan to put on the bus about atheism, but the bus is a plain old bendy one. The article suggests some sort of open-topped tour containing well-known atheists spreading their heathen word down her precious streets. Also, the ad slogans won't be running until early 2009, so another red pen mark.
The advertising campaign has cost around stg £100,000.
The advertising campaign was due to cost £5,500, which was the original justgiving target.
It was all started up by -- predictably -- Professor Richard Dawkins...
Nope. It was started by Ariane Sherine of the Guardian.
He put down a deposit of some £8,000...
Err, no. He pledged to match up to £5,500 if the justgiving page managed to get that far (which it did, in just over an hour).
...and the rest came from public contributions -- mostly from readers of The Guardian newspaper...
I contributed twice having never given the Guardian more than a cursory glance. The story of the atheist bus was also mentioned in several other newspapers, radio and TV. Hearing the blatherings of the arrogant, po-faced Stephen Green trying to hold his position by exclaiming that he had absolute proof for the existence of God (despite amazingly not carrying such proof around with him at all times - you'd think it'd be useful for a God carer) and scoffing loudly at anyone who debated with him was a potent catalyst for a larger audience than Guardian readers to stand up and have their voices counted.
Then there is a passage that seems to meander around the whole 'probably' word.
Not that the project has been without controversy, within its own ranks. Hardline atheists wished the message to be: "There is definitely no God." But it seems that those atheists who shade somewhat towards agnosticism prevailed, with their slightly more moderate "There is probably no God ... "
I dunno, what's an honest atheist to do? They put the word in to appease and avoid offence (and in my opinion, to be more factually accurate) and the religious lot mock and jeer.
And then it started to get personal:
They could put whatever they liked on a bus. Except that I found the atheists' coda "so relax and enjoy life" ludicrously implausible. I've never yet met an atheist with a sense of joie-de-vivre (unless, in the case of one well-known public atheist, a certain drunken cordiality) most of them seem to be miserable blighters.
That's strange. I have numerous friends, colleagues and contacts, and most of them are varying degrees of atheist, the only religious contact they tend to have is the blackmail rituals they need to go through when they want to get a church marriage, or are badgered into some religious act or other by their families to keep a tradition going.
I find them to be generally happy, outgoing, carefree individuals, insofar as is possible with the world worries going on at the moment. I know a few people who have religious leanings, and they tend to be generally happy also; no more, no less, so I wonder just which circles Mary has been spinning in to find such contrasting personalities where the only dividing line is their (lack of) faith.
I've got a theory: perhaps they're miserable around her because she's always warbling on about God in their presence and insinuating they will go to hell for their lifestyle choice.
For your information, Mary, I find the notion of religious people 'relaxing and enjoying life' to be a little askew with logic. Not in the same way you do, by looking at a very small section of society and making conclusions based upon them, but by following the well-trodden path of logic that made me decide that God is not for me. If you'll indulge me for a moment:
A central tenet of religion, bashed into us from infant schools:
God is all-powerful and all-seeing and all-forgiving.
But, in life, bad things happen:
A plane full of people crashes into a mountain.
An innocent child a few days old is mown down by a runaway car.
Other children are born into the world with horrible, painful disfigurements.
Dictatorships rise and fall and in the process millions of people are massacred.
God must be aware of these occurrences, and yet he does nothing, thus:
Either he is too weak to do anything about them (bang goes the first bit) or he was looking the other way at the time (there goes the second bit) or he thought what the hell and let it happen anyway (and the third bit falls).
God is willing to let all these things happen without intervening, and thus if he does exist, I doubt he'll give a flying angel if millions of insignificant specks on one of his billions of planets don't kneel by their bedside every night and pray for a good day tomorrow. Thus following a religion is pointless.
And now, the point: If I were a religious sort, I would look upon the events happening every day on the earth, (and the news can only show a fraction of everything that happens) and start asking questions - what is God up to? Does he hate us? Are we an experiment? Are we just playthings? Is the devil as powerful as God? I went to church and then was mugged on my way home, so what have I done wrong?
If I was of the opinion there was a higher power controlling everything, these inconsistencies and questions would build up and up and up, and you can't tell me that's a recipe for a happy-go-lucky outlook on life. I'd be a pretty miserable blighter, as you put it, Mary. The only way of retaining my religious views and also keeping a sane mind would be to stick my head in the sand.
Don't think about it. It's ok not to; it's all handled by some higher power. Just concentrate on reciting your prayers every night, go to church on a Sunday - don't forget some pennies in the collection bowl - and if you remain blissfully detached from the niggling inconsistencies that bubble into your conscious from time to time and keep doing what your bible tells you to, you might lead a modest life with possibly something to look forward to at the end of it.
I can't do that. I like to think and question and challenge the world around me. If something doesn't make sense, then I will question it's validity and reject it if it cannot stand up to scrutiny. That's how things change; progress. The atheist bus campaign reassured me that there are other people - many people - out there who share a similar view. Some of them may have gone along with their bestowed faiths because it was just the thing to do because it was all around, but have now found a group, a voice, that answers their concerns.
I have faith; sure. I have faith in my friends and my family; I have faith that I will be able to do the things I want to do in life before I'm too old to do them. Faith is a good thing. Blind faith is a bad thing, and that is what religion requires to work.
So that is how I manage to be an atheist whilst still able to be a happy soul. I am free from these questions because of these rules: God probably doesn't exist, and even if he does, he couldn't give two fingers about whether I worship him or not.
It's also I suspect why religious people aren't quite as happy as Mary insinuates.
So I relax and enjoy my life. Because life is short and precious.
Anyway, back to the piece.
Well-meaning folk might suppose that atheists are simply searchingly honest persons who, doubting the tenets of faith and committed to reason and logic, conclude that they just cannot commit to faith.
No, the reason is not a question of commitment, it's a question of it not making sense to the person. They have perhaps tried to believe (usually because it's been a part of their education growing up), but too many facets of religion just don't work for them, and so they can't. Your wording also implies a sense of laziness, 'an atheist is someone who can't be bothered to put the work in'.
There may be some of this ilk, but militant atheists, in particular, are deeply unpleasant and caustically intolerant. Any time I have written about this subject, I have received offensive e-mails from militant atheists. While professing themselves to be campaigners for "freedom of thought", "reason", and "logic", their main tool of argument is often personal abuse; they quickly start shrieking that believers are simply "stupid", or, in the case of a female believer, "a stupid cow".Militant atheists? Who they? I know of militant and fundamentalist religious types. You know, the ones who burn people at the stake, or kill black people with pitchforks and flaming crosses, or murder members of their own family for daring to divorce, or fly planes into buildings, or bomb shopping centres and buses, or invade entire countries and destroy all traces of native beliefs or religions in favour of their own. I know not of any atheist who uses anything but words to get their message across.
Maybe you could provide us with some real counter examples Mary, instead of labelling everyone who sends you an email reflecting their anger at your words as 'militant'.
There's just one more bit that I'd like to touch on, but it's the most insulting of all:
...I am convinced that this injection of atheism into the culture is directly responsible for the increase in drug-abuse, in crime and, most specifically, in the five-fold increase in suicide that we have seen in these islands over the last 25 years.
A life without a spiritual sense of purpose, or the moral parameters set by the Ten Commandments -- is a living hell.I can sort of see the glimmer of some logical reason here, but it's highly skewed. One of the few advantages I can see to an organised religion is its instillation of a moral compass on its flock. This unfortunately hinges greatly on a 'fear of God' more than anything else - do good or you will burn in hell - which isn't really healthy to have bullied into you from an early age. Mary's central assumption - that atheists are a group cast adrift without the guiding moral compass of a vengeful God and thus must be to blame for all corruption in society (like asylum seekers, asian people, black people, women voters.. the latest in a long line leading back centuries) is thus flawed.
I, like most people, atheist or otherwise, have a moral compass and code. Like many others, I have taken part in charity events, I have picked up litter in the street, said hello to strangers, held doors open and given up seats on the train, I have supported my community and sometimes flipped a few coins into a beggars lap. But mine is based on a general respect for living things and a person's property rather than a set of rules laid down and backed up by threats of damnation.
You get these from good parenting, good relationships with the people in your community, and a safe environment where people can grow up not feeling the need to be in a group for fear of being outcast. No religion is required.
So, I'll take my moral compass over yours any day, Mary.
And then she drops the mother lode:
Troubled and immature young persons, given a nihilistic message that there is no meaning to life -- that we are just reasonably clever animals who evolved from a set of molluscs, quite by chance -- are easily driven down the road to despair.
Britain has been hugely shaken, over the last month, by the public tragedy of 'Baby P', and the tormented infant's young life has been taken as an all-too-accurate indictment of an aspect of British life today.
That is a life without moral parameters; in which fathers walk away from their children because the state provides all welfare; in which relationships are casual, and a variety boyfriends and serial stepfathers move in; in which mothers spend the day smoking dope, drinking vodka and cruising for sex on the internet, while their children die with broken backs -- among filth and excrement, dead mice and pet snakes.
A Hogarthian picture of an underclass without any sense of a higher moral and spiritual aspiration has emerged, to whom the atheist bus campaign is scant help, or indeed comfort...And that's where it gets truly insulting. One minute she talks of atheists and their miserableness, and then she talks about social decay. She hasn't directly associated one with the other, but the insinuation is clear. The prevalence of a secular, atheist society is responsible for things such as a child being battered to death, drunken teenagers, squalid living conditions and urban decay. This 'implication by proximity' is an old trick, and it's sad to see it being used so blatantly here. My recently refreshed faith in the people of Britain gives me hope that most people will read this and see it for what it is. Inaccurate ranting and borderline propaganda.
Mary Kenny has such a vivid idea of the mind and actions of the average atheist, it's hard not to be tempted to wonder what sort of person she is. I see her as an old woman (in the style of Mrs Slocombe out of Are You Being Served) with a sash permanently round her neck and a blue-grey rinse, sat at her desk at home, amongst Jackie Collins novels, cigarette butts and copies of the Daily Mail, tapping in these inane, hearsay-based opinion pieces with only her index fingers and occasionally stopping her toy dog from yapping the house down by feeding it yet another vol au vent.
I salute you, Mary Kenny. You have managed to both offend and amuse with your ignorant, bigoted and factually inaccurate remarks. The title of 'stupid cow' is rightly deserved for you because you have demonstrated both your stupidity and your bovine intellect.
May you continue to rouse atheists to stand up and be counted for years to come.