Thursday 11 February 2010


A friend of mine has just introduced me to the joys of Pat Condell and his many You Tube appearances. He's certainly Godless and Free and I agree with most of his robust opinions about Islam, and the 'People of the Book' in general - you know, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Oh, and the Hindus, Sikhs, and all the other God worshippers.

There are, however, some problems with Pat Condell's sort of rhetoric. Because once one has overcome the deeply entrenched taboo against saying rotten things about particular religions, and then about religious faith in general, you can end up, as you warm to your subject, attacking 'uncontrolled' immigration and diversity in general. As you wax, if not exactly lyrical, but certainly angrily, you can be swept into such open-ended attacks upon 'multiculturalism' and 'political correctness' that you can lose sight of the pluralism that you are trying so earnestly to defend from the faithful bigots, with their faithful schools, and their faithful rejection, of our tolerance. The thought of people using our hard-fought freedoms to attack everything which democratic and pluralist society stands for is certainly enough to make one mad. It has obviously made Pat Condell extremely mad.

It has also led Pat into airing transparently foolish opinions, like the idea that religion has produced nothing good. One need only think of architecture, music, painting, philosophy, and poetry, to quickly understand that Pat's atheism has overreached itself. Religious belief has produced much that is not merely, like the Curate's egg, "good in parts", but is actually ravishing and luminous in the way that it addresses the human predicament. Because, we really do have a predicament: we are apes of a very special sort; like all apes we suffer, however, we can anticipate suffering, and we know that we will die.

Religion has attempted to address these existential questions throughout history, and its influence has appeared to decline in direct proportion to the extent that we have employed our scientific and technical capacities to reduce and minimise suffering and our sense of helplessness in the face of "God's Creation". This is a very good thing. Religion and religious belief, despite all the uproar and bloodshed it continues to cause in the world, is on the run. The ayatollahs, rabbis, archbishops, popes, the born again merchants, all of those who preach submission to belief systems pioneered in the bronze age, know this.

They know that prosperity and material progress is their enemy. Which is why they love the poor and benighted - they like nothing better than careering about the world teaching the impoverished about love and forbearance in the face of oppression and exploitation, they love nothing more than propping up the kinds of prejudices that are perpetuated by very 'traditional' arrangements. They can't stand equality for women, homosexuals, freethinking and much else, because they have seen the writing on the wall and it says, as it said to Nebuchadnezzer, "Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin", the game's up, all your thrones and sacred books, and all the paraphernalia of your cults, will be thrown down; we are finally growing up; we can live very well without your outmoded attempts to cope with human helplessness. We can take care of ourselves.

This is why religious leaders are getting nastier and nastier as they begin to see that their end is in sight. The Pope knows full well that most Catholics disagree with most of what he has to say. The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that most of the people who put "C of E" down as their religion think that 'he should get out more' rather than spend his time attempting to appease misogynists and 'queer bashers'. This is why the Muslims and Islamists are setting the standard for intolerance and the hatred of modernity. Muslim leaders know that if they're not careful the mosques will be as empty as the churches. This is why they are so hateful - they can see exactly how pluralism and modernity dissolves religious faith and prejudice - and they fear for the future. This is why their extremists have, by using the rich resources which Islam provides, turned the religion into a militant death cult. Which is, of course, what all religions actually are, death cults. They are all borne out of our ancient helplessness, and our fear of death. However, in our struggle with the dangerously inflamable, but dying embers, of these death cults, we should not be stampeded into vituperation or into plainly false statements.

Religion has given us much, in the past, and much that we can carry into the future, but its days of making interesting or compelling contributions to our self understanding, or to our culture, are long gone. Religion is simply a dead thing about death. All that priests and imams have to offer is fear and we should make it abundantly clear to them that they have outlived their usefulness by at least a couple of centuries.