Atheism in the UK and the Deleterious New Atheists

FYI: this post has been moved here.


  1. henotheists: a differnece that makes no difference. Belief in one imaginary magical being is no different than believing in a dozen or a thousand. In either case you've hitched your star to the null set. They are equivalent.

    As for faith within Britain, you'd think they'd learn their lesson by now, after the centuries of wasteful wars over whether they should follow a religion led by a pope or a queen. Neither version of the myth did much for them. Their plain national chauvinism was their genius; ol' John Bull did more for them than jesus ever could.

  2. Faith is not supposed to be about signing up to a set of propositions but practising a set of principles. Faith is something you do, and you learn by practice not by studying a manual, argues Armstrong.

    This is an idea that Freeman Dyson also espoused when he won the Templeton Prize. I can understand the idea, religion is analogous to music. You listen to music, you experience music, you let it evoke emotions and set moods. Music entertains and for those with the talent and interest it provides a rich and deep intellectual exercise. Fans of music can gather and get a sense of community based on a shared love a particular type of music.

    Now for a large number of people, I think this is exactly how they treat religion. They treat the pastors sermon as a ritual and a performance that can inspire and evoke emotion but they don't really treat it as definitive statement about the truth of reality (or rather, they treat it, like say, a Beethoven symphony that touches on and reflects reality but isn't actually about reality.)

    As I see it these are the folks, that compartmentalize what religion says from what they actually believe about the real world. They are religious on Sunday but completely secular the rest of the time. They may read Genesis and think it is beautiful (and in some way true) but then know and accept that the Earth is about 4.5 Billion year old and that our ancestors split off from the other primates a few million years ago. When they get sick the first thing they do is go to the doctor - it is only when they don't have anything effective left to do do they invoke prayer. When it comes to moral decisions, they rely on their own sense of the relative good and harm done, for themselves and to others to balance the consequences of their actions. Perhaps, as an afterthought, they may note that their decision is in accordance with what their church says or they may note that what they believe is the right thing to do is diametrically opposed to the teachings of their church ( Catholics that use birth control, are a classic example of this behavior.)

    >>> (I have to stop typing for now, but I hope to say more about this later.)

  3. Now, if all of the religion business customers were composed on this type of person, there would not be any anti-theists - just like there really aren't any anti-musicists. While some people may not like the Souther Baptist style of religion, they would be analogous to people that don't like traditional Country and Western music (I think that Catholicism would be like Opera).

    The problem is that there is a crucial difference between religion and music: music doesn't pretend to make statements of fact about the nature of the Universe that comes from an Ultimate Authority. No group of fans have ever gone to war with another group of fans over the use of minor chords in a bridge. Music doesn't pretend that it is the source of the power behind the Government - Congress doesn't have the tradition opening a session with a Broadway showtune (although that is not a bad idea.)

    Additionally, while there are certainly folks that treat church and religion as performance art, there are a very large number that don't - these are the people believe that their religion is making true factual claims about the nature of the Universe. While Armstrong or Dyson, might enjoy a Church service the way a music fan might enjoy a performance of Mozart by a string quartet, there are other people trying to get The Itsy-Bitsy Spider sung in front of all the Biology classes. There are punk rockers getting their legislators to pass laws mandating that all school children have to dye their hair florescent green and get a nose ring.

    Just because a performance is emotionally evocative does not mean that anything it says about the world is true or useful. Getting that message across is in a large measure what atheist are saying.

  4. If trend continues then Britain will become/has already become an atheist nation.

    When unfettered, atheism does even more damage, violence and abuse to its own people than any of its protestant catholic or pagan forebears.
    Where will the 'its all religions fault' brigade have gone to?

    It is a historical fact that (thus far) nations run by atheists with an atheist outlook pursuing an atheist agenda have ALWAYS decayed into the most terrible tyrannies the world has ever seen, Soviet Comuninism, Pol Pots Killing fields, Maos cultural revolution, the Nazi holocaust (slightly more debateable as had some neo pagan links), the French Revolution.

    Its the elephant in the room that atheists always ignore.

    Now perhaps Britain will get to see first hand what happens.

    They had better pray there is an outside force that will bring the regime down or the tyranny will last and last, for it is coming.

    First they withdraw religions and particularly Christians rights to do things.
    This is happening now.

    Then they will stigmatise them as stupid fanatical and mad.
    This is the rhetoric now.

    Then they will be lower levels of human life, undermenschen.

    But for the greater public good these lower life people will be dealt with.
    It wont be immoral, it will be more moral as it purifies the new atheist society and the 'fittest' survive and the 'weak' are weeded out.

    Pattern sound familiar? It should...

  5. Anonymous, even more troubling than the rise of atheism in Britain is the incursion of Islamic radicalism. In fact Muskims are fighting to have some sections of Britain ruled by Shia law. One day residents of Britain will find themselves controlled by a foreign religious belief that is truly repressive.

    It's a shame.


  6. GribbletheMunchkinApril 17, 2009 at 6:12 AM

    I'm British myself so maybe i can add some perspective. The article is clearly a bit of a waste of column inches. Essentially what Madelaine is arguing is that faith is actually a nebulous thing that people do and it doesn't make any real claims about the world or believe in any silly fantastical stuff. New atheists are therefore attacking strawmen, caricatures of medieval religion.

    This is of course nonsense. Religion makes very clear and absolute claims about the world. Some of these claims can be tested. When tested they often prove to be false. This is what New Atheists like to point out. When religious believers go on to spread their faith, even on those that don't follow it (such as trying to stop gay marriage, teaching creationism in schools, no condoms being a sin, blah blah blah) then they need to be stopped. If catholics want to stop gays getting married they need to make an arguement that doesn't rely on bronze and iron age superstition. If they want to teach creationism in school, then they need to prove that it is correct (which it manifestly is not).

    As for the comment by anonymous. How utterly deluded. As for atheist nations always being tyrannies, how about the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway? These countries enjoy an active and vigorous democracy, the highest standards of living in the world, strong economies and are extremely atheistic. If the UK were anything like Sweden i'd be much happier with my nation.

    And on the Nazi holocaust, unless you wish to invoke the "Not True Scotsman defense" i'm afraid the Nazi's were avowedly christian. Hitler himself wrote at length about the importance of his catholic faith to him. Its no accident that the German army belt buckles had God Mit Uns (God is with us) on them. Indeed it was christian anti-semitism that allow Nazism to so easily target the Jews. Germany is after all the nation of Luther, a virulent anti semite.

    And no one is stopping christians doing anything in Britain. British Christians have the exact same rights as British atheists, British Muslims and British Jews. In fact British christians still have the edge as they can marry into the monarchy which Jews and Muslims cannot. Not sure about Atheists and the monarchy though.

    In Britian it is true that many christians are seen as stupid, fanatical and mad. This is part of a secularising nation though. As faith weakens and dies off, the remaining christians tend to be those that are either fundamentalists, those that didn't get a good education (especially in history and comparative religion) and those that are a bit nutty (you see them preaching on street corners occasionally). It doesn't mean they are being persecuted and British Christianity hasn't nearly got the point where these groups dominate. In fact the operational head of the Church of England Dr Rowan Williams (The Queen is the actual head) is widely regarded as a great humanitarian and a wise chap. His religous tendencies are mild and (usually) quite compatible ith secularism.

    And Mariano. The sharia law silliness is a red herring. The proposal is to have sharia courts for mutually agreed arbitration. In no fashion is the proposal for them to use sharia in criminal law. The sharia court could only be used where both groups agree. Since currently both groups can agree on any method,this will make sharia law exactly as valid as the jedi code in british law. As it should be.

  7. If trend continues then Britain will become/has already become an atheist nation.So, how does the relentless growth of atheism indicate that Atheism is Dead? It seems to me you're undermining the premise of this blog.

    Anonymous, even more troubling than the rise of atheism in Britain is the incursion of Islamic radicalism. And it looks like the muslims are doing well too, by your own admission.

    Between the growth of atheism and islam it seems that your basic complaint is that Jesus Co. is losing market share.