"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Why be an English atheist?

There is something a little frustrating about being an atheist in England. No one really cares! Not even the religious.
We have developed in this country a delightfully wishy-washy religious infrastructure centred mainly around established Anglicanism (more tea vicar?) and to a lesser extent a neutered Catholicism (“Do you believe in God, then Ted?”) that means you can pretty much insult religion anywhere within our borders without seriously offending anyone English.
This was brought home to me by a comment made on my last post, simultaneously published on my Facebook, where Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism said
Very cool indeed. But you Brits have always been much more level-headed when it comes to religion than us, so this only counts for half!
Indeed from his U.S perspective where religion permeates every aspect of culture we must seem a haven of rationality second only to Scandinavia, and for sure no self declared American atheist is going to be President anytime soon.
So why bother to be a vocal, and active atheist in Britain at all?
Firstly, (in case anyone has noticed) religious apathy is not a British condition it is an English one. Take the concept of atheism to parts of Scotland or Ireland and you will get as much approbation as you would in the Bible obsessed Mid West of America. Secondly we are a country with a large and recent influx of Muslims and Islam is a religion with dubious credentials for tolerance (note this is not an anti immigration pitch nor a racist one, I’m cool with people of any ethnicity as my neighbour and I dislike Christianity just as much as I dislike Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and peanut butter, {and I hate peanut butter}). Thirdly, we are suckers for Americanism and quick to adopt U.S cultural norms no matter how facile. All of which makes expressing a U.K –centric atheist perspective worthwhile, regardless of how small or unconcerned my audience might be.
We might not have high profile religious wingnuts on T.V every night, we don’t suffer our politicians appealing to God to preserve our nation at every opportunity, we don’t have our neighbours commenting that we “weren’t in Church this Sabbath” and no-one bats an eyelid if we casually mention we don’t believe in God. But, we do have an increasing number of faith-based schools, we do have a creeping cultural relativism that excuses actions on religious grounds and we do have the spectre of fundamentalist Islam threatening our freedom of speech. So the time to point out that secularism, science and rationality has served our society well, that humanist values, fairness and inclusiveness are better than religious tribalism and prejudice and that pandering to irrational superstitious beliefs is a poor substitute for either of the above, is now.

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