Richard Ingrams's Week: Don’t bring God into it – we have enough worries

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“Now stop worrying” is the message of the crusading atheists who have paid to have the rather half-hearted slogan “There’s probably no God” plastered all over a lot of our buses.

As if people didn’t have enough to worry about, what with the credit crunch and the collapse of the world banking system, it’s likely that not all that many of us are kept awake at night worrying about whether or not God exists.

But such is not the case with the crusading atheists such as Richard Dawkins or philosophy professor A C Grayling who wrote on the subject in yesterday’s Independent. Hailing the launch of a student atheist federation, Grayling looks forward to the day when we can all of us “with free and open minds” get shot of all the old superstitions that have caused so much trouble hitherto.

Such intellectual fervency suggests to me that the only people likely to stay awake worrying about God are these hard-line atheists. Philosophers such as Grayling in particular are subject to an anti-God obsession that can come to dominate their thinking.

One such was the late Professor A J Ayer, once a revered figure in the philosophical world, but now I imagine, largely forgotten.

Ayer spent his life trying to show that any statement that could not be empirically verified was meaningless. It was all an attempt on his part to abolish God, with whose non-existence he was, like Grayling, obsessed.

I once sat next to Ayer at a dinner party in New York and he opened the conversation by remarking, “What could be more absurd than the Eucharist?”

Taken in by Basil Fawlty’s brother

A successful conman should look the part. He should give an immediate impression of sincerity, reliability and a selfless desire to help his fellow man to become as rich as he is.

That is surely why the American Bernard Madoff was such a success in persuading sensible people to give him their money. He looked not only shrewd but kindly and considerate. Cynic though I am, I might easily have entrusted all my savings to his care, especially if my friends were urging me to follow their example.

My theory of conmanship, however, is challenged by the success in the same field of Sir Allen Stanford. Because here is a man who looks like a first-rate clown. The sight of Stanford with his little toothbrush moustache, popping eyes and manic grin would be enough, you might think, to ring alarm bells with all but the very foolish and naive. So how do we explain his amazing success in the fraud business?

A knighthood still carries some weight, particularly in America. But a knighthood is not enough. More likely it is that Stanford, knowing that physically he could not compete in the image stakes with the likes of Mr Madoff, decided to make a virtue of his defects and deliberately set out to make himself look even more like an idiot – or, as someone remarked this week, the elder brother of Basil Fawlty.

The reaction of the punters would then be: this man may look like an idiot but he must be very clever and successful or he wouldn’t go round with that silly moustache and asinine smile. Mind you, if you’re dealing with the likes of the English Cricket Board it wouldn’t matter too much what you looked like.

High train fares are just the beginning of our travel woes

We British commuters are now paying rail fares twice as high as those in most major European countries. An unsurprising fact, especially since this year the train companies jacked up the fares above the inflation rate with the usual promises that the extra money would be helping them to provide an even better service than before.

The extra money has done nothing to stop the latest advance in rail travel which involves shutting down extensive stretches of the network over the weekend to carry out engineering works. I was painfully made aware of this last weekend when, hoping to return to London from Norfolk, I discovered, with, as usual, the help of a lady in India, that there would be no trains at all on my line on Sunday. A bus was connecting with another line, and the journey would take six hours.

Unnoticed among the talk of train fares is the rocketing price of parking at stations. Car parks have generally been hived off to private companies who, as far as one can tell, are free to charge what they like. APCOA, the mammoth operation which controls my own station car park, has recently jacked up the all-day rate from £3 to £3.30 – an increase of 10 per cent.

The train companies can at least claim that more money coming in will mean a better service, but APCOA can hardly do this when all it provides is a muddy plot of land and a machine to put money in. The only possible justification for a 10 per cent rise is to increase the company’s profits.

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