Hermione Eyre: Atheists should be louder and prouder

Share

This week has not been great for atheists. John Humphrys, concerned he might be becoming one, has been trying to rekindle his religion with a new series of interviews that started yesterday on Radio 4. The bill to mix up faith schools by 25 per cent was thrown out by the Lords. But good news also arrived, in the form of a press release from the online store Amazon, which popped into my inbox announcing "Atheist Book Tops Charts in Run-Up to Christmas". Yes, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is still number one.

It only needs to shift another hundred-million-odd copies and it might even come close to rivalling the bestsellers of the television evangelist Oral Roberts. But even at its modest secular sales level, The God Delusion is something to rejoice about. It's a book that gives a real morale boost to atheists - and boy, do we need it. (I nearly wrote "Lord knows, we need it". That would have been a blunder.)

Ever since I heard Jonathan Miller on Desert Island Discs saying how he felt it was his duty to profess his atheism as frequently and loudly as those who are religious profess their creed, I have been waiting for an opportunity to say I was one. But no one ever asks. They seldom even give you a box to tick. You have to make do with "Other". It's lonely being an atheist. Atheism quite rightly rejects all the cultish signs and symbols of organised religion, but sometimes it feels like it has gone too far and has lost its momentum as a movement. There is no way of spotting a fellow non-believer. (Although the good folk at the National Secular Society sell "atheist and proud" t-shirts for £14.99, they have yet to catch on round where I live.) If an argument starts at a dinner party you can never tell if anyone is going to back you up or not. Bad table manners do not necessarily indicate godlessness.

Then there's the small matter of the social impression you make if you talk like an atheist. Imagine you are having your first profound chat with a new boyfriend. Do you cosy up to him and say, all misty-eyed, "I believe in something lovely that is bigger than all of us", or do you say firmly, after Bertrand Russell, "I believe that when I die I shall rot and nothing of my ego will survive"?

Worse still, no one has any derogatory terms for atheists. There is not to my knowledge any linguistic equivalent of a "God-botherer" or "Left-footer". You are too invisible, too recent a phenomenon, even to be mocked.

Dawkins' book is a great tonic, then. "To be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one," he writes. He even overturns Pascal's wager - the old syllogism that writes off atheism by stating that if you don't believe in God and are proved wrong, you stand to suffer eternal damnation, while if you don't believe in God and are proved right, you don't stand to win anything. Not at all, says Dawkins. Not believing brings rewards in this world: a better, fuller life without time squandered worshipping or fighting or dying for God.

I wish his book was less of an attack on religion and more of a defence of atheism. Shambolic, amateur non-believers, like me, need to be encouraged to be loud and proud. We are living, after all, as Dawkins says, in an age where the John Lennon's atheist anthem "Imagine", has been rewritten in certain parts of America so instead of "and no religion too" it reads "and one religion too".

Cuteness is not enough

Angelic crooner Corinne Bailey Rae scooped Best New Act at the Q magazine awards on Tuesday. You can see why: Rae's tremulous, tender vocal style is attracting a global following, and she has even bothered the American charts. However, I can't help wishing the other much-fancied contender for the prize, Lily Allen, had won instead. Rae, left, sings as if she comes from the Deep South, when in fact she hails from Leeds. She also sounds as if she really, really wants to be Norah Jones. Lily Allen, on the other hand, sounds exactly like what she is: a London loudmouth. And she has her own personal style - who else would rhyme Tesco and al fresco? Rae's fragile cutesiness may melt your heart, but Allen has something more: authenticity.

* It's important to be concerned about your carbon footprint. Especially when it comes to journeys you don't want to make. "I'm sorry I can't come and water your plants/ dogsit your Wolverine - I'm too concerned about my carbon footprint." But for journeys you do want to make, such as a trip to Glasgow to visit a friend with a very good whisky cellar, concern about your carbon footprint can dissolve. You can easily catch the sleeper train: an eminently civilised way to travel.

When I took it last week, nothing seemed to have changed since "Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat" was written by TS Eliot in 1939. The signal still arrived at 11.45 (pm). The berth was very neat, with a newly folded sheet (and a funny little basin you're supposed to wash your face in). Breakfast was pretty antiquated, too: a mug of hot water and a sachet of instant. It's a fun and a green way to travel, but is the service getting the investment it deserves?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£100 - £160 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Temporar...

KS1 Supply Teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album