Mark Steel: Just because you're an atheist doesn't make you rational

Once you make it your primary aim to refute the existence of God, you miss what's really fundamental

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Having followed the latest debate about religion, I'd say the conclusion is obvious that the only thing as disturbing as the religious is the modern atheist. I'd noticed this before, after I was slightly critical of Richard Dawkins and received piles of fuming replies, that made me think that what his followers would like is to scientifically create an eternity in laboratory conditions so that they could burn me there for all of it.

It's not the rationality that's alarming, it's the smugness. Instead of trying to understand religion, if the modern atheist met a peasant in a village in Namibia, he'd shriek: "Of course, GOD didn't create light, it's a mixture of waves and particles you idiot, it's OBVIOUS."

The connection between the religious and the modern atheist was illustrated after the death of Christopher Hitchens, when it was reported that "tributes were led by Tony Blair". I know you can't dictate who leads your tributes, and it's probable that when Blair's press office suggested that he made one to someone who'd passed on, he said: "Oh, which dictator I used to go on holiday with has died NOW?"

But the commendation was partly Hitchens's fault. Because the difference between the modern atheist and the Enlightenment thinkers who fought the church in the 18th century is that back then they didn't make opposition to religion itself their driving ideology. They opposed the lack of democracy justified by the idea that a king was God's envoy on earth, and they wished for a rational understanding of the solar system, rather than one based on an order ordained by God that matched the view that everyone in society was born into a fixed status.

But once you make it your primary aim to refute the existence of God, you can miss what's really fundamental. For example, the ex-canon of St Paul's, presumably a believer unless he managed to fudge the issue in the interview, was on the radio this week expressing why he resigned in support of the protesters outside his old cathedral. He spoke with inspiring compassion, but was interrupted by an atheist who declared the Christian project is doomed because we're scientifically programmed to look after ourselves at the expense of anyone else. So the only humane rational scientific thought to have was "GO Christian, GO, Big up for the Jesus posse."

Similarly, Hitchens appears to have become obsessed with defying religion, so made himself one of the most enthusiastic supporters for a war he saw as being against the craziness of Islam. But the war wasn't about God or Allah, it was about more earthly matters, which the people conducting that war understood. And, as that war became predictably disastrous, they were grateful for whatever support they could find. And so a man dedicated to disproving GOD was praised in his death by the soppiest, sickliest, most, irrational, hypocritical Christian of them all.

So the only thing I know for certain is that I would become a Christian, if I could just get round the fact that there is no GOD.

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