Getting my coat ready in advance
I said I wasn't going to bite on any more of the Reg's "point and laugh at the stupid religious idiots" trolls. I told myself I wouldn't, too, and I meant it. But who was I kidding?
Speaking personally, I'm not in the least bothered whether Dawkins and pals don't believe in God. What difference does it make to my life? I'm not even bothered if, despite their claims to be concerned only with rationality and the good of the human species, they spend ludicrous amounts of money on what is really nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt. Money that would, I'm sure, have been welcomed by any few dozen scientific or humanitarian endeavours you'd care to name. If religious people are to be criticised for wasting money on propping up 'useless' old buildings (never mind their historical or architectural value), or spreading the word of some "non-existent sky fairy", then surely non-religious people can be criticised for throwing good money after bad and aping those very same deluded fools.
But the truth is it's not Dawkins' non-belief, nor anyone else's, that annoys me. It's not that I think those people shouldn't have the right to advertise their opinion; and - though I realise this is beyond comprehension for some - it's not that, as a religious person, I think my beliefs should be respected and held as sacred and beyond challenge or mockery. (Of course, Dawkins strongly implies that I must think exactly that, so it's up to you who you trust to describe my feelings more reliably.) I honestly don't care what you think about what I believe - and similarly, I don't really care about your beliefs, either. I'm not interested in brainwashing your kids. I don't care whether you have abortions or not. I don't believe the universe was created in twenty-five minutes just before tea a week last Thursday. I don't want to take away your right to Have Your Say. I don't believe you have a soul, or that it'd need saving if you did - and even if both of those applied, I doubt I'd consider it my responsibility to save it for you. Sort it out for yourself. It's not my problem unless you ask for my help (in which case my help will probably consist of a more diplomatic version of “sort it out yourself”).
No, the thing that gets right on my tits about this flame war (and I mean this particular one - the one we go through every time El Reg gets bored and falls back on this subject) are the absolute pig-headed and bone idle generalisations and taunts, snarky remarks and well-rehearsed jibes that get trotted out by both sides with such repetitive regularity that I could almost wonder if the whole debate wasn't just a bunch of computers running a pre-programmed script (including any reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose true purpose seems to have been long abandoned and who's now nothing more than a blunt instrument of mockery).
Atheism is not, repeat, is NOT, a religion - and yes, I say this as a religious person. Atheism is the absence of belief in God or gods or, if you like - and bearing in mind the more defensive type of atheist will take great offence at this - the belief that there is no God. Despite the endless bickering over which of these is correct they amount, in effect, to the same thing. The atheist does not recognise God, nor therefore any of the obligations or concepts traditionally associated with God. Whether that constitutes a 'belief system' in itself is irrelevant insofar as it determines the behaviour and the attitude of the atheist.
But atheism is not the problem here. Nor is religion. The problem is with those who not only reject the belief system of another, but assume the right to enforce their own views. That doesn't define an atheist, and it doesn't define a religious believer. It is, sadly, an unfortunate characteristic of some human beings. Some charge at the complex issue of human spirituality like bulls at gates, trampling nuances, shades and distinctions underfoot.
As well as being religious, I'm someone who is very keen on science, and some aspects of science I absolutely adore - such as astronomy. In my paganistic view, there can be no better homage to the divinity of the cosmos than to study it, and I admire anyone who devotes themselves to that, be they professional scientist, amateur enthusiast, or armchair philosopher. As long as people are thinking and questioning, I'm not going to presume to tell them what conclusions they must reach. I love science - but I can't and won't assume that it will one day answer every question the cosmos might confront us with. The assumption that it will, or even that we have evolved or could evolve the capacity to reach a full and complete understanding of the natural world, is, to my mind, as much an article of faith as the belief that one day we'll all go to Heaven. As is my belief that the cosmos is ultimately without rhyme or reason and will continue to confound our attempts to describe it in every last detail.
Everyone who has a strong point of view on such questions bases that viewpoint at least to some extent on their belief about How Things Are. There are, I believe, questions that are simply too big or too strange for science as we understand it today to deal with. What is reality, for example? How can we test it TRULY objectively? But does that mean I think science is worthless? By no means. I believe it's crucial - and a good framework for dealing with more everyday problems and questions.
In short, religion - the thing so many of you are so desperately eager to attack, if only to prove your intellectual credentials - is not one single viewpoint that you can legitimately pigeon-hole. Consider:
The Cosmos exists in every place and every time. Everything that can possibly happen might - perhaps will - happen within it: it has the power to do anything. It has intelligence (because we are part of it and we, at least, have intelligence), and contains all possible knowledge, whether we can ever obtain that knowledge for ourselves or not (does each of my brain cells know everything I know?). It knows everything that has happened and that will happen. It has created us, nurtures us, and one day may choose to destroy us. It may have a plan. It is infinite in extent, or - if not - as near infinite as makes no odds from our insignificant perspective. How many people's definition of 'God' would those statements satisfy?
And yet Dawkins and those like him tell me that there is no god, and that I'm a fool for believing in something greater than myself? But in truth, there is no question of belief: there's only a question of perspective.
Let the atheists spend their spare cash on trivial publicity stunts. I've no interest in their silly banners any more than I've any regard for the silly banners of the churches or other places of worship. You will see divinity in the world or you will not. You will see meaning in your life or you will not. You will live a moral life or you will not. You will think, or you will not. No one of these necessitates any of the others.