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Atheism as extremism

Thanks to Crapsquire for the link.

Watching Channel Four’s “Bible: A History”, I expected the usual cliched “look at these strange religious people” spiel – especially as it started depicting Christians with a scene from an American evangelical church. Then to Israel, where Jews were depicted by the ultra-orthodox praying against the wailing wall. To represent something by depicting its extreme form is a basic act of the journalistic stitch-up. I was all for switching it off - if my father-in-law hadn’t persisted. It quickly became more nuanced, and then Howard Jacobson (the narrator) had this to say about Richard Dawkins. It seemed to come from the heart, and is worth repeating here:-

“I don’t practise any religion nor worship any God, and fear all fanaticism and that’s bred by faith so I ought really to be sympathetic to Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’. But it moves me – to be frank – to fury. Partly because it assumes that men were stupid until science rescued them. Partly because its ignorance sees no reason not to remain ignorant of what belief is like for those who do believe. Partly because of its certainty, Where’s the point of attacking religion for thinking it has all the answers, when you think you have all the answers yourself? Blind faith is fatuous, but so is blind doubt. This is where I find myself: unable to share the faith of the religious, but unable to share the mockery of the atheists. The big question for me is how to believe, and not to believe, at the same time. Let’s confront the absolutists: those who absolutely believe and those who absolutely don’t.”

Of course, most Christians and Jews do not think the Bible is a fax from God and regard it as a mixture of eternal truths and some time-bound elements that we can ignore. So most are stuck in the middle with Jacobson. But it’s unusual to see aggressive atheism – ie, the type which seeks to mock people with religion – depicted as form of extremism.

Rageh Omaar does Islam next Friday at 7pm. I might even watch it.



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