atheist on the rise of the new aggressive atheism of Richard Dawkins and the like.
Albert Einstein's letter, containing a short rant about God and the Bible, sold recently for 25 times its expected price - thanks, in part, to professional atheist Richard Dawkins being one of the unsuccessful bidders.
It's long been said that religion is a racket. Sales figures of other anti-God rants - much longer than Einstein's letter to Eric Gutkind - suggest that atheism may be catching up. But is it good for the atheists?
As we know, it helps to have a book in circulation. Dawkins' recent work The God Delusion is nowhere near as big as the Bible, but shifting 1.5m copies is more than respectable. Book sales have a legitimizing effect. It's not just the growing number of readers who may be converted by a polemic. Monetary success confers an impressive, almost magical, aura…
What would Einstein do? His views on religion can't be summed up in one letter. They were, in some respects, inconsistent. Religion being what it is - huge, ancient, diverse - only the fanatical or the very dim can have a consistent response to its existence. Einstein found religion "childish" but described atheists as creatures who, harbouring a grudge, were resistant to "the music of the spheres." In other words, resentful puritans.
For it is not only Einstein's "music of the spheres" but music in general that must be tossed out when you refuse to appreciate religion. If you champion the splendours and benefits of Western culture, while claiming to oppose religion entirely, you are, metaphorically speaking, tone deaf.
Whether your preference is Bach, Britten, Palestrina, Kanye West or Earth, Wind and Fire, you'll find some aspect of Christianity in the details. But reggae - such as The Melodians doing Rivers of Babylon, based on a psalm of the exiled Jews - can't easily be separated from religion, either. Run from religion, if you must, but you can't hide from song, sculpture, poetry, architecture, painting, tourism or food.
Given that the influence of religion over the centuries has made them what they are, I can't help seeing something crude in the impulse for some to bash it. As a "cafeteria" atheist and secular Catholic, I don't share that impulse. Religion has given us some rather fabulous architecture, a lot of excellent paintings, a variety of head coverings - from yarmulkes through wimples, veils and turbans - which I , for one, find fascinating.
Some of my fellow atheists are to non-belief what being nouveau riche is to the traditionally rich. It's as though they've just discovered God doesn't exist, and they can't wait to tell you all about it. I cringe each time one of these noisy non-believers gets on their soap box. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have helped me to understand how a genteel Anglican must feel about some of those "other" Protestants.
Some of us are too delicate for evangelical excess. Whether it's atheistic or religious, we find it embarrassing. Yes, religion can be abusive, and we're often told that religion causes war. When people kill each other in the name of religious identity, it's sickening. If I thought evangelical atheism could end violence, I would be happy to tolerate the embarrassment factor. But I'm not convinced it can.
Christopher Hitchens, declaring that "god is not great," seems to have designed this phrase expressly to piss off the worshipful. Religion may be childish but so is a show of disrespect. If we're so comfortable in our non-belief, do we need to go around nettling the believers?