Atheism has plenty of adherents, but few internationally respected people we're happy to have speak for all. It's high time Richard Dawkins stepped back up to the plate
'Bin Laden has won, in airports of the world every day. I had a little jar of honey, now thrown away by rule-bound dundridges. STUPID waste," was the heartfelt message posted this week on Twitter by Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, author, emeritus professor of New College, Oxford, and world-famous proselytiser for atheism.
It's a good thing that, in addition to the chance to fire off any first, furious half-thoughts that cross our minds, Twitter has given us the expression *headdesk*. Even the most rigid secularist can find a crumb of comfort in that karmic rebalancing.
To channel Twitter's love of brevity for a moment, Dawkins is doing my nut in. The tweets are bad enough; everything about this one, in fact (not just a jar of honey, the world's most inoffensive foodstuff, but a little jar, up against the world's mightiest hate figure), contriving to stuff more bathos into 140 characters than most novelists manage in a lifetime, then adding a dash of arrogance by thinking this an ideal time to try to make his new coinage for modern jobsworths take flight. (Pardon the pun! LOLZ!) And it comes after a flurry of (primarily Islamosceptical) others that, as a Dawkins devotee ever since I read The Selfish Gene, leaves me deploying another few Twitterisms. Namely, WTF? WTFF? FFS.
Atheism has plenty of adherents, but few internationally respected people we're happy to have speak for all. Douglas Adams and Christopher Hitchens are lost to us for ever (unless, y'know, we're wrong about a couple of key issues). Stephen Fry's still around, but too busy. And my personal choice, Stephen Colbert, insists on remaining Catholic. We can't afford to lose the most cogent and indefatigable of them all.
Religion (or non-religion) needs marketing, like everything else. Atheism has been coasting for a while, as that dismal bus ad ("There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life") proved, managing to be both pusillanimous and patronising in an even shorter space than the average tweet. But after all, potential converts to Islam were presumably deterred by the prospect of being rotated by various parts of the media (even before Dawkins lent a hand) through a variety of roles from terrorist to benefit scrounger. And Catholicism was bringing itself down with one vile child abuse scandal after another, and further alienating followers and potential followers with its disapproval of gay marriage and acceptance of women in the church. Life was sweet.
But now Catholics have got a new, improved pope, keen to emphasise the centrality of love and charity to faith, instead of policing private sexual matters while offering lifetimes of succour to the worst of sinners. The Anglicans have performed the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Tesco price match and produced an archbishop who condemns corporate greed, is pro-marriage in all its forms, and generally seems to chime with the public mood better than anyone had dreamed.
Secularists must start fighting harder for market share, especially now that Dawkins is shrinking it with every tweet. At the risk of playing Sinead O'Connor to his Miley Cyrus: professor, please stop. Otherwise, it's all, well, *headdesk*
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