Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Pledge to send The God Delusion to MPs - Guardian review

Dr Richard Dawkins wants atheists to have a collective voice. Photograph: Martin Argles

Every MP in the country is to receive a copy of Richard Dawkins' latest book The God Delusion following a grassroots effort by humanists who want to challenge state privileges given to religious groups.

The campaign, organised through the community action website, Pledgebank, is an attempt to demonstrate how widespread secular and atheist views are in this country. It comes in response to Prof Dawkins's rallying cry in the book for atheists to be more vocal.

"The reason so many people don't notice atheists is that many of us are reluctant to 'come out'. My dream is that this book may help people to come out. Exactly as in the case of the gay movement, the more people come out, the easier it will be for others to join them.

"Being an atheist is nothing to be apologetic about. On the contrary, it is something to be proud of, standing tall to face the far horizon, for atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy mind."

Pledgebank works by hosting pledges from people who want to recruit others to achieve a common aim. James Christie from Fife posted the original pledge: "I will arrange for my MP to receive a copy of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, but only if 645 other people (one per UK constituency) will do the same for other MPs."

Having achieved enough fellow pledgers, copies of the book are now being sent to MPs. Most are due to arrive on Monday.

Mr Christie said he was initially moved to set up the pledge because his "blood boiled over" when he heard about efforts by the Catholic church to be exempted from adoption rules banning discrimination against gay couples. "The unashamed manner in which they asked, with no sense that they were exploiting their privilege and expecting favourable treatment - it reeked of disdain and arrogance," he said.

But he said the issue is much broader. Religious groups are given other state privileges such as funding for faith schools, the presence of bishops in the House of Lords and tax breaks. (Mr Christie said the pledge was not initiated by the book's publishers, Bantam Press, and although he approached them for help they declined to become involved.)

Liberal Democrat Evan Harris, who is Prof Dawkins' MP, said he thought MPs would find the book useful. "It would be valuable if more politicians realised that there is a large group of secular people who don't believe that religion and the state should mix," he said.

"The government increasingly wants to recognise religions as separate communities which is both dangerous for social cohesion and tends to over-represent their interests."

Prof Dawkins, who has been nicknamed "Darwin's rottweiller" for his vigorous defence of evolutionary theory, also added his name to the list of pledgers, although he said that by the time he signed up, Mr Harris's name had already been taken.

"If some respectable percentage of MPs read the book, I naturally hope that it will change the way they think. It would be especially nice if it changes their approach to education and 'faith schools'," he said.

"[Atheists] are a very significant minority in Britain, but we have far less influence than much smaller minorities because we are not organised."

"Organising atheists has been compared to herding cats, for the obvious reason that they are intelligent and independent-minded," added Prof Dawkins. But as he wrote in The God Delusion: "Even if they can't be herded, cats in sufficient numbers can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored."

****** some Comments ******

Wow, this is fantastic news. I highly doubt it will actually make a difference, but just the fact that it's been organized and undertaken is heartening.

Something like this needs to happen even more in America.

Posted by YellowRex on April 12, 2007 3:21 PM.

Sign me up, Dawkins! Religion is a total con-job. It enables the manipulative to establish a hierachy to prey upon the weak minded and superstitious. From the Druids to Jonestown; it's the same old pathology.

Posted by Level7 on April 12, 2007 5:33 PM.

Regardless of whether you are an atheist or you believe in some god somewhere, true intelligence is indicated by the ability to keep an open mind and listen carefully to the view points of both sides, and independance is the ability to then form your own opinions and keep them to yourself, and not to try and force them onto others by going on a door to door or internet blogging spree handing out your own version of "Watch Tower". Otherwise, surely at this point you become the same as religions, and all religions have there fanatics that can evoke unrest and in the worst cases wars. The true meaning of intelligence is to maintain that open mind and if you much preach anything, preach reason and preach fact.

Posted by tagreath on April 13, 2007 12:53 PM.

Surely the issue here is that if people wanted to read a book, they would buy it. Just because you send them a copy doesn't mean they're going to read it.
Another issue: that whatever people believe in, be that atheism, or religion, it is their right to believe in that and we shouldn't be starting a campaign against that. Religion has a HUGE part to play in stopping indoctrinating others too i.e. the watchtower etc. Yet i don't think atheists should be creating their own army to go to a kind of war. It won't work, i haven't read the book myself, i don't particularly know what i believe but i don't believe we should, as a society, be campaigning to change or indoctrinate other people. Even our MPs.

Posted by KennedyRocks on April 14, 2007 8:58 PM.

@ kennedyrocks

"Surely the issue here is that if people wanted to read a book, they would buy it. Just because you send them a copy doesn't mean they're going to read it."

Think of sending the book in terms of writing a letter to your mp. The difference being that you found that someone else had made your points more thoroughly and convincingly than you could have done yourself, so you use their words to let your mp know how you feel about a topic.

"Another issue: that whatever people believe in, be that atheism, or religion, it is their right to believe in that and we shouldn't be starting a campaign against that."

The campaign isn't about challenging people's right to believe whatever they want, and it's certainly not the aim to indoctrinate anyone. The point is to promote critical thought and reason. Also to draw attention to the disproportionate level of respect and deference currently accorded to beliefs the moment they qualify as religious beliefs (in particular the 'big three').

Posted by bitbutter on April 15, 2007 7:50 PM.

I didn't like the God Delusion as much as The Blind Watchmaker. The latter makes the argument for atheism much more clearly, in one offhand comment buried in the middle of a chapter on Lamarckism, then the book does. But, he's a celebrity, and every idea has to have a celebrity to be recognised.

Anyway, I don't think it matters whether or not the MPs read the books. In fact, it may even be better if they don't. The real effect will hopefully be to set their electoral instincts twanging, by indicating that there are a lot of people out there whose votes might just be swayed by policies that keep religion out of the governance of the state.

At the minute, conventional wisdom is that there are votes to be lost in opposing religion, but none to be lost in indulging it. Thus the shameful anti-secular behaviour of politicians of most every stripe. The book giveaway seems a highly reasonable way to begin upsetting that conventional wisdom.

Posted by AHUK on April 16, 2007 7:48 PM.

reposted from: Guardian
my: highlights / emphasis / key points / comments

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