Friday, 27 April 2007

Shout your doubt out loud, my fellow unbelievers by Matthew Parris

WASP Summary:
  • Religion is wrong
  • Miracles do not occur - ever
  • On religious belief: "You don't believe - thats fine. Now shut up!" Non believers should NOT shut up - because - some believers are doing real harm to our world
  • Non believers should be passionate atheists. If they are not passionate the Church will once again gain the upper hand and be happy to persecute, imprison or behead non-believers and fight crusades against other religions.
  • re: the evangelical movement in America & UK, Religious Right in Israel, fundamentalist Islam; what drives them, the tiger in their tanks, is an absolute, unshakeable belief in an ever-present divinity, with plans for nations that He communicates to the leaders, or would-be leaders, of nations. They are the very devil, these people, they could wreck our world, and their central belief in God’s plan has to be confronted. Confronted with passion. Confronted because, and on the ground that, it is not true.
  • Disbelief can be passionate. Sometimes it should be. Agnosticism can be passionate. A sense that we lack certitude, lack evidence, lack the external command of any luminous guiding truth, may not always lead to lassitude, complaisance or a modest silence. Sometimes it should provoke a great shout: “Stop. You don’t know that. You have no right.”
  • We who do not believe must be ready with our paintbrushes, our chisels and our cans of aerosol spray.
  • Disbelief can be more than an absence of belief. It can be a redeeming, saving force.
April 21, 2007

Christianity was part of my upbringing and education. Because I am fascinated by moral philosophy, enjoy reading the Bible and, as Private Parris in the Boys’ Brigade (BB), detested military drill, nautical knots, whiting-up my sash and polishing my brass belt-buckle, I have acquired a reasonable grounding in the other skill you could shine at in the BB: religious knowledge. I think religion, like politics, is tremendously important.

The trouble is, I’m sure religion is wrong. This drives me as a columnist into a curious dilemma. My subject is of interest mostly to those of my readers who are liable to be offended by me. One is left writing for a minority audience predisposed to take umbrage at what one says. Those who don’t care for religion don’t care to read about it.

The dilemma was brought home by readers’ responses to a column I wrote on Maundy Thursday, inveighing against claims that a French nun has recently been cured of Parkinson’s disease through invoking the name of the late John Paul II, and that this alleged miracle could lead to the possible canonisation of the late Pope. I have been deluged with letters, almost all from Christians, and overwhelmingly critical of the column.

Three strands of opinion in particular emerge from this fascinating pile of letters. The first insists that miracles do occur, that saints may be invoked and that the successful invocation of putative saints may be grounds for canonisation. Such assertions have been made by a number of Anglican correspondents. I should remind them that their own Church had something to say on this more than 400 years ago. Article 22 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states: “The Romish doctrine concerning . . . invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded on no warranty of Scripture.” I rest my case.

The second strand is more tentative. “Why rule out the possibility?” sums up the thought, variously expressed to me. Things do occur for which there is no available explanation in Nature; in such cases is it not perfectly rational to accept that the divine explanation is at least a contender for the truth?

For the answer to this, I need only go back two-and-a-half centuries, to the greatest philosopher our islands ever produced: the Scot David Hume. Hume took a cool view of “the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous”.

A miracle, began Hume (On Miracles, pt I), “may be accurately defined, [as] a transgression of a law of Nature by a particular volition of the Deity”.

But “there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves.” Forced to choose between doubting the evidence, and believing in a divine suspension of the laws of Nature, only someone already convinced that divine intervention occurs could opt for the miraculous as an explanation. Miracles cannot therefore be evidence of a divinity: belief in a divinity must be the evidence for miracles.

In consequence, Hume concludes (hinting at atheism with such sly elegance that no Edinburgh pharisee could pin it on him): “The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.”

But stop. Why should Hume, or Richard Dawkins, or lesser polemicists such as me, bang on about this? For heaven’s sake, wail many of my correspondents (and this is the third strand in my pile of letters), what are you getting so het up about? You don’t believe. Fine. Well why not shut up, then? Tell us about things you do believe in. Surely it is those who believe who should be proclaiming. How can one be a passionate non-believer, they ask, hinting that, like Saul, I may be battling against my own inner faith.

Proselytisers for atheism such as Richard Dawkins will be as familiar as am I with the lament. I heard it most memorably from a Conservative Chief Whip (urging me to pipe down about homosexuality) who remarked to me that he had never believed in God, but felt absolutely no imperative to jump to his feet in church and broadcast this fact to his astonished constituents.

How do we reply? An ad hominem response would be to remark that when the Church had the upper hand it was happy to persecute, imprison or behead non-believers and fight crusades against other religions. Now it has lost its boss status it simply asks us to keep our opinions to ourselves (but still wants laws to criminalise us for mocking its pretensions).

On the back foot at last, it discovers (first) a brotherhood between all its sects. Then as the situation deteriorates Christianity discovers within itself a respect first for Judaism (suddenly we are all “Judaeo-Christians”), then women with a Christian vocation, then for divorcees, and finally finds a common purpose with religions such as Islam, too (the “faith” community). Needs must.

And as the Devil (or falling church attendance) drives, these “members of the faith community” cease enforcing their moral imperatives upon a secular world and retreat into whimpering about their “freedom of conscience” to carry on persecuting the minority groups upon whose sinfulness they can still find a consensus. Freedom of conscience, my eye! If only there were an afterlife: Martin Luther would have loved Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s protests. They don’t like it up ’em.

As mainstream Christian church attendances fall farther still I predict that the Church of England, and finally the Roman Catholics, will be driven to conclude that they cannot even afford to make enemies of homosexuals, unmarried couples and family planners, and start welcoming them in too. I expect they’ll call it the “love community”. In truth it’s the “can’t afford to be choosy” community.

But there I go again. Getting passionate, fighting dirty. But we have a better argument than “you’d do the same to us if you could” — though they would, and until about half a century ago they did.

It is that they will again, unless we non-believers are watchful, and energetic and — yes — passionate. I hate ending up in scraps with nice Anglicans and thoughtful Catholics because the Church of England and intelligent Catholicism are not the problem. They are the best kind of Christians, but the best lack all conviction. It is the worst who are full of passionate intensity. Look at the evangelical movement in America, and to some extent, now, here. Look at the Religious Right in Israel. Look at fundamentalist Islam. What they share, what drives them, the tiger in their tanks, is an absolute, unshakeable belief in an ever-present divinity, with plans for nations that He communicates to the leaders, or would-be leaders, of nations. They are the very devil, these people, they could wreck our world, and their central belief in God’s plan has to be confronted. Confronted with passion. Confronted because, and on the ground that, it is not true.

Disbelief can be passionate. Sometimes it should be. Agnosticism can be passionate. A sense that we lack certitude, lack evidence, lack the external command of any luminous guiding truth, may not always lead to lassitude, complaisance or a modest silence. Sometimes it should provoke a great shout: “Stop. You don’t know that. You have no right.”

I hit you, earlier on, with a burst of the admirable David Hume. But he was not always right. “Opposing one species of superstition to another,” he wrote, “set them a-quarrelling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.” No, David. Listen instead to Nietzsche. “This eternal indictment of Christianity,” he said, “I will write on walls, wherever there are walls.”

We who do not believe must be ready with our paintbrushes, our chisels and our cans of aerosol spray. Disbelief can be more than an absence of belief. It can be a redeeming, saving force.

reposted from: timesonline via
my: highlights / emphasis / key points / comments

Comments at timesonline

The most important reason for opposing the believers in fairy stories is because they make judgments based on their fairy stories - for example, that women are not equal to men, that homosexuality is 'evil' , that divorce should not be allowed, that 'infidels' should be killed, that the world began in 4004BC - that are plainly wrong, and that harm other people and society at large. The fairy story followers need to be shown that they do not have a monopoly on morality, and that not believing their fairy stories is not just another "faith" position no better than theirs, but soudndly based rationalism..

Terry Collmann, London, England

Matthew, I think you have lost the plot here. The only thing we must be passionate about is that where others proclaim certainty in the absence of evidence, they must be challenged. But that's a double-edged sword because, just as we can demand proof if someone asserts we should believe in God, so must we require it when others assert there is no such entity. We only used to have religious zealouts and now we have atheist ones: a plague on both their houses, I say! Truth eludes people who have their minds made up. Such people have stopped questioning because, so far as they are concerned, they already know the answers. Is it not both more rational just to say that´, while you don't believe, you are open to being convinced either way if someone can present you with compelling evidence?

S Foster, Doncaster, UK

Terrific article Matthew. You're the only reason to buy the Times these days. Why does anyone imagine that the Church would not still be torturing its enemies if it felt it could get away with it? The Church never reformed from within. Only after suffering the repeated hammer blows of secular modernity does the Church move, painstakingly slowly, in the hope that no one will spot that the original divine revelation was perhaps not so perfect in all its parts after all.

Any chance of a book Matthew? To go alongside Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens

This article summarises my views precisely. I have noticed that the C of E now appears to regard "militant secularists" as their true enemy, rather than, for example, Islamic extremists. I believe that the actions of the Islamic extremists have stirred the non-religious into action, and this has led to the reaction from the C of E. For too long the religious have dictated to others. It is now time for them to recognise that most of the population of the UK simply do not believe in their fantastic stories, for which there is absolutely no evidence, nor do the religious have a monopoly on morality, as they would like to assert.

Cathy , Bristol, UK

A brilliant article which mirrors my own experience, especially the part about the BB. He rightly questions the idea of a "master plan" on the macro scale. When my beloved wife of 30 years died nine years ago Christian friends tried to console me that it was part of God's grand stategy which would be revealed at some point in the future. How dared they!
When you have religion inextricably linked with politics, as here in Northern Ireland, the combination is explosive, literally in many cases. Surely our experience of fundamentalist faith combined with intolerant politics should have killed outright any expansion of faith schools in the rest of the UK.
However I will never know whether my standards, such as they are, are intrinsic to me or are a product of having been been born into a Christian family.

seamus mcneill, belfast,

Congratulations on your Shout Aloud Your Doubts article (particularly in a major National newspaper). It`s probably what the vaste majority of people in this country think. Why should`nt we have a rational debate about this "last" taboo subject. On the same day, the article in the Faith section of your paper by Rabbi Dr. Johnathan Romain seems to bear out that even the Faiths are beginning to doubt the validity of books (including the Bible) which were once regarded absolutely and literally as Gods word.

Malcolm Shaw, Sturminster Newton, England

Thank you Matthew. Again and again when theists are backed into a wall with the irrationality of their arguments they will respond with some type of 'its my belief; I have the right to hold it; leave me alone'. Well yes, we would if you left us alone. But as the examples already given show many of our social policies are influenced or shaped by these fairy tales (e.g. discrimination, assisted dying, stem cells, the middle east, etc). This being the case it is our moral duty to expose the fallacies or lack of evidence behind the various justifications for theism (such as the claims of miracles.) Matthew, please keep shouting out the truth!

W Clifford, Cambridge, UK

Well argued, MP. The miraculous is magical. Rational people don't believe in magic.

alan, cologne,

Many people have no idea how Paul Daniels does his magic tricks. Does this not make them miracles? For the Catholic Church to claim the last Pope cured a woman's Parkinson's simply open them up to the ridicule they deserve. If he cured hers why not cure everyone's? And now, for my next miracle......

john smith, manchester, uk

Yesterday a miracle occurred in the plain light of day in the heart of the Vatican itself. They announced that Limbo was a lie! At a stroke, countless thousands of souls of newborn, unbaptised babies were evicted from the uncomfortable twilight of Limbo and (presumably) assumed into Heaven after waiting patiently a considerable length of time.
The miracle is that the Church of Rome achieved regime change in the next world and eliminated the sovereign state of Limbo after more than a thousand years of uneventful existence. It is a unique and unnatural event that this church declares itself to have been mistaken for a thousand years. Surely this qualifies as a miracle?

Jim Payne, Oliva, Spain

It takes far more "faith" to be an atheist than a theist. Atheists say they don't believe in miracles, yet they're prepared to believe in the biggest fairy tale of all: that the universe, without a Creator, just randomly appeared from nothing. If that's not a "miracle" then what is?

Hugh Battye, Xining,

read both your previous column and this one and agree whole heartedly with you. Those of us who are not believers do need to make our voices heard, other wise the religious, now frequently called faith groups, seem to take for granted they can speak for us.
We still have bishops in the Lords for example, who have an influence entirely disproportonate to their following.
We atheists must be growing visibly and vocally more numerous as now it seems the religious feel the need to group together and imply we should keep our opinions to ourselves.
The one thing I don't agree with totally is that the nice religious people are not the problem. They may be nice and well meaning but actually they believe in and support the absurdities that the religious extremists use as their justification.
Keep arguing Matthew.

Lesley Bruce, London,

Matthew, you have successfully summed up exactly the point I have been trying to articulate to others but found so hard. I think I'm going to learn this article word for word! Keep it up!

Freddie Bellhouse, London, UK

Matthew, I want to congratulate you an an absolutely excellent article. It is of course easy to show up the absurdity of th eposition of the theists, but it is nonetheless important to go on doing so regularly and firmly. They are absolutely persistent in peddling their nonsensical and dangerous arguments, and these must be combatted at every turn. At a time when we have a Prime Minister who is believed to carry a bible with him at all times and a likely successor who is also a son of the manse, the power of theists and the role of religion in society has to be challenged. Two hands working are worth more than a thousand clasped in prayer, but too many of our leaders ignore this obvious truth.

Of course, when you don't believe, the church has no control and no money....

Now, we can't have that can we.....

F.S. Summers, London.

Please keep shouting Matthew. I'll keep shouting with you.

We need a world based on independant thought and rational, not about some 2000 year old bronze aged fable.

The catholic church's decision to abolish limbo recently (to furthur their own cause of course), oh, and to help little babies into heaven shows just how utterly ridiculous they are.

How do people really belive this absolute rubbish!

Like Hume, Robert Ingersoll knew the truth. Go here for some wonderful one liners and quotes.

F.S. Summers, London.,

Why should we bow to the 'beliefs' of others when they won't bow to reason, or our beliefs? I am sick and tired of for belief reasons.. and we just accept it, or are expected to.

The sooner we all live in a secular country the better, but the chances of that are slim.

And why do we have faith schools? Should children not be given the time to make up their own minds?

Ian hadingham, Lowestoft, Suffolk

The religious bandwagon, having been given a mighty push by the Muslims in recent years, has been promptly boarded by the faithful of all 'communities' not wishing to be left stranded at the roadside. They are now greatly surprised and discomforted to find that the road ahead is rocky and, moreover, that the 'right of way' signs - securely in position for centuries past - have been removed. Worse still, wicked secularists, long corralled in the hills, have broken loose and are descending to give battle. Much panic, surprise and indignation ensues aboard the bandwagon; someone has seriously tampered with the script.

As one of the tamperers, expect much abuse and vituperation to be flung your way, Matthew! You won't be disappointed. But many of us, who eagerly seek you out on Saturdays, will be should you fail to continue nailing your very courageous and intelligent colours to the mast.

Ian Smith, Dersingham, Norfolk

Often, people's so-called faith (faith being the biggest cop-out in history), their sister/brotherhood with a religion makes them forget that first and foremost, they should be a sister or brother of humanity. religion gives people a false sense of security- you are a product of your own choices- u are where u are because of you. dont let religion take that from you.Religion is a mechanism for pouncing on the vulnerable and creating divides in society which are not needed (nationalism has created enough on its own already thanks). Religion is dangerous and should not be promoted. Secularism and social responsibility of a non-exclusive nature must prevail.

KN, London, uk

Once again I agree wholeheartedly with Matthew. Belief should be a private matter but such is human nature that it can never be so. Those who believe also believe that they are morally superior to the rest. More than once have I been pitied by a believer for lacking their absolute certainty though I have not asked for it. But even this would not be a problem if they did not feel able to disapprove so vocally of other people's life choices due to their reading of their silly books and traditions. How are others' bedroom activities anyone else's business? Oh yes, because God disapproves apparently.
Religion, though increasingly marginalised, still plays a huge part in our culture. A politician would be mocked and criticised if he consulted an astrologer during a major crisis but if he prays this is seen as entirely laudable or even desirable. How is this different to the terrorist who bombs in the name of his god?

Paul Owen, Birmingham, UK

The more I learn about religion, the more I am grateful for the life of Charles Darwin. Thank you, Mr. Darwin, for showing us the truth and the light and the way out from the hideous and pathetic rantings of those too scared to accept their own mortality.

Jenny Coombes Leigh, Dallas, TX, US

Ill shout with pleasure, there is NO GOD, it isn't plausible given the evidence. There is only life as you make it, what's the problem with that.. Believing in a god is obviously a lie and needs to stop, its not a case of absolute proof at all, it's a case of being sensible with the information you have, belief and absolute proof (under the circumstances), don't come into it. We are not tolerant of other extreme belief systems, fascism, etc, why should religion be treated any differently? Just take a good look at how violent the universe is, how violent and bloody our own planet is, then ask how can there be a god? If there is he/she/it is a very bloodthirsty and immoral character is all I can say.

Stephen Thomas, Moscow, Russia

Bravo Matthew Parris, you are quite right. It's time atheists stood up and shouted whenever a religious belief is imposed on us as a an accepted fact. And lots of us are interested in the subject of religion and, far from being offended, appreciate a discussion by someone not hopelessly biased in favour of a deity. We all have the right to enjoy the wonderful heritage from our religious past, and to be moved by the language of the Bible or the music of Bach - but some of us have grown up beyond the need to believe in fantasises, however reassuring they may be.

Lesley Archibald, Bridport, Dorset

The best that can be said for religions of all hues is they are sacred placebos. Sacred to those who hold them so, but the supposed benefits are a placebo.

If you doubt this, then imagine a member of your family desperately ill. Would you take them to a room filled with the leaders of all world's religions, where they could offer prayers and intercede via their religious rituals on behalf of the ill person, or would you take them to your nearest Accident and Emergency Dept in your local hospital, to be treated with the best available science and technology we've discovered?

Ian Robinson, London, UK

But it doesn't answer why you exist or what the purpose of your life is,' says Rob Ely in the earliest comment. He misses the point. There is no purpose. That is a teleological argument. We just are. It is an impersonal universe that has arisen (or perhaps always was) through natural phenomena in a causal chain, with, admittedly, some things we cannot explain and some of those that we never will. We have to live with that. I have no problem with that. But these gaps do not presuppose a cause, or a purpose. There is no purpose, other than that which is interpolated into the scheme of things by our human minds.

Andrew Armitage, Hebron, Whitland, West Wales, UK

n theoretical physics, string theory proposes that there exist ten dimensions (not four) but that most of these extra dimensions are too small to be discerned with today’s scientific equipment.

Of course, should anyone propose one of those dimensions might be spiritual, there would be screams of denial from the scientific atheists. For them, only science has the authority to postulate about the unknown. This arrogance, which is very western, cannot tolerate the existence of other belief forms, and denies, in the absence of incontrovertible proof to the contrary, all other cultural interpretations of the universe. Bigoted is the only word I can think of to describe this crudity of thinking.

Fundamentalism is as dangerous in science as it is in religion. The only truly scientific position is an agnostic one. It is also the most humane and the most encompassing.

Nick Ferriman, Bangkok, Thailand

Oh no, Matthew let us remain the silent minority rejoicing in the knowledge that we are right. People invented religion because they couldn't understand the mystery of the universe. We are much smarter we do not jump to conclusions we wait for the scientists to do all the hard work and bring us closer and closer to the ultimate truth. If they have got all their sums wrong and are heading for a blind alley then so what we just suspend our belief until someone can proof to us one way or the other. Let us laugh at people who submit and devote their entire life to their 'one and only God' because we know Christianity and Muslin are the two major faiths in the world with many billions of followers. By definition their religions are irreconcilable. Isn't it hilarious to know that they can be wrong but not right at the same time. Any way, if there is a God we do not wish to be a piece in the game of chess He plays when only He alone can set the rules. Long live freedom of non religion!

Wing, Poole, UK

Some of the comments left here lead me to the sad conclusion that some people really can't tell when their lives are based on religious belief, and are thus offended when atheists question their beliefs. It's not personal, folks, it's university-level philosophy to question ALL assumptions. If you start with an assumption that a particular religion (e.g. Christianity) faith, then build a long, involved argument on that basis, what use is that to one who does not share that assumption? You just fell at the first hurdle.

As a few others have noted: personal beliefs are not the problem, but when those beliefs leak in to the real world, we have a problem. Jihadi terrorism, laws against "blasphemy", or Science education being degraded because it leads to Darwinism; this is why I appreciate Parris' nods to Hume, a prominent Enlightenment thinker. The events of the last few years explain why atheists need to speak out: if the "fundies" have their way, 1000 years of social progress is lost.

brian thomson, Dublin, Ireland

Religion is a bitter disease of self denial, opression of minorities and of free thought. Every human must find their own thoughts on this world, not simply give up and follow any cult.

Free thought!

f phillips, dundee

John Bessant is entirely incorrect in his assertion that the Universe was created by a giant inflatable plastic giraffe, 134.236 million miles tall, covered in pink and green spots, whose name is Brian Farquhar.

It was in fact created by a giant inflatable plastic giraffe, 124.236 million miles tall, covered in pink and blue spots, whose name is Keith Cholmondeley.

If Mr Bessant takes exception to my explanation, I ask only that he disprove it. If he cannot, he must convert.

James Williams, Oxford, UK

Matthew, yet again an excellent article. I have a proposition for you. How about running for parliament again, but this time on an independent secular ticket. I'd be more than willing to contribute to campaign funds, as would many thousands more. There is an enormous number of people in this country who are totally fed up with the priviledged status given to religion, but the leaderships of the main political parties refuse to tackel the problem, sometimes because of their own delusions, and sometimes because they are afraid of tackling the subject. You, as someone with nothing to lose (i.e. you've already retired from politics) could lead the way, and prove to them that the public is ready for this.

Note to religious types: Please don't deliberately misconstrue the meaning of secularism. Its aim isn't to "do away with" religion, simply to "do away with" its special treatment, and create a level playing field for all religions and none.

Mark Allen, Nottingham,

Brilliant article but not surprised at the outcry of the religious who predictably mouth off the same tired, inane arguments. Refreshing to hear a voice of rationality in a world of superstition.

Jonathan, Johannesburg, South Africa

Absolutely with you Matthew. The Enemy is at the Gate.

Judy Hungerford, norton St Philip,

Good post Matthew, great stuff!
Wish you'd have been at the I2 debate: 'we'd be better off without religion'. Dawkins was a speaker. The opposition was obliterated.

Philipa, Middle, England

Parris is right. Religion legitimates self-deception. Self-deception about weapons of mass destruction.... you know where that has got us.

R Mackintosh, Milton Keynes, UK

Well done Matthew - very good article.

It makes the very valid point that those who doubt these fairy tales must always be careful that the more militant believers in religion (whether evangelical Christian or radical Islam) do not gain (or regain) the ability to persecute others whose lifestyle or beliefs do not conform to their own fantasy view of the universe.

Non believera cannot do this by remaining silent or by allowing believers any special privileges.

Laurence, Derby, UK

Rob Ely, Madison, WI, USA wrote:

"But it doesn't answer why you exist or what the purpose of your life is. The atheist believes those questions can't be answered. We believe they can."

Not quite Rob, You have to split the two questions, the 1st being why are we here, this to atheists is not a theological question but a scientific question (and I would refer you to any of the writings of Darwin, Dawkins and other scientists for the answer, to save me making this 4 pages of A4) and the 2nd part of the question "what the purpose of your life is" is not a relevant question to an atheist, we just exist, and when we die; we don't exist any more. As atheists we do not find any of this uncomforting or worrying. But to think we find our lives worthless is incorrect, I love my life and all the things I do with it, I get no reward from being moral, in this life or any other, I just like having a secular moral stance.

Simon Booton-Mander, Hook Norton, Oxon, UK

Hear, hear and (why not?) hear again. The only disagreement I have is that it's not only religious people who read articles such as this (though I entirely see how planting that idea at the beginning of your article emphasises the crescendo to the call for passionate disbelief). There is a body (a growing body, I fondly hope) of those of us who simply cannot ignore articles on religion. Articles such as this one make a euphoric, clear-eyed change from the roll call of religiously motivated social meddling, political interference and violent atrocity. Thank you for speaking out.

Jonathan Higgs, Stockport,

Matthew Parris writes that religious zealots "are the very devil, these people, they could wreck our world, and their central belief in God’s plan has to be confronted."

One must look only to the current threats to world peace and to any number of wars fought in the name of religion throughout history to realise that so many more mortal lives have been lost in the name of religion than have ever been saved.

Ian Holloway, Melbourne, Australia

Matthew -

We have to shout. Loud. Now.
Religion is a fallacy . A fallacy that's breeding extremism and hate in a technologically dangerous world. The sooner it's dismantled the better. Take religion out of the picture, and suddenly a Muslim and a Christian are just two men.

Michael C, Newcastle, Australia

I like your style and your passion: you are absolutely correct that disbelief can a passionate stance. And now, in 2007, it must be passionate.
Clear thinking should be a core subject in every publicly funded school from primary school onwards. If we don't address this now, the maintenance and growth in and of science will be much harder to fight later on.
The growing spread of faith-based ant-intellectual thinking and education should worry us all. The dumbing down of scientific method and rational thought into ID and belief will throw us into a new, vicious dark age where new inquisitorial faith based cultures will eradicate all the hard won gains in medicine, the physical sciences and our growing understanding of our place in the scheme of things.
My hope is that we have come so far that such a scenario can't happen, however your cry for vigilance is timely and should be shouted from the rooftops. Thank you for this article.

Veronica Guy, Mullumbimby, Australia

I am entirely in agreement with Matthew Parris.

He has made the best case for "fundamentalist atheism" I've heard. I really like the term "Passionate Atheist".

Chris Street, Ringwood, Hampshire

Reading through the comments to your article (and indeed parts of your articleitself )is to see a wonderfully clear example of how hatred and intolerance can be just as well fostered by militant atheism as by militant faith. Surely the cry must be for tolerance, not for yet another excuse to draw a line between "us" and "them" and condemn all those on the other side of the divide.

Nicola Davies, Cardiff,

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