By Nick Cohen
My family went into central London last week. After they’d gone, I found myself checking the web for reports of bomb blasts. Absurd and paranoid of me, of course. Rationally, I know that a motorist is more likely to kill you than a terrorist. Ever since Iraq, I have also known that the intelligence services’ “threats” can be imaginary. But I know this, too, and so does everyone else: if a bomb explodes, no one will think that a “militant atheist” has attacked his or her country. No one will mutter: “I wonder if someone has taken this god delusion argument too far.” Or: “Atheists should have known that violent words lead to violent deeds.”
The police don’t send undercover agents into sceptic societies and parliament doesn’t pass emergency laws to combat atheist violence. Fanatics threaten European Muslims if they abandon their faith but no atheist will attack them if they keep it. No one thinks that atheists threaten the lives of their fellow citizens anywhere in the west.
And yet across what passes for the intelligentsia, moral equivalence holds sway. There is militant religion on one side and militant atheism on the other. We’ve no obligation to make a choice between them. Indeed, we should devote our energies to attacking atheism rather than religion. You’d never guess it from the way believers and conventional intellectuals throw the term around, but “militant atheism” has a specific meaning. Marxist-Leninists, who persecuted all faiths whenever they assumed dictatorial power, were authentic militants. If you want to see militant atheism today, look at China, which sends supporters of Falun Gong to its black jails and bulldozes Catholic churches.
If you were foolish enough to take the west’s religious apologists at their word, you’d think that atheists were proposing the same pogroms here. Their victimhood takes two malign forms. First and most prominently, the Christian right is rallying opposition to equality with the cry that the “intolerance of aggressive secularism”, in the words of the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, is threatening faith. You get a taste of the hysteria on the right when you discover that the cause of the anger was a court ruling that a local council could not include Church of England prayers in its formal meetings. (As a public body, it had to respect the views of councillors and voters of other faiths or none.)
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