Speaking In Tongues

Readers of the Guardian may be aware of their CiF Belief blog on which you can enjoy Andrew Brown babbling on about the New Atheists at great and worrying length. Now it looks like New Statesman readers have their own version to look forward to as Sholto Byrnes gives us a sneak preview of his ‘God Blog’.

He introduces the blog by saying that the faith debate has got a little too heated:

Today, we hear far too much aggressive assertion that serves only to increase intolerance and suspicion. It may have been a thoughtless slip, but too often we hear careless generalisations such as the novelist Sebastian Faulks’s recent dismissal of the Quran as ‘the rantings of a schizophrenic’.

Sorry? A well-meaning novelist makes some off-the-cuff (though accurate) remarks about Islam, which he retracts almost immediately with a full, pre-emptive apology to ‘anyone who does feel offended’ – this, for Byrnes, is ‘aggressive assertion’. The office of the Staggers must be carpeted with eggshells.

Byrnes goes on to draw a comparison which is perhaps not as original or insightful as he thinks it is.

We are familiar with the opinions and sometimes actions of religious fundamentalists in this country – it is less than a year since the home of the publisher Martin Rynja was firebombed because his firm was due to print a novel about the Prophet Muhammad’s bride Aisha.

But in their words, many of those who seek to defend reason show themselves to be equally unreasonable and inflexible in their views. A gentle and accommodating agnosticism has given way to an angry and insistent atheism that sees offence as the best way to defend rationalism and science.

Which is why Karen Armstrong’s house was blown up when she published The Case for God. Oh, wait…

Byrnes goes on to wonder how NS fans will react to the new venture.

Going on past correspondences, the sympathies of most New Statesman readers are with the ‘God-free’. There seems to be a widespread feeling that a magazine of the left should not only display a preference for secularism but for atheism, too: that we should take our editorial line from Richard Dawkins and agree with him that religion is, at best, as silly as believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden but is, more generally, ‘dangerous nonsense’ that devalues human life.

Okay, our readers don’t want more faith-based commentary – but that’s what they’re going to get. Having denounced his readership, Byrnes goes on to point out the ‘deep association in this country between religion and radicalism.’

The right may see the parable of the talents as a justification for wealth creation, and Margaret Thatcher once pointed out that the Good Samaritan was only in a position to help because he had money; but others have long looked to the man who washed the feet of his disciples and who consorted with outcasts, and have drawn very different conclusions.

Conclusions could also be drawn from a hard look at the reality of theocratic government around the world – little of which is heavy on trade union rights, redistribution of wealth or even basic human compassion. 

There’s a succinct comment below Byrnes’s piece:

Yeah right. But the god thing – it’s complete bollocks. You can’t get away from the fact that it’s complete bollocks. You can whitter on as you will and there remains the inescapable basic root of the matter that it’s complete bollocks.

So you really are rather wasting your time (and everyone else’s).

The NS God Blog doesn’t start till Monday so perhaps we are both being too harsh. But if Byrnes’s piece is a fair representative of the quality of political and philosophical discourse on the blog then it doesn’t look good for the future relevance and indeed circulation of that journal.

(Via the National Secular Society)

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2 Responses to “Speaking In Tongues”

  1. Madame Arcati Says:

    While secular publications have a giggle with faith blogs – I hope it wasn’t anything I wrote – see how research into mystical or religious experience was misrepresented in a Sunday Times story: http://madamearcati.blogspot.com/2009/09/god-tarts-and-misleading-sunday-times.html

  2. jus sayin Says:

    “Which is why Karen Armstrong’s house was blown up when she published The Case for God. Oh, wait…”

    Made me chuckle!

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