Friday, 17 August 2012

Even atheism has a tinfoil-hat tendency

I am bored by so called ‘rationalist’ and ‘secular’ groups at the moment. In fact the poorly disguised racism and flat-earth thinking prevalent on even usually sane and witty websites and forums bores me so much I’ve withdrawn permanently from some and may stop looking in on others until the nonsense abates.
Inevitably, the sad case of Shafila Ahmed brought out the bigots in force but then, as a veteran anti-racist, I’ve always known how the fash and their kissing cousins like to infiltrate and poison the unlikeliest forums. Sadly, if any well meaning secularist points out, say, a problem caused by Muslim fundamentalism or orthodox Catholic thinking then it quickly becomes an invitation for the pub bore to jump in – and when you mention Judaism all kinds of freaks crawl out of the graveyard of ideas we all thought they’d been confined to since 1945.  
Some years back I was perturbed to see a flat-out UKIP lie circulated as ‘fact’ in a BHA forum, and more recently names I recognise as dreary BNP klingons were trying to start ‘skeptic’ and ‘atheist’ groups which – rather curiously - seemed far more intent on spreading common folk myths about Islam than exploring their origins and then debunking them along with the religious mythology they claim to be worried about. When even one of the atheist world’s best known women academics says she is avoiding some secular conferences after getting death threats from misogynistic male skeptics you know things are out of hand.
It rather proves the point I try to make to such fundamentalists. They assume 'All Muslims are....' (as if every Muslim lives in a tiny closed  community with no access to others, and has no interaction within other communities) and also assume 'All atheists are...' (as if every atheist was also a non-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic progressive liberal, when every second comment on every secular website shows that all they have in common is a professed disbelief in the supernatural, while the vast majority are all too willing to swallow whole the most common folk myths about every sector of society).
Still, I hadn’t realised just how bad things were until I sent a jokey response in to a NSS Newsline item concerning a Revelation Channel report on Mitt Romney's visit to Israel, in which it was claimed that he mentions Israel a lot because "Israel is mentioned in the Bible more than any other country".
Things, I should explain, have been a bit dull on Newsline recently. The stories from the two producers are as sharp and relevant as ever, but they invite reader letters in response, and I suspected they have been ready to slash their wrists at the drivel from non-religious ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ types which have featured in recent months. So, tongue-in-cheek, I pointed out that “Reliable sources insist that the State of Israel came into being on 14th May 1948”, and that if he “is correct, (and as a deeply religious man and avid Bible-reader running for the most powerful job on earth surely he must be)” I wondered “would Mr. Romney accept that the Gutenberg Bible, all such historical Bibles held in museums around the world, and all those Bibles passed down for centuries and so solemnly read on Sundays in our nation's best known churches must be forgeries?”
I readily admit I do this every few months on NSS and other forums to draw out and wind up the flat-earthers. Anyone who knows me well can testify that when asked in interviews for my hobbies I always reply “Winding up fundamentalists until they explode”, so my refusal to take ‘serious’ topics, well….seriously is hardly a state secret. I picked up the idea from the late Robert Anton Wilson, who worried about ‘the New Inquisition’ – those who create a scientific orthodoxy that can no more be questioned than a mediaeval pope – and thought that the best way to draw attention to a ludicrous failure to approach things with an open mind was to poke fun with a very straight face. Usually it works, and I get a few e-mails from friends who had a giggle, but this time not just one but two herberts who probably think they are models of sane and sober rationality replied to Newsline trying to ‘correct’ my ‘mistake’ about the birth of Israel.
DUH!!! (Bangs head on desk in stunned disbelief before falling off the chair shrieking with laughter). It’s tempting to reply in turn asking if there’s an e-mail equivalent of the ‘SATIRE’ sign that used to flash on and off during Monty Python sketches, but is there much point?
So, all a bit sad, and by comparison I heartily recommend you read the reply sent to a BNP pamphleteer by one Dick Wolff, who describes himself as a United Reformed Church minister and Green Party  councillor for Oxford City. You can read it at and I think the sane and humane attitude expressed will make your day, as it did mine. Mr. Wolff may be a believer in things I cannot rationally accept as true, but is certainly someone I would be glad to count as a friend - unlike the tinfoil-hatters currently crowding to sites I used to think of as refuges for the purely rational.

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