Sunday 7 August 2011


I would like to thank everyone who is emailing me in response to my now-famousish letter to Mark Steyn. I'm going to answer some of your points here.

So far only one correspondent, Gerry from Western Australia, has managed not to miss at least some of my point, brilliantly summarising my problem thus:

utility is just not good enough.

Thanks for that, Gerry: that's what I really should have titled the post.

I would like to advise Rich, who summarised my question to Steyn as "Is belief in a revealed religion a necessary basis to a moral society?" that no, that's really not what I said. First of all, I didn't ask Steyn any question at all, beyond the implicit "Would you be so kind as to write a considered reply to this even though you're probably rather busy promoting your new book?" Secondly, I'm talking about society's resilience and lengevity, not its morality. And finally, I didn't ask, I stated that religious societies tend to be stronger and more resilient than secular ones, and I further pointed out that this is not because religion is a necessary basis for a strong society; it is because atheists are too bloody stupid to keep the baby when they chuck out the bathwater. Or vice versa, probably.

Whilst I appreciate the kind and surprisingly personal emails from Christians — unlike most atheists, I do understand that you believe that I am going to suffer horribly if I don't convert and that you are therefore engaged in a quite genuine act of kindness when you try and persuade me that your God exists, so I don't respond rudely, though neither do I pay a whole lot of attention because I really have heard it all before — it is still (a) not going to work unless you perform a miracle, 'cause that's what I'm like, and (b) completely missing my point. Please read the post again, and note that I did not ask whether God exists. And then think about it a bit and try to realise that, in this context, whether God exists doesn't even matter.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that God exists, that it's the Christian God, and that all us atheists are wrong. Well, so what? The Christian God has opted, in recent years, to go down the no-proof-offered path because faith is apparently what matters to him and evidence would spoil all that. Fine, no problem, I get that. But what that means is that the existence of atheism in society isn't going to go away because some Christians talk earnestly to some atheists. We are, as Douglas Adams put it, not convinced, and evidence is what convinces us. In requiring you to convert us without it, your God is giving you an impossible task. You might well make some headway — people do convert, all the time — but, absent proof, this is going to take you, at the very least, a couple of centuries. Tough break.

So secularism is here to stay. And while I understand that our American Christian friends (who are emailing me), with their long history of absolute freedom of religion, might not see the benefits of secularism, I would politely like to remind them that every one of us in Europe lives in a country with a history of brutal religious wars and that secularism is therefore very welcome here. We don't want our governments to be religious. It doesn't end well. Which is part of what I was getting at in my earlier post.

Secularism is here to stay. Arguably, it is weak and prone to take-over and/or defeat by any strong culture. Arguably, that is already happening. Arguably, a strong religious streak through society would make that more difficult and less likely. Even if it's not already happening, it would still be good to take steps to ensure it doesn't happen in the future, as our society is pretty excellent and worth preserving. But, given that many millions of us simply are not religious and are highly unlikely to become so any time soon, just how useful is it to point out that Christianity is an effective solution? I agree that it is.

But utility is just not good enough.