For some reason my column didn’t appear in the Independent today, so if your Christmas has been ruined by that, all is well as here it is……..

Having followed the latest debate about religion I’d say the conclusion is obvious, that the only thing as disturbing as the religious is the modern atheist.

I’d noticed this before, after I was slightly critical of Richard Dawkins and received piles of fuming replies, that made me think what his followers would like is to scientifically create an eternity in laboratory conditions so they could burn me there for all of it.

It’s not the rationality that’s alarming, it’s the smugness. Instead of trying to understand religion, if the modern atheist met a peasant in a village in Namibia he’d shriek “Of course GOD didn’t create light, it’s a mixture of waves and particles you idiot it’s OBVIOUS.”

The connection between the religious and the modern atheist was illustrated following the death of atheist Christopher Hitchens, when it was reported that “Tributes were led by Tony Blair.” I know you can’t dictate who leads your tributes, and it’s probable that when Blair’s press office suggested he made one to someone who’d passed on he said “Oh which dictator I used to go on holiday with has died NOW?”

But the commendation was partly Hitchens’s fault. Because the difference between the modern atheist and the Enlightenment thinkers who fought the church in the eighteenth century is back then they didn’t make opposition to religion itself their driving ideology. They opposed the lack of democracy justified by the idea that a King was God’s envoy on earth, and they wished for a rational understanding of the solar system, rather than one based on an order ordained by God, that matched the view everyone in society was born into a fixed status.

But once you make it your primary aim to refute the existence of God you can miss what’s really fundamental altogether. For example, the ex-canon of St. Pauls, presumably a believer unless he managed to fudge the issue in the interview, was on the radio this week expressing why he resigned in support for the protestors outside his old cathedral. He spoke with inspiring compassion, but was interrupted by an atheist who declared the Christian project is doomed because we’re scientifically programmed to look after ourselves at the expense of anyone else. So the only humane rational scientific thought to have was “GO Christian, GO, Big up for the Jesus posse.”

Similarly Hitchens appears to have become obsessed with defying religion, so made himself one of the most enthusiastic supporters for a war he saw as being against the craziness of Islam. But the war wasn’t about God or Allah, it was about more earthly matters, which the people conducting that war understood. And as that war became predictably disastrous they were grateful for whatever support they could find. And so a man dedicated to disproving GOD was praised in his death by the soppiest sickliest most irrational hypocritical Christian of them all.

So the only thing I know for certain is that I would become a Christian, if I could just get round the fact that there is no GOD.


  1. “But the war wasn’t about God or Allah, it was about more earthly matters, which the people conducting that war understood.”
    But Hitchens thought the war in Iraq was all about earthly matters too, namely removing Saddam from power.

  2. I’ve always had a problem with the term atheist and prefer to call myself non-religious instead. The likes of Dawkins et al have made not believing in a god a pseudo-religion in its own right and that’s too much dogma for me. At least now I know it’s not just me who thinks it!

    Do you know why this wasn’t published?

  3. Well said. Many Marxists are wont to identify with the neo-athiests who while I sympathise about the being no god thing their social analysis is non-existent and amounts as you say to the masses are stupid and need Oxford dons to enlighten them.

    There’s a brief piece by Paula Cerni that puts it well in ‘Atheism is not enough’ she states:

    “Science cannot win the battle on behalf of reason while chained to an irrational social order. It will only prevail when, instead of being used to build weapons that annihilate entire cities, it is used to wipe out entirely preventable diseases that kill millions every year; when, instead of helping develop sophisticated technologies of social control and surveillance, it frees us all to lead our lives to the best of our abilities; when, instead of serving the interests of the powerful, it fully supports the wellbeing of the people. Until then, the most advanced and knowledgeable society in human history will continue to spread unnecessary misery and ignorance – the social muck on which popular religion flowers.”



  4. Ahh, this did actually significantly dampen my day when I opened the Independent and found Mark Steel’s column missing. It’s the only reason I choose this particular paper.

    Anyway, very well observed as always. I am a steadfast atheist, but there is a growing section of non-believers who seem to see it as their duty to challenge religion wherever they find it. If that means taking on powerful organisations for misleading masses of people then good for them, but some wouldn’t stop short of mocking little old ladies who just go to church every Sunday. Let’s be reasonable, shall we?

  5. Excellent piece? It missed the mark by a long way and your articles are usually quite accurate. For example, Hitchens was quite clear in his books that he was an “anti-Theist”. Therein lies an important distinction because it represented what we knew about Hitchens; that he was staunchly against all forms of totalitarianism. And it is the latter where he made his mark, it just happened to be that totalitarianism is the heart of all religion and thus a natural home was made for his views there.

    You’ve been picked up on the “earthly matters” part; but why does the hierarchy of religion interest itself in earthly matters? Because they know that they have no proof of the next life and that power in this one is what really counts.

  6. Great article. Read it today in the Independent titled, ‘Just because you’re an atheist doen’t make you rational’. Went to see Richard Dawkins a while back and have to say he’s ever so slightly really very annoying.

  7. What a thoroughly unpleasant characterisation of atheism. I notice that atheists “shriek” and are “smug”, along with being arrogant racists who make no attempt to understand religion. Thanks for the drive-by hail of insults, Mark, and Happy New Year to you too.

  8. Mark, your articles are what I tend to look forward to on Wednesday.
    I do see a hint of Hitchensesque smugness in your article here, the word ‘fact’ is used along with ‘no God’.

    Come on guys, you either believe in Him or you don’t, there’s no ‘Fact’ about any of it as nothing can be proven by our limited minds with limited knowledge in any way.

    1. That’s right you can believe whatever you like but there is no evidence that there is any sort of god at all. There are claims for 1000s of gods over the course of human history so the question is what evidence is there? Given the lack of evidence – and the length of time believers have had to present evidence – I think we can say its a fact that there is no god.

      Its not arrogant to accept we have no evidence. The arrogance surely comes from those who claim to speak for one or other of the gods and insist that we believe in their brand – without any evidence whatsoever.

  9. Well, I’m glad you’re still safe then, Mark. There’s no point being a hateful little Christian anymore in any case. They’ve agreed, ecumenically, that there’s no longer such a thing as Hell anymore, apparently. Personally, I’m much obliged – because own my idea of Hell was having to spend all Eternity with some of the Christians I know.

  10. While Christians often turn out to be poisonous hypocrites, the god atheists don`t believe in usually turns out to be an old man sitting on a cloud who trying to direct the traffic and making a proper bog of it. Most of us have some inkling occasionally of some force beyond us,like the Tao or Higgs Boson which seems sort of fair. Otherwise the fish, frog, man,tree mountain arrangement just looks too wildly implausible. If there is a god, how can there also be so many mass killers? Is that the Book of Deuteronmy. Or is that a Mormon board-game?

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