There’s not too much to say about this A C Grayling screed against religion — it’s boilerplate atheist stuff: some undefined thing called “dogma” is What’s Wrong With The World, and … well, you know the drill. People do good things because they’re naturally good, people do bad things because RELIGION. If people just become more skeptical — though, it goes without saying, not about anything that the writer deeply believes in — then evil will soon become “close to impossible.” Heads, atheists win; tails, believers lose. You’ve read it all a thousand times before; there’s not an original thought or even a distinctive phrase in the whole thing.
But one point I want to note. Grayling writes,
In further defence of religion, its apologists haul out the weary canards about Hitler, Stalin and Mao as examples of secular committers of atrocity – the claim even being made that they did what they did in the cause of atheism as such.
Dude: two paragraphs before that you used as evidence against religion the Spanish Inquisition. You are thereby disqualified from ever again accusing other people of promoting “weary canards.”
When I read something like this I can’t help thinking of this famous passage from Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”:
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
In the same way, when any atheist on a crusade against the unutterable and unique evils of religion invokes the Spanish Inquisition, you can be sure that no actual thought has gone into that diatribe. He is just uttering the responses in church.
[NB: thanks to my Twitter followers for pointing out that I misattributed this screed to Ian Rankin. Actually, it was Instapaper that did so in its parsing of the article, for some reason I can’t even imagine. I’ll make sure to double-check in the future, and will happily return to my more positive view of Ian Rankin.]