Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

On Sunday night, I went to Wellington College to defend God. The Almighty does not need human help, of course, but I was asked to oppose Professors Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling, and - with Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford - propose the motion that 'Atheism is the new fundamentalism'. I had hoped that the audience would consist largely of the stalwart pupils and parents of Wellington, which would have had our side in with a chance. But in fact the event was run by the brilliant, Notting-Hilly debating organisation Intelligence Squared.

This meant that 1,500 people turned up, cramming the vast sports hall. It also meant that the Wellington clientele was swamped by a very different crowd. I could see at a glance that the atheist fundamentalists were present in force. The side of the angels got a paltry 363 votes and that of the apes got 1,070. It was good-humoured and well-chaired, so I have no complaints. But more than I had realised, it is indeed the case that there is a movement of militant, fundamentalist atheists - well-organised, self-righteous and derisive, rather like Gay Pride marchers.

Indeed, just as homosexual activists co-opted the word 'gay' for their cause 40 years ago, so the grooviest atheist gang call themselves, self-regardingly, Brights. They campaign for, among other things, 'full and equitable civic participation' for those with their 'naturalistic world-view'. My impression is that they have got a lot further than most people realise.

For example, they are now making it very hard for faith schools to teach faith, or select the children of the faithful or, ultimately, to exist at all. They want religion to be tolerated only as what they call a 'private' opinion, by which they mean that it should have no space in the public sphere, rather like Roman Catholicism in 18th-century Britain, or Judaism in most Arab countries today.

I think a big battle is beginning and, at the moment, religion is losing.

Professors Dawkins and Grayling seem to be the Moody and Sankey of this movement. They play, as it were, the favourite hymns, and they do it very well.

Professor Dawkins, in particular, has rockstar status. Fans hail his sallies rather as black congregations in the Deep South shout 'Ay-men!' when they like what the preacher is saying. But, with his mellifluous voice, distinguished grey hair, slightly old-fashioned forms of expression and high opinion of his own abilities, Professor Dawkins reminds me of nothing so much as an old-school esAnglican bishop. Winding up, he gave a little picture of himself lying down, staring at the Milky Way, and feeling a sense of 'gratitude' for the great mystery of the universe. It was very stirring, but to whom, in the absence of a God, was he grateful?

In my lead item last week about how Lord Mandelson had been present at Lord Rothschild's house during a shooting party attended by Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator, I mentioned that Cherie Blair had also been at Waddesdon that weekend. Now The Spectator has received a strange letter from Mrs Blair's lawyers. It says that I said she was 'rubbing shoulders' with Mr Gaddafi.

In fact, says the letter, 'our client was not present at the shooting party and was not at Lord Rothschild's house at any time whilst Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was in attendance.

Indeed, our client has never attended a shooting party in any location. …

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