Hell hath no fury like an atheist scorned

By Craig Brown


Over the past few years, evangelical atheists have switched places with fire-and-brimstone Christians: where once it was the Christians who brooked no disagreement, now it is the atheists; and it is the atheists, too, who perform cartwheels on the heads of pins.

Christopher Hitchens once even managed to argue of the Reverend Martin Luther King, of all people, that ‘In no real as opposed to nominal sense . . . was he a Christian’.

A weaselly self-righteousness is now the hallmark of the celebrity unbeliever. Meanwhile, it is the Christian who nods diligently in any discussion, taking pains to reassure the atheists how very much he respects their point of view.

Christopher Hitchens
Martin Luther King

Atheist Christopher Hitchens (left) questioned whether Rev. Martin Luther King (right) was a Christian

In the latest edition of Prospect magazine, the philosopher A.C. Grayling writes another of his pieces in support of atheism. In it, he exhibits a deft sleight-of-hand which, viewed close-up and in slow-motion, looks more and more suspicious.

Grayling also counters that Stalin was an atheist

Grayling also counters that Stalin was an atheist

For instance, he complains that ‘in England where 3 per cent of the population go regularly to services in the state-established Church, 26 bishops (plus a number of life peer ex-bishops) can sit in the House of Lords’.

It seems a fair point, but is it even accurate, let alone fair? There are currently 775 members of the House of Lords.

Three per cent of 775 is 23.25. This means that, even by Grayling’s own demanding calculations of what constitutes an Anglican, the House of Lords has just two-and-three-quarter Bishops above its fair share.

But Grayling is highly selective with his statistics, and only manages to whittle the percentage of Anglicans down to 3 per cent by defining as an Anglican someone who goes regularly to services.

In fact, a recent survey showed that 22.2 per cent of people in the UK describe themselves as Anglican (and 59.3 per cent of people in England and Wales call themselves Christian).

If Grayling demands church attendance as the measure of Christianity, then surely the equivalent should be required of atheists? Yet the British Humanist Association, of which Grayling is vice-president, has just 28,000 members — or a meagre 0.052 per cent of the UK population as a whole — and I doubt many of them are regular attenders.

Elsewhere, Grayling’s footwork is even more deft. At one point, he counters those who point out that Hitler and Stalin were atheists by sighing ‘The usual replies have wearily to be given’, as though those who disagree with him are being pig-headedly dim-witted.

Grayling complains that 'in England where 3 per cent of the population go regularly to services in the state-established Church, 26 bishops can sit in the House of Lords'

Grayling complains that 'in England where 3 per cent of the population go regularly to services in the state-established Church, 26 bishops can sit in the House of Lords'

Almost as an afterthought, he adds that ‘Incidentally, Hitler was not an atheist — “Gott mit uns” (God with us) said the legend on Wehrmacht belt buckles — and Stalin was educated in a seminary, where evidently he picked up a few tricks’.

It is true that Stalin was educated in a seminary, but that does not make him a Christian, any more than being confirmed as a teenager makes Dawkins a Christian, or living in my house makes our West Highland Terrier a human being.

In his book The Dictators, Richard Overy, the Professor of History at King’s College, London, writes: ‘It is sometimes argued that Stalin, a former seminary student, still harboured residual religious sentiment which might explain the periodic lapses in an otherwise unremitting campaign against the religious world view.

‘There is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Stalin remained a consistent advocate of the scientific and materialist base of all knowledge. His concessions to religion were tactical and opportunistic . . .’

So there we have it: Stalin WAS an atheist, or as Grayling’s colleague Richard Dawkins himself once conceded, ‘There seems no doubt that, as a matter of fact, Stalin was an atheist.’

And so, too, was Hitler. ‘Gott mit uns’ predated Nazism by 300 years. It was employed for the first time by the Teutonic Order in the 17th century, and was inscribed on the helmets of German soldiers in World War I. For Hitler, it represented the historic rallying cry of the German nation. Even Dawkins, in The God Delusion, concedes that this reference to God on Nazi buckles ‘does not prove anything’.

Professor Overy also points out that Hitler’s private views on Christianity ‘betray a profound contempt and indifference . . . Hitler, like Stalin, took a very modern view of the incompatibility of religious and scientific explanation’.

Here are a few of Hitler’s remarks on the subject, recorded by Martin Bormann within hours of the Fuhrer having uttered them. 

‘The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity.’ (11-12 July, 1941)

‘The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death.’ (14 October, 1941)

‘The war will be over one day. I shall then consider that my life’s final task will be to solve the religious problem . . . The organised lie must be smashed.’ (13 December, 1941).

All in all, it’s hard not to avoid the conclusion that, rather like God, A.C. Grayling works in myster-ious ways.


The comments below have not been moderated.

Oh! God - if there is a God - Save my Soul - if I have one

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I'd probably describe myself as Agnostic...but t I have to say that I distrust the motivations of a lot of outspoken atheists. I suspect that many of them are attempting to justify a self- centred approach to life under the guise of scientific rationality.

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@JCP "There is no evidence. " That depends on what you mean by evidence. If someone asks "What is the evidence that US President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii", what counts as evidence? @Alan C "So why can't the same apply to the Universe?" Because even most scientists believe the universe has a specific beginning.

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AlanżGod did not come out of nothingż. from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 90 v 2. - David , S London, 05/4/2013 16:35=========================So why can't the same apply to the Universe?

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David, S from London. I do not know how the universe was created. I am aware of the theory that is, at present, the best understanding of the start of creation, but niether I, nor anybody else, knows the answer to that question. I am happy to live with that uncertainty rather than make up stories to "fill a gap" in my knowledge. I am abit confused as to the evidence you say aetheists should present about faith and the supernatural---I thought that faith needed no evidence and that was why it is faith. If I was presented with evidence that a god created the universe--then I would believe it. Do you have any evidence? And what, exactly, is "demanded of the evolutionary position?" I think, a big problem for all theists, of whatever faith, is that atheists do not need a 100% of all questions answered 100% of the time. Live with uncertainty David, you might like it.

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JCP ..Thank you. What you have done is taken numerous lines to basically say you have no answer to my question.

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AlanżGod did not come out of nothingż. from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 90 v 2.

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- David, S London, 5/4/2013 14:56. - Do you not understand what is meant by evidence? Atheists, as thinking people, demand that if they are to accept the veracity of a proposition, the proposition must stand up to reason and be testable. It seems to be your view that any old nonsense must be accepted simply because it appeals and because of the absence of any other obvious explanation. This is just simple-mindedness. You end your post with what i suppose you think is the decisive point, and the one that supplies your proof: how did we came from nothing? Your answer is that we came about because of a sort of formal utterance of abracadabra, and that settles it. The real point of course, is that we don't know. But reasonable people are not satisfied reaching a conclusion simply because they are ignorant of other possibilities. Your final point is simply wrong and should have been well understood at school.

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Prove to me how something originated out of nothing without a creator? This is absolutely demanded of the evolutionary position. - David , S London, 05/4/2013 14:56================================If a god can come out of nothing without a creator then why not the Universe?

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- Reflect_on_that, Cambridge, 4/4/2013 17:15. - Your self-pitying post is almost snivelling in its plea for christian evidence to be accepted by atheists who ignore it, you say, because it provides unassailable proof of the supernatural. Do you really believe that? Can you really be so unaware that your evidence, if we must call it that, is no more than a motley collection of ancient, confused and contradictory primitive writings which are no more authoritative than the fantastical myths of any other primitve culture? There is no evidence. None. They are myths: that's all. How is it possible that you have misunderstood this and demand that reasonable people should accept it as evidence for an omnipotent wizard?

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