Here’s the hot new phrase for the chattering classes: “Atheist Extremist” Laugh, now, while it’s still funny. If there’s one particular American import I really don’t want to see in the UK, it’s the word “Atheist” becoming a pejorative. I think, perhaps, it’s too late already. It’s getting there.
In the US the relationship between “Atheist” and “Marxist Pinko Homosexual Abortionist” appears to be rather concrete, unsettlingly so. “Of course you don’t believe in God” says the Republican. “You’re going to hell for your Marxist Pinko Homosexual Abortionist ways!” I honestly don’t know if the Church wrapped itself in American style Capitalism to protect itself from Marxism, or if American Capitalism wrapped itself in Jesus for the same reason but the link is there. This is a well poisoned well.
So imagine everyone’s astonishment and bafflement at the Pope’s insistence that “Atheist Extremists” need to be fought in order to prevent another Holocaust. I mean, it felt rather like some arsehole turning up at the bar on the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation and trying to get everyone to join in with a chant of “Queermo! Queermo!” It’s just.. you know… kind of lame and embarrassing to see someone trying to bully a victim who has no comprehension that they’re supposed to be embarrassed and ashamed about X, Y or Z.
Atheist isn’t supposed to be an insult in the UK. We don’t have an “Atheist problem”. We haven’t got the papers foaming at the mouth about “Atheist Extremists”. What does an Atheist Extremist actually do? Really, really really not read Bibles? Really really really not believe? See, there’s no Atheism Player’s Handbook to refer to. Eg:
Godlessness (Level 1, Human Atheist)
After using Godlessness, you make anyone with a faith feel moderately uncomfortable for a few minutes.
Hand Of Dawkins (Level 29, Human Atheist)
Casting Hand of Dawkins causes impressionable young Atheists to go suicide bomb Mecca and the Vatican.
No. Richard Dawkins – whom many regard as A (of not Thee) Leader of the Atheist “Movement” and, presumably, the Atheist equivalent of Osama Bin Laden – has a problem, and his problem is that people think the Catholic Church and the Pope are easy targets (they’re not at all… it’s nearly 2000 years old and it’s proven itself resilient enough to survive pretty much everything the world throws at it, and there’ll probably still be a pope 2000 years from now) and that to bash them is somehow unfair or insensitive to the feelings of ordinary Catholics, that it’s just plain rude.
That’s because it is. Dawkins’ entire point, entire modus operandi is to deny the religious the normal protection that cultural norms provide and confront them with the stupidity of their beliefs directly. That’s fine, and he’s entitled to do that but they’re still cultural norms. He’s still being rude, better or worse.
So long as Dawkins comes to be regarded as the Boss Of Atheists (“I BELIEVE IN YOU, RICHARD! SHOW US THE WAY”) then Atheists slowly come to be regarded as rude, insensitive, quasi-sectarian dicks. When this happens, people start trying to find ways of describing themselves as non-believers without using the word “Atheist”, or perhaps they’ll add, “I’m an Atheist but I’m one of the good Atheists, not one of those Extremists” or something like that. As soon as that happens then Atheist becomes a pejorative, an insult, and suddenly we’re living in the Parallel Universe of the Holy See where, next time he comes to visit and slags of Atheists we won’t be shocked at all. We’ll almost expect it… after all, those bloody Atheist Extremists DID kill all those Jews!
Sadly, at this point, it’s all so horribly inevitable. The Pope bashing of late has, in many ways, explained why those cultural norms of tolerance and politeness in the face of other people’s beliefs are largely preferable to religious hatred and sectarianism.
If history tells us one thing, is that religions have to clean up their own mess. Seriously, if setting people on fire or setting lions on them doesn’t destroy a Church, calling them a bunch of Paedophiles on Twitter won’t do the trick either.