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Has The Fanaticism Of Militant Athreists Stigmatized Atheism Again


by Ian R Thorpe.

Not long ago, even though the nation had largely abandoned churchgoing, to describe oneself as an atheist carried a certain stigma. In the nineteen eighties and nineties that receded however as regular worshippers in Britain comprised just 6% of the population. Now however, thanks to militant atheism, the stigma is on the way back.

Has The Fanaticism Of Militant Athreists Has Stigmatized Atheism Again

by Ian R Thorpe 21 January 2012
A long time ago I had a hospital appointment to have a small cyst on my leg removed and duly reported to the out - patients reception.Naturally, the National Health Sertvice being a government run bureaucracy there were forms to fill in. Name, age, gender ( FFS ) questions about ongoing health problems, allergies, was I on any medication and the details of my next of kin were rattled of by a rat faced little clerk who wore cheap trousers and a very dodgy shirt. The final question was about my religion. "Don't want one", I said, I said, "Well I have to put something down, shall I put Church of England," said Rat Face.

"No, I'm not Church of England,"

"Christian?" The question was hopeful rather than expectant. Obviously this problem had arisen before.

"No, nothing, put none or not applicable." The clerk was nonplussed. "You're … umm ... ah ... a woss'name … an atheist, then? Shall I put atheist?"

"No, atheist is not a religion, Just put down 'none', or 'no religion'," I said.(This is before The Church of Scienceology was founded and claimed all non believers for it's congregation, even those as sceptical about science as they are about God.

The man who was given authority by his clipboard pronounced the word atheist with scorn as if an atheist was some kind of inferior being but he could not see that one might not be an atheist but simultaneously not a member of any religion. Because most people of my generation were baptised in the Church of England, Methodist, Presbyterian or Catholic faith the easy way out was to stick with that even if baptism was the last time a person had been to church. Atheists were stigmaitsed as outsiders, people who had made a conscious choice to stand outside the mainstream.

I have never liked the term atheist. It may have been Jonathan Miller's argument that non-belief in God is a narrow and entirely negative self-description that ignores all the other things you might either believe in or not, from homeopathy through necromancy to the Gaia theory. As a non believer I am sceptical about many things, not just the God of Abraham. But I am not dismissive of many things, if I wanted to be an atheist I would be a polytheistic atheist and not believe in thousands of gods; in fact I am not sceptical about Hindu and Pagan gods because both those systems have an entirely different concept of the divine that does not require followers to externalise and anthropomorphise divinities and such god are non interventionist.

Atheist is an inadequate guide to the to our spirituality. We have available far more eloquent ways of expressing in a word or phrase the moral compass that guides our behaviour and beliefs.

After a prolonged discussion which made me late for my appointment, rat face only relented when a nurse came from the surgery to see had I arrived. When the situation was explained she told tatty-trousers that stating a religion was not a priority day patients and dragged me away.

Years later the social atmosphere had changed. During a much longer stay in hospital I was visited by the ward chaplain. He hovered outside my room and coughed nervously to attract my attention before knocking and being invited in. He looked around as if checking for booby traps.

Was there a note on my record; "homicidally deranged atheist, approach with care."

But no, after he introduced himself and being invited to sit down and pour himself a glass of Apple and Mango juice. I told him I was not religious and we had a good chat about life, the state of the nation, hospital food and the books on my bedside cabinet, several of which he had read ... and of course my lack of religion as opposed to atheism.

After about half an hour he took his leave, shaking my hand and thanking me for talking. "You know", he said, "so many people put down "Church of England" but will not even talk to me. It's as if they are ashamed to say they have no religion. You have clearly thought deeply about things so it has been a pleasure to met someone who has a well formed idea of who he is."

I'd never thought of it like that.

Another day I was in the common rooms when a Catholic priest came in, he went to each inmate the duty nurse had identified as Catholic and had an identical conversation with each "How are you feeling? I don't want to disturb you when you're needing rest. It's good that you're feeling more your old self, so the nurses tell me. I'll be off now and leave you to your tea, they'll be round in a few minutes.

That was more or less what he said to each man. They nodded in return, and then the priest backed away.

Of all the people who came near our beds in any official capacity, the clergy were the most deferential and anxious not to intrude. What you might call the carer-patient discourse in a British hospital is conducted in a tone of ribald familiarity. You hear all kinds of surprising things, a buxom Lancashire lass will put her arm around an elderly Muslim and tell him to "Cough it up, Abdul love, it's better out than in." An equally young woman doctor, a specialist endocrinologist, of high caste and good Indian parentage once asked me as almost the first question if I had any problems getting an erection.

"I've ben more dead than alive for the past few months, it isn't really sometrhing I've thought about." I replied not wanting to tell her my red haired physiotherapist, while standing with her thighs wraped round my left leg as she firmly pushed my shoulder upwards. The physio told me she was trying to get elongation in my deltoids. She was getting elongation lower down. The doctor, Vikki, said "Do you get the morning glory, that would prove everything was in working order".She might have stepped out of a 1960 low budget comedy film, Carry On Nurse or something. Priests and vicars seemed to have no clue about how to introduce their speciality, the most embarrassing topic of all. God.

The unit I was doing rehab in did not just take stroke survivors. We had all sorts including many people whose problems had been caused in part at least by smoking. After the unit's smoking ban was raised as a human rights issure (before I was there, the nurses told me,) a conservatory had ben built for use as a smoking room.

Most of the emphysema, thrombosis and generally gummed up lungs and arteries people's breathing sounded like a battered old accordion tuning up. Even so, right after breakfast they would disappear en masse to the conservatory where they could light up. And these were people who needed to have a bottle of oxygen fixed to their wheelchairs and spent a couple of hours a day on nebulizers.

"You've just got to co-operate and stop smoking, otherwise you're going to be in hospital until you die," I overheard the consultant telling one man. It is a prognosis nobody who has tasted hospital food wants to hear. They guy whose lungs were failing faster than a dunk on a driving test told his fellow patients however, " (wheeeeeze)All that being told not to smoke (cough cough) just make me smoke more (gasp, wheeze): It's the stress you see, they gets me all wound up."

There was an idea among the smokers that the hospital was paid for everyone they persuaded to stop smoking." They may have ben right, we have not dug down to anything like the bottom of the Labour government's dodgy dealing with big pharma yet.

The fact is the hospital was rewarded for survival rates so their incentive was to get people discharged in a state that would allow them to survive three months. Statistically this was a successful outcome for the hospital . What hospital managers, staff, polticians and academics seem unable to understand however is that people are not afraid of death. Surviving a few extra months is not seen as a goal worth giving up a pleasure or addiction for. And if anyone tries to play the God card to scare committed smokers they will be told if God had not wanted us to smoke he would not have given us tobacco.

It is ironic that the non believers like me and the never-thought-about-it types like that old smoker are far more open minded about religion than the science worshipping militant atheists who lay claim to open mindedness but are really as tunnel visioned as the most fanatical religious fundamentalist. The non academic, non religious mass tend to be far more existentialist in their outlook than the so called rationalists. While the science fans try to find the meaning of life, explain the workings of the universe and conquer death the truly enlightened know that we all make our choices and must live with the consequences, what will happen will happen and in the end there is only one outcome which neither prayer nor science will change. The attitude of those working class fellow patients is that God will do as he pleases if indeed there is a God and a judgement. And though they have never heard of Pascal's wager they know that there is nothing to be gained by declaring for atheism and always the chance the atheists are wrong. So when life ceases to be of any value to them there is no point giving up the few pleasures they have left to delay an inevitable event they do not fear or dread.

The truly strange thing is while the monomaniacal rambling of writers like Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens have established cult like followings among the younger professional classes, the university educated rationalist intellectual bullies who call themselves "progressive liberals" they have made the bulk of the population regard atheists as shrill, illiberal anti - religionism. A large part of this is due to the abandonment of the renaissance education in favour of a "scientific" education that demands specialisation at far too early a stage. My generation were equipped to examine the opposing cases and form our own opinions. Today's science infatuated "secular humanists" seem only able to repeat the dogmas handed down to them by the hierarchy of the academic priesthood. This has marked them as intolerant, self righteous and blinkered, they are not prepared to entertain any ideas that fall outside the narrow scope of "scientific thinking."

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KEYWORDS: faith, belief, religion, agnotic, agnosticism, atheist, atheism, militant, evangelical, christian, science, church, philosophy, god, christian, ianrthorpe, Ian Thorpe, existentialism

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