Theo – the vacillating, ‘not quite sure whether I’m cut out to be a priest’ – Hobson wrote an article for The Spectator recently, entitled “Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists.” He begins by asseverating that
Richard Dawkins is now seen by many, even many non-believers, as a joke figure, shaking his fist at sky fairies. He’s the Mary Whitehouse of our day.
For those of you who were not around when Mary Whitehouse was a household name in practically the whole of the English-speaking world, Mary Whitehouse was a social activist prude, railing against what she saw as an increasingly permissive society. And of course it was an increasingly permissive society. The 1960s was undoubtedly a watershed decade in Western cultural history, when it seemed, especially to those who had been brought up in the 1950s, the world was being overthrown by sex, violence and rock and roll. She was, though, a stereotypical, comic figure, trying to command the tide of change, which washed over Western societies during the sixties, to cease, and people took considerable joy in poking fun at her. Search ‘Mary Whitehouse’ on YouTube, and you will find it hard to find anything besides parody.
It is simply ridiculous to suppose that Richard Dawkins is regarded in this way. What evidence does Theo Hobson provide for his opening claim that Richard Dawkins has turned into a parody of the Mary Whitehouse variety? None at all, really. He says, with considerable aplomb, about the new atheist “movement”:
So what was that about then?
– as though the new atheism were past and finished with, and we can now see it in historical perspective – when, of course, it is as lively as ever, and producing such phenomenal results as A.C. Grayling’s soundly philosophical The God Argument. Hobson wants us to think that the new atheism was just a flash in the pan, instead of a real shot, prompted mainly by the 9/11 attack on New York and the Pentagon, and the 7/7 attacks on London, which, now that we see them as fairly limited and not all that frightening, can be dismissed with a casual wave of the hand and a reference to vicarage tea parties, as though all religion were quite anodyne and harmless.
But, quite aside from the horrific impact of those religious atrocities on the Western consciousness, let’s not forget Christopher Hitchens’ classic remark:
Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse. [god is not Great, 67]
Of course, he might have said:
But we have a right to remember how barbarically religions behave where they are strong and making an offer that people cannot refuse.
For there are, after all, many places in the world where people have no choice at all about religion. Muslims will still quote the Qur’an to the effect that there should be no compulsion in religion. But we have a right to remember where people are still imprisoned (and often murdered) for blasphemy and executed for apostasy, where any perceived insult to the “prophet” Muhammad touches off social paroxysms of frenzied crowds baying for blood. How blind, really, is Theo Hobson? Can he not see?