Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 5 December 2009

On Sunday night, I went to Wellington College to defend God.

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.

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