Dawkins and Warsi threaten Britain's history of tolerance

Feb 15, 2012

Outlandish claims about religion risk taking Britain down the American path

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IT'S BEEN a week of religious argy-bargy. Richard Dawkins was left red-faced after claiming that people who couldn't name the first book of the New Testament were not proper Christians, then failing to remember the full name of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Meanwhile, the Conservative chair Baroness Warsi lamented that religion had been marginalised in Britain and made a call to bring religion back to the mainstream. Are these public declarations signs of healthy debate, or cause for alarm at Britain's growing intolerance?
Tolerance at risk
Intolerant religion and intolerant anti-religion are increasingly taking centre stage in our national debate, says Giles Fraser, the former Canon of St Paul's, in The Guardian. In the one corner there is Richard (anti-faith) Dawkins trying to tell people who think they are Christians that they aren't really Christians. In the other, the likes of Lady Warsi warning that "militant secularism" is taking hold.
You only need to look at American politics to see how disagreements over religion have the capacity to grow into some ideological black hole, adds Fraser. We should be wary. Britain has developed a liberal society in response to a history of religious conflict. "We risk it at our peril".  
Arrogance is the problem
At least Baroness Warsi admits that religion might not have "the only answer" to life, says A.N. Wilson in the Daily Mail. "Dawkins peddles the extraordinary view that science does have all life's answers."

It's time the secularists shut up and grew up, adds Wilson. A little more humility might allow them to glimpse "what we all - whatever our beliefs - owe to our religious inheritance".

The arrogance of atheists is their Achilles' heel, says Stephen Pollard in The Daily Telegraph. Militant secularists have only one modus operandi, attack. Respect for others' views seems to be entirely missing from their moral compass. In this way, they are merely a flipside of the extremists. "We wait in vain for a high-profile atheist to acknowledge that we can all learn from some religious leaders, even if we do not share their faith."
Even those of us who doubt the existence of God can learn something from religion, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. It's easy to mock religion or undermine it with rational arguments, but it can still be a powerful teacher and a provider of comfort. To "attack ancient practices and institutions with remorseless logic, without allowing for sentiment, spirit or tradition", is ultimately a destructive, illiberal act.

Only one conclusion...
There is only one conclusion we can draw from Warsi's preposterous claim that religion is marginalised or Dawkins's magnificent tangle over "real" Christians, says Mark Steel in The Independent. Warsi is clearly "committed to making religion look as ridiculous as possible" and Dawkins seems determined to be so "condescendingly dreadful that even atheists start kneeling in prayer".

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