Whilst driving around on holiday we heard an interesting episode of Radio 4's Thinking Allowed (or is it Thinking Aloud?). It explored how UK society is working out how to have various faith communities living alongside ones of no faith, despite the strident claims of the New Atheists (like Dawkins, Atkins and Dennett) that religion would be dead by now. (Now available to download.)The discussion of religion by these Atheists always feels shrill and unrealistic to me, and I doubt they convert many believers to their view. I suspect this is partly because they don't understand its true nature, never having properly seen "it from the inside". (Attending regular "acts of worship" at a school is absolutely no stand-in for the experience of a believer.) One of the guests, the Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan pointed out that the atheists argue for a secular state, but are wrong to assume that this means one without religions. Secularism has historically been about the separation of government from any particular faith. This allows for religious freedom, rather than forcing all citizens into believing in no God or a particular one, and is surely the more helpful (not to mention necessary) way forward in the challenges of this age.(But this always reminds of something I find paradoxical. The founding fathers of the USA based the constitution in part around this secular split, whereas the mother country had then (and still does today) elements of religion embedded in the laws and practices of the country. So why is it that religion plays a much prominent role in public life in America than in Britain?)Some of the guests usefully explored the way the atheists don't understand religion, showing that they often miss its community aspects. Particularly where a faith group is in a minority in a place, the community aspects can be as strong as the faith itself.Sometimes the community can be so strong as to require separation from people who aren't in that same 'tribe'. This is largely true of Hassidic Jews, some Christian groups such as Plymouth Brethren, and also strains of Islam (here I didn't catch the group name). One mark of such groups is that they tend to control education of the young to avoid them learning about other religions or points of view (such as we see in some Christian communities in America over human origins). This, Rebecca Goldstein helpfully defined, is what is religious fandamentalism, not just holding strongly to religious faith and/or practice.

AuthorJonathan Clark