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Know truth?

Posted on 27th February 2008. 75 Comments

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In the latest edition of Palatinate, David Rhys Elward interviewed the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright. The interview touched on a number of issues relating to Christianity, but the one I was most interested in was what the Bishop had to say about fundamentalism. Namely, that it was not a problem in this country as it is in America, the implication being that it is therefore unhelpful and irresponsible of commentators to throw the label around. Mr Elward’s comment article in the same edition, strangely enough, expressed the view that my suggestion in the previous edition that DICCU are a fundamentalist organisation had a point – although to express this point had been "dangerous and provocative" of me, given the "connotations of the term". Meanwhile his interview, which (though obviously heavily opinionated and directly relating to his comment article) was granted a huge news slot on page two, made it clear that the Bishop’s insights on the absence of fundamentalists in this country were in response to the fact that "the Christian Union had come under attack from people who consider its ethos and members to be fundamentalist." Did Mr Elward not correct the Bishop’s lack of appreciation for the fundamentalism that he believes is nothing to be ashamed of?

Let’s rewind to Know Truth week. I sat in Vane Tempest on Wednesday 6th of February listening to a man who spoke with extreme seriousness on the title "How can God be good if he sends people to Hell?" This is a speaker arranged by DICCU, the website of which organisation states that "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour." Sounds like fundamentalism to me. The speaker did not, incidentally, address his question very adequately. But he made a very good job of holding a straight face while explaining to us that we should accept the idea that most people are going to Hell, that Hell is a real physical place with real burning, etc. Why? Because the Bible says so. I could catalogue some of the obscenely silly things that this man said (always beware the phrase "philosophers say…") but the important thing to consider is whether it really is irresponsible to use the label ‘fundamentalism’ to describe what happens every year in our student union. With packed audiences. And free potatoes. Apparently, according to Bishop Wright, critics like Richard Dawkins pick on "fundamentalists" who "most serious Christians of whatever stripe would not be a million miles near." Well, the venerable Bishop is a lot less than a million miles geographically from the Vane Tempest hall.

Religious people have an unfortunate habit of shifting their position, avoiding public confrontations, evading the issue with emotive rhetoric, hiding behind the notion of subjectivity and, in the most extreme cases, threatening violence against the apostates. And they get away with it, time and time again. Non-believers leave them be, protect their right to a platform (such as the main hall of the DSU) and characterise criticisms of them as crude attacks on straw men: ‘the fundamentalists/literalists do not represent religion proper, so you should redirect your criticisms at the right target’. My charge is this: if religious people themselves don’t know who counts as a fundamentalist and who does not, how are the rest of us supposed to? ‘Fundamentalist’ is not a label that works to my convenience as an atheist; on the contrary, it functions as a shield to be raised whenever the discourse gets too hot to handle. Mr Elward says I have a point that he might be a fundamentalist, but the Bishop says that fundamentalism is not a big deal in this country. Confused? Entering into critical engagement with religious claims is like trying to do battle with the Sandman: just as you take a jab, its body crumbles into dust, but before you know it it’s reformed with extra solidity to hit you back. So why shouldn’t we just leave DICCU alone? What is the point of getting worked up about fundamentalism/literalism/blind faith?

We live in a culture where it has become acceptable to bullshit. In our playgrounds, children are mocked for being bookish. Learning, in other words, is an object of suspicion from day one. Yet the same people who are not interested in learning are often happy to pretend to know things that they don’t. This happens all the time: in tutorials, exams, comment articles, etc. I don’t claim to be without sin in this respect, but let me cast the first stone nonetheless. It simply doesn’t help that nonsense is unashamedly given a platform by DICCU on a regular basis, let alone that our ‘official student newspaper’ should be edited in line with this rubbish. It is deemed acceptable to believe that Jesus is the truth, and even announce it to the world, and then be offended when other people make fun of your reasoning. The cartoon to the right was part of the original plan for the latest Palatinate comment section, but it was pulled at the last minute on the grounds that it was deemed crude, not funny and belligerent. That is what happens when you try and satirize bullshit, apparently.

The call to respect other people is a well-meant one, but isn’t it just a little too much like a convenient cover for not having to justify your opinions? The Bishop says that, instead of creating a divide between people, we should engage in "wise discourse … listening and sharing with people’s arguments." But, for all the emphasis on wisdom and maturity, I don’t see much listening and sharing in this edition of the Palatinate: I see religion respected (even in its crudest form) and its criticism censored. The distinguished journalist Nick Davies has just written a book exposing the decline in the media’s interest in truth: "the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985". Aren’t students, too, less concerned nowadays with what actually is the case, and more with what will get them a qualification? And isn’t this just the sort of corrosive attitude to truth epitomised by those who don’t see anything wrong with taking an ancient book as an authoritative guide to belief? This casual contempt for facts and reason thwarts freedom of expression, allows dangerous, extreme or just plain ridiculous beliefs to flourish, and privileges the thoughtless over the thoughtful.

So I say that if religious beliefs aren’t as silly as this witty piece of satire makes them out to be, then let religious people explain why. Don’t prevent them from seeing a cartoon they might, God forbid, even find funny…


  • john said:

    This is the article I would like to have written. Best thing on d21 for ages.

  • Dom said:

    I also enjoyed your other articles :)

  • dan said:

    very good, gets the point across

  • Tim said:

    I think this article raises a good point; if we Christians are to be taken seriously, we should not dodge questioning or hide behind subjectivity. People have genuine serious questions about the nature of faith, God, and the Universe, and deserve answers accordingly. Christians are encouraged in the Bible to “have an answer for everyone” who has questions.

    In Palatinate, (cf. the current issue) I saw quite a good balance between someone defending the evangelistic methods of DICCU (eg. David Rhys Elward) and attacking them (eg. John Clegg); so how exactly is Palatinate censoring debate about religion? I’m afriad I can’t agree with you on that point.

    As for DICCU’s methods and Know Truth, I think it boils down to this. Christians believe that there is a God, and that he’s offering a gift of salvation. This, to Christians, is so amazing and fantastic that it seems almost negligent not to go and tell people they care about about it; this message is usually called the gospel (“good news”), and telling people about it is called evangelism (Gk. “good-news-ing”). Thus groups of Christians, like DICCU, put on events like Know Truth because they have a heart for people to know what God’s like. I would be discouraged to learn that a Christian was spreading the gospel out of smug, self-satisfied or self-righteous motives; they should be doing it out of love for others, genuine care for community, and out of self-sacrifice.

    Hope that’s somewhat helpful, apologies for the long post!

  • Sid said:

    Is there anything altogether shocking about the fact that the Palatinate editor refused to print something on the grounds of it being “crude, not funny and belligerent”? That strikes me as fairly decent editorial reasoning (especially once you look at the cartoon). Unless you’re suggesting that Dan Bloom’s a cleverly planted DICCU mole? In any case, there’s something mildly disconcerting about quitting the Palatinate Comment editorship, bitching about Dan Bloom in an email to 300 people on a Paltinate mailing list, and then doing it again from Durham21. I’d like to see d21 give Dan Bloom a chance to respond if, of course, he wants to.

  • Vicki said:

    I think Palatinate approached the Christianity/anti-Christianity issue rather fairly, to be honest.
    In the issue preceding the last there were two articles criticising Know Truth week, then there was another anti-religion article in Monday’s paper, coupled with one pro-Christianity comment piece and a number of quite rightfully published letters. Perhaps the drawing was not offensive enough to merit censorship in that respect, but I do believe that a balance had been struck and to include even more anti-Christianity material would have tipped that balance.

    I think the real blunder in Palatinate’s last issue was the mix-up of Zaki Moosa’s and Joe Cookson’s bylines and pictures in the comments section. Hilarious, but so, so wrong…The mind boggled when I saw the words ‘Cookson’ and ‘environment’ in the same sentence.

    Sid: We’d be more than happy to hear Dan’s point of view. I hope it appears. Keep the comments board interesting and all that.

    Anyway, on a different note, welcome to d21 Chris. We’re very pleased to have you here.

  • Chris W said:

    Sid, my conduct regarding emails/quitting and Dan’s regarding editing are not on trial here. My explanation would have to be lengthy and extremely dull for people not involved (and people who spend their time contributing to the P comment section are involved, of course). I don’t think I did any bitching in this article. What I wrote in that email was extremely belligerent and rude, but I happen to think that the truth is worth being belligerent and rude about.

    Yes, Vicki and Tim, I am not accusing Palatinate of slamming all debate on religion. They wouldn’t dare, even if they wanted to (they don’t). But the point of the page in question (which I took a lot of time organising) was to run off the back of the (extremely rare) debate generated by the last edition. The result of censoring Grow Truth was that John Clegg’s article was given a silly headline, most of the double spread was given over to DICCU opinions (did we need 3 long letters to represent their sentiments?), and a few thousand people were denied the chance to see a cartoon that many of them would have found funny. At the same time, the Zaki-Joe fiasco, and David Elward’s bias, were allowed to slip through the net. It is, at the very least, a serious question of priorities. One which, I believe, reflects a much broader and more important question: simply put, why do people think that they should not be criticised for what they announce or enact in the public sphere?

  • Tim said:

    When you say “DICCU”, do bear in mind that it’s something of a catch-all phrase. Not all those who wrote letters in were active DICCU participants (I know a few of them), and furthermore although DICCU has a statement of beliefs, opinions and beliefs do tend to vary widely throughout DICCU regardless of this; the authors of those letters were merely people who happened to belong to DICCU; much in the same way that there are many different instruments in DUOS, for example, but they all play and integral part in the overal production of music regardless of their different timbres or tones.

    As for criticism, Christians are well aware that what they profess to believe is provocative, and to many will incite criticism or abuse; the Bible warns them to expect as much, and to embrace it accordingly with patience and humility (admitted, we can often fail at doing this well, but we are only human after all). Christians are often marginalised, abused, insulted, openly mocked, or just ignored; I don’t think any Christian would object that this isn’t what they signed up for when they first came to faith! Hence, I don’t think that we Christians are above debate or criticism, and that we should respond to it as above; with love and not with anger or frustration.

  • Sid said:


    Fair play. Your conduct regarding quitting shouldn’t be on trial up there. The only reason I said what I said was the fact that Dan’s regarding editing quite clearly is. Latent throughout is a critique of Palatinate editorial, and most directly so with regards to the cartoon. Your position as comment editor over at Paltinate gave you a pretty direct glimpse at the process, I imagine. I can’t imagine where else the following comes from:

    “The cartoon to the right was part of the original plan for the latest Palatinate comment section, but it was pulled at the last minute on the grounds that it was deemed crude, not funny and belligerent. That is what happens when you try and satirize bullshit, apparently.”

    Which is about nothing other than Palatinate editorial policy. So I do think your piece is, to some extent, about Dan’s conduct.

  • ChrisJ said:

    Seems less like a comment article and more like a personal tyrade to me.
    Chris, if you want closure and vindication, talk it out with your mailing list in private, but I hardly see why d21′s independant readership should be interesed in your personal gripes – this really isn’t the appropriate place.
    If you want to further the debate, then go ahead, but all you’re doing here is re-stoking the fires in the pointless bickering between Durham student publications.

  • Donnchadh said:

    The problem with the term ‘fundamentalist’ is that it’s being used very different ways by very different people with very different agendas. It suits hard-line Christians such as the gentleman whose speech you sat through to claim that his views are what Christianity is really about, and it suits some slack and intellectually lazy atheist commentators (hello, John Clegg) to use this definition too, since if ‘religious’ is defined as ‘borderline crackpot who often advocates or commits violence’, then it’s pretty easy to dismiss them. It’s like the word ‘terrorist’ in this respect – the fact that the word is used in different ways doesn’t entail that it has no perfectly legitimate meaning.
    The point about using a term like ‘fundamentalist’ is that it should be employed carefully in the context of a nuanced debate which recognises that religious beliefs and believers come in many different varieties. The lazy thing to do is to cherry-pick one type and try to palm them off as representative of all or even most religious believers. By all means criticise DICCU, but to simply assume that they are representative of Christian or religious belief in general is weak.
    Lastly, while religion, like anything else, should be open to satire, if your stock in trade is to make conspicuous references to “facts and reason”, as is the case with so many atheists, you’d better make sure you employ them very well indeed.

  • dan said:

    Donnchadh is right in saying that the sense of the word fundamentalist is important. The connotations of the word (crackpot etc.) are frequently understood as the author’s original meaning when something quite different is meant.

    ChrisJ, I don’t think that this is pointless bickering between student publications. As a member of d21′s independant readership you are entitled to not participate in the debate if you think it is pointless, the independent rest of us will no doubt make up our own minds – no one forced you to read the article and write your comment.

    With regard to the article: I think the only justifiable reason for not printing the cartoon could be a purely practical one; that the readership might be so offended they stop reading future editions. That said, why is it inconceivable that the Palatinate editors could not have written a few words saying they don’t endorse the cartoon, but can’t censor other people’s opinions nonetheless. Why don’t the editors write words of non-endorsement around comment pieces in general? Because it is assumed that comment is opinion. If readers don’t understand this, why do the editors want to keep them reading the paper so badly anyway? By being inoffensive and safe, I’d say a lot more readers will be lost.

    Calling the cartoon childish, belligerent etc. is a matter of opinion which can only be expressed having seen the cartoon. Only Christian folk seem to be calling it like this. Not surprising. I’m sure the same people feel anti-theistic articles (like John Clegg’s) are in the same boat, should they too be censored?

    As far as the editing slant of the current Palatinate goes, that the editors would censor the cartoon and not flag up David Elward’s news article as inappropriate is either a grave and embarassing failure or they actually are biased against anti-theist sentiments (which is not to say they are pro-DICCU). In either case, they are in the wrong.

  • Peter said:

    Mountains and molehills spring to mind…

  • The Eye Collector said:

    I suspect I’m not the only person who is more than slightly offended by the ‘Know Truth’ slogan. I deeply resent the implication that my beliefs are some kind of lie, and that I ought to want to know exactly why I’m wrong. I have never had any real problem with DICCU, but I am only happy to go on tolerating their beliefs if they show that they can be tolerant of mine (and anyone else’s), and this slogan would seem to suggest that they can’t.

  • Charlotte said:

    Dan, I think ChrisJ is perfectly entitled to his opinion. Nobody forced Chris Wright to go to a Know Truth event, and he’s made his opinion on it very clear.

    I’m not a Christian, but I don’t see why Christians saying that the Bible is their textual authority is fundamentalism. Didn’t we all learn that in primary school?

    If we want to have a dialogue on this issue, that’s great, but dialogue isn’t the same as jumping on our soapboxes and carelessly throwing around words like ‘fundamentalist’, designed by the media to ostracise and alienate people. We all have an ‘ism’, whether we like it or not, and before we go throwing stones, we should look at ourselves.

  • dan said:

    Charlotte, a post-primary school education will tell you that the term fundamentalism derives from a publication in 1909, “The Fundamentals: A testimony to truth”, which proposes five beliefs that are required to be a Christian – believing the Bible is totally without error is one of these. The media have misused the term, their intention might have been to ostracise, but they certainly didn’t design the term.

    Of course, ChrisJ is entitled to his opinion, but I think he is saying that the very article he is expressing an opinion on shouldn’t have been put on d21 in the first place.

  • Olivia said:

    I think the cartoon is almost satire, but reads more like propaganda for atheism, therefore somewhat beligerant. Or maybe satire is always propaganda for a viewpoint. *strokes chin*.

  • Kieran said:

    I think it is important to distinguish between “fundamentalism” and fundemental beliefs. There are some things that a Christian will not comprimise on; Jesus being the son of God for instance. To do so would be to make a mockery of their faith. This, however, does not make them stubborn lunatics who refuse to listen to reason, which the term ‘fundamentalist’ seems to conjur these days.

    The man you spoke of in your article, and lets ignore the snide comment about his ability to keep a straight face, is not a ‘fundamentalist’ because he believes something strongley that you and I do not. The fact that he was willing to give a talk entitled ‘how can God be good if he sends people to hell’ shows he is prepared to talk about the issue. A stereotypical ‘fundamentalist’ would have denied there was any issue to discuss. “of course god sends people to hell, and of course he is good”. So if someone is actually trying to see things from your point of view, it may be worth giving them some respect rather than just dismissing them because you do not agree.

  • Emily 26 said:

    I think that The Eye Collector’s point about tolerance is at the heart of this debate. I agree that DICCU’s slogan Know Truth implies that all non-believers are deluding themselves. But why respond to DICCU’s extreme beliefs with equally extreme intolerance? Don’t DICCU members have a right to their own beliefs that “the Bible is the inspired and infallible word of God” without being publically ridiculed as “silly,” “backward” and “fundamentalist”?

    Surely DICCU are just as entitled to thier Christian beliefs as Chris W is to his atheist ones? He seems to be offended by the notion that Christianity is potrayed by DICCU as the only truth, while his atheist views are presented with equal vehmence. Hypocritical, no?

    Personally I thought that the cartoon was very amusing and worthy of publication as a satirical piece. However, I believe that if published in the palatinate comment section it would trivalise an otherwise valid, stimulating and thought provoking debate.

    Chris W criticises Christians for shying away from justifying their beliefs. Surely this cartoon acts in the same way, as a shield to hide from such justification. It’s ridiculous to publish a cartoon that promotes staunchly atheist views within the forum of this debate and then justify it as just a joke.

  • Chris W said:

    Let me give some background I regret not putting in the article. The Bishop of Durham is a world class academic with a seat in the House of Lords, and the senior member of the Lambeth commission.
    One of the causes to which his influence is put is that of keeping the Anglican church a homophobic institution. I can’t see any reason any world class academic might have for campaigning against equal opportunities laws, unless they so happened – in Doncchadh’s words – to let religion “interfere with areas of life that require more epistemic support”.
    I don’t mind revealing that one of the college chaplains said recently in a public forum that he would feel uncomfortable having a conversation with the bishop about sexuality.
    So who is really stimulating wise dialogue here? And how far does the ‘fundamentalism’ rot really spread?
    This was the point of the article: we are told time and again that such and such a form of Christianity is on the fringes, is extreme, is a straw man. But Dr Wright is not on the fringe, and DICCU is not a small organisation. This is a political reality. Obviously people have a right to their beliefs, but I have a right to criticise them.

    Which leads me to the moral/tactical question: why be so rude, why satirize, why insult, why offend?
    If I hadn’t been so stubborn, arrogant, angry (and, as a result, despised by many people) – would there have been 20 comments on this article in a couple of days?
    I think, in fact, it is very sad that as a society we roll over apathetically and just say ‘well, if people want to believe it, let them’.
    Some people have charged me with elitism, or intellectual snobbery. But the truly elitist attitude is supposing that the truth – the actual truth, arrived at by dialogue and research – is of no use to people who are taken in by speakers who lie in public (it is a lie to pretend to be an authority on what philosophers say when you are not – which is what this man did). The true way to respect people is to expect them to be adults, which means allowing them to see satirical cartoons and engaging with them in hearty debate. Respecting individuals does not require us to respect what they believe.
    Strong sentiments generally ‘offend’ if their argument is troublingly persuasive (see Grow Truth), which makes people defensive and stubborn initially – but some day along the line, once the furore has died down, there will be an opportunity to choose the path of rationality, and even if that path is not taken, I bet the resulting ‘credo quia absurdum’ will be self-conscious, which is just as good in my book, because it doesn’t involve any lies.
    Does anyone out there disagree that an anti-intellectual culture is a bad culture, or that this is just what we have? I think this a battle worth fighting, and I won’t make any apologies for being rude about wilful ignorance.

    You’re right. I should have been clearer. Editorial conduct is under scrutiny here, though I’d say I’m much more interested in how this reflects habits of thought that extend well beyond Palatinate editorial board (Chris J, I honestly couldn’t care less about whatever resentment there is between Durham’s media outlets). What I meant to say was that the particular events which made me write the angry email are not under scrutiny here. If anyone is angry about my angry email, they can email me and I will gladly explain the circumstances.

  • Sam said:

    In fact, I find many of the DICCU talks “crude, not funny and belligerent”. Oh well.

  • Donnchadh said:

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but you’re still being a bit disingenuous when it comes to your terminology. DICCU are a mainstream group in the context of Durham because they are very well organised and put on high-profile events. The Bishop is a mainstream figure because he is a senior figure in the church. However, I doubt that most students in Durham who describe themselves as Christians would subscribe to DICCU or their strategy (I’m pretty sure none of the Christian students I know would do so). I wouldn’t at all deny that fundamentalist Christians (and I would be rather inclined to put DICCU in that bracket, the Bishop I’m not sure about) have influence – what I would deny is that they represent the majority Christian view, or the only true Christian view. Since this is the case, we must be very careful to distinguish the criticisms we level at DICCU from the criticisms we might be inclined to make of other kinds of religious belief. In particular, lazy atheist tactics such as branding religious belief per se irrational and essaying rhetorical gestures at the Iraq war fail to recognise this difference, and for that reason should be avoided.
    Furthermore, while I agree with you that an anti-intellectual culture is a bad thing, it would do you no harm at all to acknowledge that religious belief and religious institutions need not be anti-intellectual, and that the natural sciences don’t hold the copyright on rational inquiry. If you really wnat to change people’s minds, as opposed to just venting, a bit of tact would go a long way. This comment isn’t directed at the cartoon, which I found neither ofensive nor funny, but at the general tenor of your remarks. There’s a very big area between apathy and abuse – as an atheist, that’s the area I’d like to occupy, and I’d hope you’d be willing to join me.

  • A. Jibe said:

    Donnchadh, why didn’t you find the cartoon funny? Surely you’ve written and performed comedy at the same level…

  • zaki said:

    Is this all about DICCU, or religion? I agree with Doc that it’s disingenuous to use them interchangeably, but it’s equally disingenuous to say that “DICCU are a mainstream group in the context of Durham because they are very well organised and put on high-profile events.” This is exactly the problem – the lack of Christian voices contradicting those who can shout the loudest is sadly revealing. After all the elected party of government went to war in Iraq against the views of most people, but there was a great level of opposition which there isn’t in this situation. You can hardly blame people for thinking that DICCU represents the views of most Christians in Durham, and they will continue to do so until lead to believe otherwise.

    I went to a DICCU talk this year (about whether Jesus really did rise from the dead) because I thought it might be useful for an essay on the Divine Comedy. I argued that Dante’s view suggested that the way people read the Bible changes with time and culture, and so DICCU weren’t discussing the absolute truth but their interpretion of the book. All I got in return were some dismissive looks and a haughty “but the Divine Comedy’s just a story, we deal with the truth straight from the Bible” as if Dante got his philosophy and theology from the Yellow Pages. The problem most non-religious people have with DICCU is the anti-discussion, we-know-it-all culture which leads to the stunning arrogance of “Know Truth”.

  • Chris said:


    Your precision with words is admirable, but isn’t there something a bit pacifist about this sort of analytic response? What I mean is, it seems to me a significant issue that there are well-organised fundamentalists propagating their literature and viewpoints in an unashamedly ignorant way every year, yet in Cabaret of Evils I didn’t see anything like a parody of DICCU (though I did hear of some DICCU members tearing Cabaret posters down). You might think the call to take sides is crude, and undeniably it can be, but it is also true that philosophy on its own doesn’t change anything – what non-abusive, moderate actions do you propose I join you in executing?
    You seem also quite willing to use your own scathing wit to puncture people like John Clegg – presumably because you think there is something like a moral case for doing so. I have the same feeling about DICCU and its apologists.

    Also, Zaki is right. We don’t have to assume that all Christians, or even all DICCU members, are accurately represented by DICCU’s doctrinal basis to judge that DICCU make religion in general look at least a little silly, outdated or – more controversially – the product of something disconcerting about human psychology, something just a tad totalitarian and repressive. The lack of any obvious anti-DICCU Christian voice, and the fact that these events pull in such large crowds (even if some of the crowd are me and Zaki), combined with the status given to people like Dr Wright, who doesn’t need to be a fundamentalist as such to have an unfortunate effect on the world – all these facts pile up to make the straw man criticism, to my mind, a sort of politically misguided statistical niggle (and a pretty immoral one if it is made by Dr Wright himself).

    Here is a statement of political intent we should take seriously, posted by somebody called Alice on the Palatinate website (www.palatinate.org.uk):
    “I am absolutely sure of my faith, the talks are to justify the faith to non-christians, and some people do become Christians through attending these talks and events and thinking through the evidence for themselves.”
    That’s the point – some people are taken in by this rubbish. What they see is a bold, confident and persuasive speaker who happens to be a fundamentalist, and a table of leaflets at the back written by, er, we’re not sure who (rather like the gospels), and they see the speaker’s imitation of a dialogue (questions on slips of paper fed to the front and selected, in the talk I attended, rather than allowing audience members to speak).
    What they don’t see is any philosophical comedian deconstructing their arguments, or any satirical cartoons in the student paper, or any intellectual Christians to point the way towards pluralities of translation and interpretation.

    Palatinate’s act of censorship is not exactly the end of the world, but I felt I needed to make a fuss because I was disconcerted to learn just how many intelligent student journalists are infected by the censorship mentality and seemingly uninterested in facts. Democracy and freedom in the West may look pretty stable now, but if the world gets a little less safe for one reason or another I’m not at all convinced, from the looks of things, that Durham’s crop of future journalists will serve us well. Will the academics rescue us? I want Donnchadh to promise he’ll have a go.

  • Donnchadh said:

    I don’t have any problem with people taking sides, as long as they deal fairly with who they are siding for and against. Being fair and balanced doesn’t mean sitting on the fence, it just means being scrupulous and rigorous. The more fairly you represent your opponent, the more telling your criticisms are going to be.
    In the particular case of DICCU, I agree that their voice is louder than other strands of religious belief – this is partly because many moderate Christians have doubts about some aspects of their faith, or regard their faith as a private matter, and so are much less likely to go out campaigning about it. This is a pity, as I see it, but it’s a situation that certainly won’t be changed by making religion per se the problem. I’d like to see a debate that starts off on the premise that religious belief isn’t going anywhere, and can be very healthy for many people – against that background, you can then pick up groups like DICCU on their dogmatic attitudes, arrogance and/or naivete (if they genuinely didn’t think the ‘Know Truth’ slogan sounded arrogant, they must be incredibly naive), and general busybodiness. By all means try to puncture them – it’s the “DICCU make religion in general look…”-type arguments that worry me here, as DICCU is a quite specific phenomenon, and I’d be very wary of drawing conclusions about religion in general from the conduct of a few hundred Durham students.
    As for me personally, I’m barely capable of getting up most mornings, let alone rescuing anyone. But I do think (perhaps over-optimistically) that the more careful and nuanced the discussion is, the greater the chance that a more critical attitude towards belief systems in general and religion in particular will develop.

  • Chris said:


    The point is that how we select the targets of our analytic criticisms is not morally neutral. Your last contribution to this debate was a scathing attack on Dawkins, Grayling and Hitchens – the word “jabberings” was your description.

    But do you think, for instance, that Grayling doesn’t know that science doesn’t have a copyright on rationality? Or that religion isn’t going to go away?

    Hitchens, too, makes it explicit enough that religion isn’t going anywhere. Yet the ‘puncturing’ process is worthwhile, because the effect of religion in the public sphere is not positive. I’m willing to bet that his petulant atheism has boosted secularism in America considerably more effectively than whatever sober discussions are taking place within religious communities. I wouldn’t be at all optimistic that we are becoming more sceptical in general: Nick Davies new book is all about how our standards seem to be dropping in this respect.

    And of course a full analysis of what ‘religion’ is psychologically and socially is not easy, and I for one think Dawkins’ rubbish about ‘memetics’ really should be called “jabberings”, but this is where the demand in the analytic tradition for complete certainty seems to me politically conservative, particularly if it is used by academics to dissect the offerings of those who speak to much larger numbers of people than usually read academic papers.
    The gap between theory and politics needs more acknowledgement (has the Archbishop not just learnt this in the sharia fiasco?).

    Consider Zizek, who is not exactly your average combative atheist or fan of scientism:
    “Today, as religion emerges as the main source of murderous violence around the world, one grows tired of the constant assurances that Christian, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual message of their creed.”

    I think religion is sustained by a culturally provincial (hence, vaguely totalitarian, anti-democratic) mindset, and that intellectual Christians (and I know a fair few of these myself) are often, as you say, doubters at heart but committed to their family or a wider community for other reasons.

    But if I’m wrong then I suggest that some of them should send an email or two to DICCU and request a public debate on their doctrinal basis, or maybe that the umbrella organisation of the colleges’ Christian groups simply scrap the notion of a ‘doctrinal basis’.

  • Donnchadh said:

    there seem to be two separate issues here. On the one hand, I’m not at all convinced that describing religion (without qualification) as “just a tad totalitarian” among other crude denunciations will be the most successful way to cause people to rethink their own faith. Obviously, I might be wrong about this.
    But even in that case, how happy would you be if people turned away from religion because of slipshod arguments and stupid slogans? You might think that the end justifies the means, but at least be honest enough to say so – that the pretentious, badly argued dross that passes as the New Atheism is justified not on grounds of intellectual merit, but because it’s the best way to convert people from religion. Maybe that’s the reality, but if so it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. It’s all very well you pointing out the gap between theory and politics, but are you prepared to jettison the first for the sake of the second?
    I don’t think it’s in any way unreasonable to distinguish between different expressions of religion, and acknowledge that not all of them are irrational or harmful. And I don’t see how such an acknowledgment will lead to political inertia. Can you tell me why any of these claims are wrong?

  • ChrisJ said:

    Okay, I’m gonna wade into a dense philosophy debate here and probably regret it, but I still think I have a valid point to make.
    I really can’t see why you would want to “convert people from religion”.
    If you think they’re deluded, then that’s your opinion, but there’s no reason why you should have to drag people from their own intellectual comfort zone.
    I used to believe in God, and when I did, I found it much easier to deal with existential problems and doubts.
    I know it sounds trite, but surely ignorance is bliss?
    I’m totally against evangelists pushing their faith on others – faith is a personal issue, which you can only truly come to on your own – but I am just as opposed to athiests trying to “break” Christians, that’s just plain cruel.
    Surely aggressive advocation of atheist views is just as fundamentalist?

  • Fryd said:

    Better to be Socrates dissatisifed than a fool satisfied, Chris.

  • Ian said:

    I must admit to getting a bit lost within some of the debate going on here, but I do want to raise a couple of points.

    Chris – I am honestly surprised that you felt you weren’t able to speak up during the question times, at all the talks I was in, the people leading the question times asked specifically if there were people who wanted ask questions from the floor, before going to the paper ones. Paul Clarke also when answering questions often said “Does anyone want to come back on anything that I have said?” The talks themselves, whilst giving an answer to a specific question are also put on with the intention of encouraging discussion, with the speaker or many other people keen to discuss. The purpose of taking in the questions was that those who did not feel comfortable shouting out could ask a question, and so that the most commonly occouring questions could be addressed first.

    The point was raised that DICCU and Christian/Christianity should not be used synonymously and this is absolutely true. I have some good christian friends whom I hold very different views on certain issues, but we are still united on the important issues of who God is and why He is important. That is the one of the main justifications for the Doctrinal Basis, as provided by UCCF, the umbrella organisation that the majority of university CUs belong to. Most members of DICCU understand that people have different interpretations of certain issues and an important function of meeting as a CU, rather than as a church, is to provide somewhere where smaller disagreements can be set aside, and people can meet together to express what is an individual faith.

    The argument over the title KnowTruth, and indeed use of the word truth is very interesting. It does indeed sound arrogant to claim to know the truth, but then someone in this discussion has said that what Christians believe IS rubbish, and at another point described it as bullshit, that statement contains the exact same arrogance. Someone wiser than myself once pointed out that to claim there is no absolute truth anywhere is nonsensical, as the statement itself is an absolute statement.

    I do think that the word fundamentalist has been distorted by lazy journalism, that what used to mean the dictionary definition, now is used to refer to those who use religious belief to carry out some awful acts. I certainly feel that in the past some horrific things have been done in the name of Christianity that are most definitely not in accordance with the teaching of loving others as you love yourself. I feel that the same is happening at the moment and I have a lot of sympathy for the Muslims who feel that their name and religion’s name is besmirched by such acts.

    And lastly, in your last statement in your article you say that its a witty article, I’m afraid that my opinion is that I disagree. And for the record, I didn’t find the cartoon particularly offensive, the idea is funny but the text just doesn’t quite do it justice

  • Chris said:


    You seem a broadly reasonable guy, and if I have misrepresented the speaker in some small respect then I apologise – it was not intentional. The speaker may have taken points from the audience after I left, which was after some ten minutes of responses to questions on bits of paper.
    Yet this is just the point: to meet together in unity and set your differences (ie, thought) aside, operating under a doctrinal basis that claims the Bible is infallible, and advertise this fundamentalism to large groups of people – that is an arrogance which is not the same as calling the content of Know Truth week “rubbish” or “bullshit”.


    The point is not that judging the psychology of religion can be arbitrarily made up for polemical reasons.
    The point is rather that your strictly analytic manner of speaking makes any such judgement impossible. I don’t want to jettison theory, but theory about complex phenomena should recognise that if it demands science-style certainty then very little of interest will be determined. (Scientism in action: ‘Freud is a pseudo-scientist. His ideas are therefore worthless.’)
    Political judgements about how the world should be depend on all sorts of dangerously problematic ideas that can’t be tested in the way that physical laws can, but which I’m sure you’ll agree are not arbitrary. What Hitchens does is to make a judgement, backed up by a considerable degree of historical scope and literary insight, about the nature of religion – that it flourishes in ignorance, that it makes friends with totalitarianism, that it is paternalistic and repressive and provincial. The behaviour of large numbers of Christian students in the 21st C (and Ian has just confirmed that this is a national issue, not just a Durham one) can only work in favour of this judgement.
    I can’t be sure it’s the right judgement, and do not seek to pretend this counts as a ‘full picture’ of what religious ritual and language is, but some judgement must be made, because no judgement at all is a kind of political judgement in itself.
    The New Atheists tackle religion by popular polemic. If they pass over theological nuances in order to do so, they may or may not be aware of it. I’d be inclined to trust that Grayling at least is an example of someone whose theology, philosophy and history is pretty rigorous. I’m not convinced that your last article provided any particular instances where this rigour breaks down, though I’m not going to pin the argument on whether you can find any.
    If you think their political goals are misguided, then is it not incumbent on you to provide an alternative political scheme? Or do you deny that religion in the public sphere is on balance a harm? Is it not slightly telling that intellectuals like yourself and Dr Wright don’t seem to have noticed fundamentalism on university campuses?
    That said, your criticisms do show people that the level of the New Atheist debate is polemic and political, not academic and philosophical. I’m sure that there are many people who do not appreciate this, and think that Richard Dawkins is flying high at the pinnacle of Oxford intellectual achievements.

    Chris J, I don’t want to dismiss your point offhand. Combative atheism can be cruel (mea culpa) and there is a great deal of ego involved (mea culpa) because it can be fun to use words to bully people (mea culpa) – but this is not enough to make the project worthless or fundamentalist. (You should go back and read some of the early posts that deal with the term ‘fundamentalism’).
    If large numbers of people really think that they need to be ignorant to be ‘happy’ (and what sort of happiness is this, exactly?) then I’d say that’s a sad indictment of our society, but I’d be inclined to think that this sort of defeatism is misplaced. We don’t need to live in an anti-intellectual culture, and if we didn’t I’d guess that people’s natural intelligence would be allowed to flourish, rather than repressed. I don’t believe that the Vane Tempest hall was filled with irredeemably stupid people. (Ian, for example) Do you?

  • ChrisJ said:

    You admitting that you like to intellectually bully people says more than I could ever hope to.
    I’m not arguing that Christians are stupid, all I’m saying is that if you think they are, why should you agressively tear them from their (often-passively held) position by preaching your “new-atheism” when there is nothing to gain from atheism apart form intellectual smugness. I’m sorry if I’m missing the point, but that just smacks of hypocrisy to me.
    And I have been following the protracted debate about the meaning of fundamentalism, post by post (a labourious process, indeed). I was just using it offhand to make a point (something you, yourself were guilty of in the first place).

  • Chris said:

    I was trying to be honest by admitting that everyone likes to be scathing with their arguments – I’ve read some of your theatre reviews!
    That criticism is not enough to say that this is not a valid project. It depends on the end to which the ‘puncturing’ is a means.
    I’m not sure I ever did use ‘fundamentalism’ offhand. One of the values of this dbate has been that now it seems we can all agree that DICCU are a fundamentalist organisation!

  • Donnchadh said:

    I think it’s telling that you didn’t answer the pretty simple questions I asked in my last post. Instead you assume that my ‘analytical’ manner makes judgement impossible (it doesn’t – after all, I am an atheist); bring in something about ‘science-style certainty’ which I’ve never talked about; gloss over the problem of arguing from particular examples to claims about religion in general; and at least imply that trying to provide a full judgement about religion brings a kind of political quietism (I don’t think you’ve provided any argument whatsoever for this point). Lastly, you say that anyway, I haven’t pinned the New Atheists down on any particular error (if you’re in search of these, start by hunting down Thomas Nagel’s review of The God Delusion in the New Republic).
    If some New Atheists are actually aware of the theological and other details they are ignoring, that actually makes their behaviour worse, doesn’t it? Nor is it enough to excuse them by saying that they are polemicising, or writing for a popular audience. If you profess to defend reason and truth, as you and many of the New Atheists do, then it ill-behoves you to advance unreasonable arguments and to ignore inconvenient truths which might make your political judgement more complex.
    As for my own political wishes, I imagine they would overlap to a great degree with your own – separation of church and state, no religious education in state-funded schools, and perhaps state funding for anti-Creationist groups. I would prefer a world without religion, but I don’t want to get there by silencing religious believers, and I don’t think that intellectual bullying will get us there either.

  • Kieran said:

    I imagine Donnchadh perhaps feels at ease shooting down John Clegg, but would refrain from wading into a fight with DICCU firstly, because he realises the difference between showing (in a witty way) someone who believes themselves to be funny is in fact not, and trying to mess with people’s beliefs. As many have stated, DICCU aren’t going to listen, they know their own mind and they are entitled to it. Yes it is annoying when they try and force it down your throat, but everyone knows this. What is this article going to achieve? You aren’t going to convert DICCU, and those who sit quietly and grumble about DICCU’s strong arm tactics are likely to grumble about athiests who can’t take the moral high ground and just sit their and smirk about how right they are. The only people that will agree with this are “the choir” (as t’were).

    So yes, you may have received 30+ comments… but that doesn’t mean you’ve actually achieved anything. Athiests are still athiests, Christians are still Christians and DICCU is still… there.

    I want to avoid making a sweeping, general statement, but i think part of the problem is that some athiests cannot comprehend what ‘faith’ is. It’s not just something they believe quite a lot, and for some, to have someone ignorant in their beliefs to wade in and not even question, but rudely dismiss them, is hurtful on a level not experienced by most. That is why sensitivity is required when dealing with DICCU and not John Clegg.

  • Chris W said:

    Last post, I promise…


    You have misread me: I said that psychological/social judgements specifically are never altogether certain ones, such that academia tends to get very bogged down in complexities. Which is great! Academia should inform everything we do as much as possible!

    But if you want to decide something slightly less cautious (say, that religion is bad for people in general) and then you want to convince large numbers of people (many of whom have been brought up to respect/fear religious authority) that this is the case, how do you go about it? Do you write a critical analysis of Kierkegaard? That’s all I meant by ‘glossing over’ theology.
    I didn’t say it’s ok to make bad arguments, and I’m quite ready to believe that Dawkins’ book is full of stupid mistakes (the very sensible reviewer of Dawkins on this website seems to think so), but you havn’t given any concrete instances of mistakes in Grayling or Dennett (which I havn’t read) or Hitchens (which I have, and enjoyed) – so it seems to me misguided to write such a scathing attack on their project on the grounds that scientism is bad, naturalism is debatable (surely the prevalent view in academia, though?) and there are rational ways of being religious (does this depend on naturalism being wrong?). The project as a whole (anti-clerical polemic) seems to me compatible with all these criticisms. Which is why the question of ‘taking sides’ comes in.

    The quietism comes in if you have to be at the forefront of philosophy to be a polemicist against religion: who has the time? (Grayling seems impressively hyperactive – and I’d guess, unlike Dawkins, could take on Thomas Nagel in a debate.)

    You’re right, though, that it is easy to forget to acknowledge the reasonableness of many people who identify as religious, and that it is easy to get carried away with rhetoric. It’s all in the name of persuasion, though. And it seems to me somewhat forgivable since reasonable Christians don’t really make themselves heard very much, and don’t seem to be able to reign in those who speak in their name – whether fundamentalists or homophobic bishops.

    Yes, Kieran, DICCU are still here, but I hope that some more people now think they should revise their doctrinal basis, or that student journalists will be less inclined to censor criticisms of them on the grounds that they are offensive. I genuinely have talked to many people soberly about their faith, and do understand its emotional ties, but fundamentalist Christians are not the only people with feelings and interests to look out for. I’ve seen too many people struggle with their faith, and feeling deeply in their bones that disbelief is somehow immoral and dangerous, to think that the world would not be a better place if religion did not have the aura of respect that it has now.

    (By the way, I edited John Clegg’s article badly, so please don’t judge his wit on the basis of just that one article. I recommend you hear his poem on slow carrots if you get the opportunity.)

    I honestly don’t want to silence religious people. Quite the opposite. I’m disturbed by how reluctant they often are to engage in dialogue. Isn’t it just the point that religion is very loud when it wants to be, and has excellent platforms from which to influence large groups of people, especially children? (A third of all primary school teachers in England are trained in Anglican colleges, apparently.) I think it’s worthwhile shouting a bit – and don’t think this constitutes needless intellectual bullying. (I have been told that politicians are people too, so we should go easy on them. A very very dangerous idea!)

    Anyway, I’m sorry for writing so much and being so stubborn. Thanks to everyone for all the discussion.

  • Chris W said:

    PS – could New Atheism have had anything to do with this?

  • dan said:


    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said.

    I’d just like to pick up on a couple of the political viewpoints you’ve expressed regarding religion (‘separation of church and state, no religious education in state-funded schools, and perhaps state funding for anti-Creationist groups’). Although I completely agree that separation of church and state is essential, isn’t there a danger that by stripping schools of religious education, rather than disappearing, religious education would be taken on by non-state funded groups such as churches, mosques etc. And more worryingly, the religious education provided by these places would be a DICCU-know-truth-style, here is the truth there is just no arguing about it…

    I don’t think that religion will ever be eradicated, so why not have religious education in all state schools that presents, in a factual manner, the beliefs of all religions, weighting them equally (without forgetting the arguments for non-belief). This approach would entail getting rid of the religious schools, whose place in our society seems to be unquestioned for the reason that they on average achieve better results than their state-school equivalents. Their better results shouldn’t surprising, religious schools use selection processes which will always yield better pupils than having no selection at all. Having gone to a Catholic school, I do not believe that these sorts of schools are good for our society, segregating belief can only lead to stronger, more unquestioned belief – allowing ‘us and them’ mentalities to set in. Thankfully, you don’t have to choose a ChrisW style ‘polemical new atheism’ to share in this political view.

  • ChrisJ said:

    I thought you all may be interested to know that Chris’ article now comprises only 11.7% of the words on this page.
    Ahh, that’s good dissertation distraction :-)

  • Donnchadh said:

    just a few of points, and I’ll leave the thread at that:
    The problem I have with your political stance starts with your “slightly less cautious” claim that religion is bad for people in general. I think religious beliefs are wrong, and therefore they should not be held, but it doesn’t follow that they’re bad for anyone. Some are very bad indeed, others seem very useful. This is the point I keep bringing you back to – not all (indeed, arguably not even most) religious belief is harmful. And you keep ignoring it, because it doesn’t suit you to acknowledge that religion is a far more complicated phenomenon than you protray it as.
    Secondly, re quietism – I’ve never said or implied that you must be at “the forefront of philosophy” to comment on religious issues (that would be rather foolish of me, since I don’t even study philosophy of religion or the social/political issues relating to secularism). All I suggested is that, if you shout from the rooftops about rationality, you should probably practice it. What it is about that which would stop people taking sides?
    As for the lack of specific problems in the New Atheist position, you’ll have to forgive me, this is a student website, not a learned journal. If it will make your day, I’ll have a flick through Grayling’s articles in Comment is Free and pull out some silly claims for your delectation, but to be honest anyone reading this could just as well do it themselves.
    (The problem I have with the Brights, bye the bye, isn’t that they are naturalists, but the pretty clear statement that anyone who doesn’t hold a naturalistic worldview believes in the supernatural. This is, to quote your good self, bullshit.)
    Lastly, let’s suppose for argument’s sake that I’m right and these New Atheists have in fact been using bad arguments to fight their corner. Straight question: is this sharp practice / ignorance justified by their goal? Is it ok, in your book, to abuse reason to defend reason?

  • Chris W said:

    I had a feeling I might break my promise: since you ask me direct questions, I’ll have a go at answering them (this time).

    I think there is an argument to be had here as to how harmful religion is. Let’s not have it, or else I’ll fail my degree, but it would be nice (since you are holding me to accont for what I conveniently left out of my article) if you had ackowledged in your evisceration of the ‘New Atheists’ that they do engage with this argument, and that you seem to be at least sufficiently sympathetic with their conclusions to judge that you would “rather live in a world without religion”. Hitchens in particular provides an impressive survey of the historical role of religion, its tendencies to lies and authoritarianism, etc. That makes it valuable polemic in my book.

    No, faulty reasoning and inaccuracies are not justified by the end goal. If the New Atheists really are as guilty of these as you say, then this is indefensible. I suppose I just found it imlausible that Grayling and Dennett would be making seemingly fairly simple philosophical errors, knowing that they’d have to answer to the philosophers they sit with for lunch in their respective departments.
    Is it possible that what looks like errors (the fairy comparison, for example) are only examples of ‘glossings over’, in the sense of genuinely well-meant attempts to explain a stance to people without having to problematise epistemic foundations or whatever? Having seen Grayling speak on another topic, he seems an extremely humble, knowledgable and articulate old gentleman – not someone with a smug axe to grind, or an insatiable desire for wealth generated by sloppy pop philosophy.

    The quietism point, though your criticism is fair, expresses a general discontent with the seeming tendency of analytic philosophers to be scornful of the public sphere which funds their (valuable?) musings. I heard Andy Hamilton just this week complaining about how uncultured politicians are, which seems to me a little perverse. You appeal to the fact that d21 is a student site, which is what allows you to attack a group of writers without going into too much detail – don’t the New Atheists deserve a little slack for a similar reason? Maybe not if they really are smug, but again I feel your target here should probably be Dawkins. Who determines the content of the Brights website? If religion can’t be judged by DICCU, can we judge these writeres by this website even if they identify with the label?

  • Donnchadh said:

    a final, final post:
    Maybe we should have an argument on whether or not religion is harmful; the problem I have with the New Atheists I have read is that they tend to assume this argument is already done and dusted. Unfortunately, you give this impression yourself in most of what you’ve written here: after all, intellectual bullying is hardly conducive to an open debate.
    I think it’s interesting that you’re prepared to be very nuanced indeed when it comes to Marxism (millions of people were killed on foot of – let’s be charitable – interpretations of this theory, but you correctly point out that this doesn’t invalidate Marxism as a social/cultural criticism), but you seem unwilling to extend this same nuance to religion. The point of Zaki’s article was that Marxism is, on the whole, a bad idea we should ditch – I honestly don’t see how you can take issue with him on this, while proposing exacty the same thing with regard to religion. I’m just asking you to be consistent.
    If someone is selling a book or writing for the Guardian, I think it’s quite fair to hold them to a higher standard than if they’re sticking up comments on D21. (Incidentally, have a look at this: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/07/a_force_for_evil.html,
    and tell me then what you think of the good Prof. Grayling. I found the last paragraph particularly amsuing in light of a century of mass murder in the name of state and class, although the line that “religion itself is the lunatic fringe of human thought” is arguably the money-shot.)
    Finally, your last analogy is flawed – I’m not judging all atheists (or even all New Atheists) on the basis of the Brights, just those who subscribe to their ideology. You, on the other hand, insist on judging all religious people on the basis of DICCU and their fellow-travellers.

  • Chris W said:


    You certainly seem to hold other people to a high enough standard yourself when they post comments on d21!

    The difference between Marxism and religion is I don’t live in a country with institutionalised Marxism, Marxist leaders in the house of lords, Marxist schools, etc. If I did, and I thought these Marxists were a force for ill, even though revered by many, then I would very much welcome a comment article puncturing Marxism, even if it failed to ackowledge the nuances of Marxist theory.
    If I noticed mistakes in such an article, the sort you point out in Grayling, then I hope my criticisms of it would acknowledge the general value of the puncturing process.

    Of course, if you think that religion in the public sphere is not a bad thing, then that’s fine. If you aren’t sure, maybe you should have a bit of a think. If you don’t read Hitchens’ arguments on the matter, but include his name in your attack, that’s a bit dubious.

    The point about the content of the Brights website concerned smugness, not the philosophy of the New Atheists.

  • Arthur said:

    Apart from the fact your comment below is basically saying “I’m going to stick to wanking about Marxism as long as I don’t actually have to have any personal experience of it”, this article isn’t exactly full of a nuanced discussion on religion. I started off agreeing with you but this shambolic and confused reasoning makes me think Donnchadh O’Connaill is completely right (no pun intended) about your arguments.

  • dan said:

    Arthur, if Chris’s views on Marxism change your opinion of the arguments he presents regarding religion doesn’t that say more about your reasoning abilities – or lack of? This is a rhetorical question by the way: anyone claiming to be looking for nuanced discussion while in the same sentence parodying another person as ‘wanking’ over their own argument is clearly an idiot.

  • zaki said:


    I’ve stayed out of this deliberately, with the exception of the post about DICCU which I have a problem with as an organisation and not what they believe, but feel I need to comment now; not because you disagreed with my article on Marxism/communism but because of why you disagreed. Whilst Arthur’s argument isn’t exactly a masterpiece of erudition it does make a important point that your last post completely fails to explain. This is from your post on my article on Marxism:

    “An ideology is not an agent and therefore not in any simple sense responsible for anything, let alone attrocities.”

    Yet this article is doing exactly that to Christianity. There’s nothing wrong with Marxism as an ideology any more than there’s anything wrong with Christianity as ideology (liberation theology is the most obvious example of the good that religion could do). What Donnchadh (and I) want to know is why you dismiss the murderous consequences of the theory of Marxism being put into practice, whilst using exactly that argument against why religion, which after all has been the most important force in the world for the last 5000 years if not longer, should be abandoned as “bullshit” (and that’s what you’re insinuating). Unfortunately, until you explain this disparity with more than “it doesn’t really affect me so I’ll go on believing” it frankly leaves this argument looking too hypocritical to be taken seriously.

  • Chris W said:


    This has all got confused!

    What I meant was not ‘I have no experience of the attrocities of Marxism, so they don’t bother me’ – that would be very very silly!

    What I meant was ‘Religious systems of belief, unike Marxist beliefs, have platform, influence and respect here and today.’ The relavance of which is to the specific question Donnchadh was asking: why is it somewhat misguidedly brutal of him to eviscerate anti-clerical polemic on the grounds of his criticisms? All I’m trying to say is that the ‘New Atheists’ are the wrong target, even though Donnchadh seems to be right that at least most of them make mistakes while flagging up the virtues of rationality.

    The article above refers to the content of DICCU’s Know Truth week as ‘bullshit’, not Christianity or religion in general. But the point was also to problematise the ‘straw man’ defence by suggesting that the more sophisticated apologists for religion act as something of a cover for religion as it happens on the ground, as DICCU advertise it, etc.

    The really important question is whether this religion in the world is actually just harmless consolation, moral teachings, etc -or whether it is consists of slippery moralists who make a living by propagating ignorance and conservative values.

    Also, my “very nuanced indeed” (really?) criticism of your article was prefaced by the fact that I enjoyed it, learned from it, and thought it was entirely valid as a critique of nostalgia for communism. If I had not been clear about the communism/Marxism devide in my P article, then that was a failing. This seems to me a sensible way to engage in nuanced criticism, rather than a flat-out catch-all critique of polemical atheism.

    Hope that is clearer…

  • John said:

    Firstly, I’d like to say that the original Palatinate article was not very well written in the first place, and then very heavily edited. Some of the ‘intellectual laziness and arrogance’ is my own fault, but not all of it. It was certainly a lot more coherent once. And if someone would direct me to Donnchadh’s ‘shooting down’ of the article I would love to read it.
    Kieran: “I think part of the problem is that some athiests cannot comprehend what ‘faith’ is. It’s not just something they believe quite a lot, and for some, to have someone ignorant in their beliefs to wade in and not even question, but rudely dismiss them, is hurtful on a level not experienced by most.” Firstly, neither me nor Chris Wright are entirely ignorant of Christian beliefs. I was brought up in a religious school and have read the Bible cover-to-cover. I have also been along to plenty of Christian-organised events in Durham, both DICCU and other. I think I have more than a rough idea of what most Christians believe and how they behave. I agree that faith is a wall, to some extent, but the idea that ‘being dismissive about someone’s beliefs’ is ‘hurtful in a way not experienced by most’ is just horseshit.
    As for ‘you may have received 30+ comments… but that doesn’t mean you’ve actually achieved anything’ – it’s an article on a student website. For Christ’s sake, get over yourself.
    The more interesting debate in the last batch of comments about whether the ‘New Atheists’ are on the right track: I’ve read Nagel’s criticism of Dawkins (and Eagleton’s, which is easier for someone with no philosophy background to understand.) They’re interesting enough, but I refer you to the Courtier’s Reply: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

  • zaki said:


    If it’s simply about DICCU why did you write “Religious people have an unfortunate habit of shifting their position, avoiding public confrontations, evading the issue with emotive rhetoric, hiding behind the notion of subjectivity and, in the most extreme cases, threatening violence against the apostates”? What, all 5.4bn-odd of them? (Most surveys suggest about 10% of the world’s population consider themselves non-believers.)

    Also, if you have a problem with religious systems of belief having influence, why are you trying to increase the influence of Marxist thinkers? If your problem with religious thinkers is that they are somehow tainted with the crimes committed in the name of religion, then the same is true of Marxist thinkers. If your argument is basically that you personally consider religious theories complete guff but Marxist theories valid, then your attempts to undermine one undermine the other too.

    Incidentally, 50 posts! All we need is jp and eblane back and then it will be like the old days of D21!

  • Chris W said:


    You asked me before specifically about my rude and dismissive judgement (‘bullshit’) which is most definitely directed at Know Truth, not at religion. If I generalise about religious people in this article, it is on the basis of what I have observed of them in our secular country. Which might be a false judgement, but let’s not conflate it with a much more obviously false judgement about all religious people in the world (you don’t get much choice not to be religious in most parts of the world, after all)!

    My previous argument with Donnchadh concerned how much ‘Christianity’ could be judged by particular representations of it in the public sphere (eg DICCU and bishops) – and, more specifically still, how much the nature of this public face of Christianity justified the pucturing process of the anti-clerical polemic, and how this should affect polemical criticism of the philosophy of particular polemicists (and I’m not sure, John, that the Courtier’s reply is sufficient on this count – though it probably is a fair rebuttal of most of what Eagleton has to say).

    I just don’t see the analogy with Marxism, which you do want to dismiss finally on the grounds of atrocities committed in its name. If Marxism were a venerated philosophy and these atrocities were often overlooked, then I’m sure you’d be well qualified to write anti-Marxist polemic. But I’m not suggesting we venerate Marxism or Marxists, or instigate a Marxist political program, only that the ideas are too interesting and influential to dismiss on the grounds of the evils of communism.

    I hope this is coherent – sorry if it’s a bit long-winded.

  • Chris W said:

    At the risk of seeming hung up on this issue, I’d just like to point out, in case anyone has been inspired by the latest Palatinate editorial to visit this article, that the excuse given for cutting this cartoon is completely incoherent.

    Even if you don’t find Grow Truth particularly funny, it is ridiculous to claim that the Palatinate’s content is of such high quality that the cartoon just wasn’t good enough, or that the paper was improved by cutting the cartoon and replacing it with an awkward-looking letter.

    Let’s just be honest and say that some people find any satirical take on religion blasphemous and offensive. Cutting the cartoon amounts to saying that certain viewpoints are too provocative and nasty to be associated with the student paper, which is purely and simply self-censorship.

    See Hitch for an admirable disagnosis of the state of the press today in this respect:

  • Prof. said:

    The reason DICCU called their week of spiritual campaigning ‘Know Truth’ week was for a reason; to elicit a response. Looking at the thread below I think it was a pretty successful tactic. If you don’t like it then just ignore it and they’re less likely to use the same tactics in the future. By making all this fuss you just create an aggressive mentality by which DICCU will continue to assert itself and by extension to annoy the venerable Chris Wright. For all our sakes I’d like to avoid such an occurrence ever happening again.

  • Donnchadh said:

    I always preferred

    C hristian
    U nion
    N o
    T hanks
    S ir!

  • Chris W said:

    An update on relevant goings on, for the information of the bravely anonymous yet sanctimonious ‘Prof’ and anyone else interested.

    The Bishop of Durham, along with Professor Gary Habermas, is currently touring the country to argue that believing in the resurrection of Jesus is historically sound.

    That is to say, there are two ‘venerable’ academics making the case that, within the framework of naturalistic explanation, it is rational to believe in something undeniably supernatural (if anyone can explain how a resurrected Jesus falls into a different category to fairies, which were believed to exist by large numbers of people until the twentieth century, then please do).

    The mistake Dr Wright makes, so far as I can see, is to presume that extraordinary claims only require ordinary standards of proof (supposing they are right that these ordinary standards are met). No doubt if pressed they will throw in some sort of slippery subjectivity, something like ‘knowing through love’, to tip them over the edge of plausibility, but the message they aim to send is that the combative atheists are historically ignorant, not having devoted enough energy to Biblical scholarship, so should stop arrogantly debunking religious claims.

    Is it any surprise that this sort of sophisticated apology for Biblical literalism coincides with Dr Wright’s Biblically-informed conservative stance on what he passively called in his interview with Palatinate ‘the gay issue’?


    Let’s call a spade a spade: Biblical literalism is a demonstrably false, demonstrably harmful and demonstrably venerated by sections of our society. If academia serves only in this debate to niggle at the populists who hope to take these demonstrations to a wider audience, then so much the worse for academia.

  • Prof. said:

    The Prof likes to keep his precious anonymity. It’s easier to be sanctimonious when no one knows who you are.

  • Rachel said:

    Can I just ask what exactly is the point of this article? Except for insulting Christians by saying their beliefs are “bullshit” there is no real reasoning given for why.

    I have studied theology at Durham and am now in my third year. It seems pretty insulting – after having studied my faith critically and in great depth – for these kind of generalistic statements to be made.

    You state that, ‘The Bishop says that, instead of creating a divide between people, we should engage in “wise discourse … listening and sharing with people’s arguments.”‘ which seems to me a good aim at least.

  • Rod Puckton said:

    Apologies in advance for using this forum and the most viewed article within it towards my own ends, but i’ve been forced to this measure by the problem i’m about to outline:


    That’s right, and its become more than a joke. I myself have copped for 2 separate piles in 2 consecutive weeks, and am now going to call for a blanket ban on the chodding of said car park.


  • Simon Proctor said:

    There has been a lot of hot air and also genuine debate on here but I think there can be only one point of view in the end. Something needs to be done, whether it’s further articles in the Palitinate or visits to the campus from experts, but at the end of the day we can all agree that the situation at Hild Bede needs sorting pronto before another pair of Nikes bites the dust.

  • Raul COLLINGWOOD said:

    Oh great it seems the comedians have stumbled accross the message board. It really is something when a group of “know nothing know it alls” use a discussion site for their own ends. Now I may not be from Durham and I have never been to Durham either but as a regular reader and contributor I felt obliged to flag up this idiotic behaviour. Please can the admin team “clean up” this “pile” of garbage about fundamentalism and let people discuss things of relevance to the Durham campus and to the NUS in general.

  • John England said:

    I think this is a theriouth problem face by the Bede car park and needs sorting pronto! However, I’m not from that College so couldn’t care less!

  • extremely unhappy said:

    Finally…people taking notice of a serious issue. The ‘chod’ problem has gone far enough. I personally was a witness to a careless owner taking an Irish WOLFHOUND getting messy on Bede Lawn the other morning. This MUST stop NOW.

  • Marcel Parp said:

    Just a quick note to extremely unhappy, am I to take it that you walked straight past a thoughtless owner allowing a wolfhound to “let rip” on the HB lawns? Grow some stones and rollock them next time.

  • LA Jack said:

    Hi there, I used to be a member of Hild Bede and thouroughly enjoyed my time particularly success on the rugby and cricket fields. It is not really the on filed activity that I miss the most but the banter and chat afterwards. I t has got me thinking that perhaps this site needs an article on the upcoming Lions tour to get a bit of sport debate going. If anyone is keen for this please leave a post below. I’ll leave this message at the bottom of a few articles to drum up support. Thanks, LA Jack.

  • Warrior said:

    A bit random Jack but I have to say we could do with an article or a thread on this. Me and my housemates have laid bets with Bill Hill’s as to the starting XV of the first test, here’s mine, see if you agree:

    1. A Sheridan
    2. J Flannery
    3. E Murray
    4. A W Jones
    5. P O’Connell
    6. R Jones
    7. M Williams
    8. S Taylor
    9. M Blair
    10. J Wilkinson
    11. S Williams
    12. R Flutey
    13. B O’Driscoll
    14. P Sackey
    15. C Paterson

  • extremely agitated said:

    Wilko in the starting line up! Bit ambitious fella but not a bad shout otherwise. Now i’m not a gambling man, but i’ve bet on the six nations with some real success so far, as well as the tennis, premier league and golf. In my opinion the Lions WILL win all three tests. any advance?

  • Warrior said:

    I can understand the positivity around the Lions tour given the large amount of Springboks that opted to play in the Northern Hemisphere post 2007. What they didn’t realise was that the standard up here is actually fairly base when compared with the Super 14. This exposure to a more meandering pace can only have “dragged them down to our level”. I think the REAL tests will be against Eastern Province, Northern Transvaal and Brods.

  • incredibly upset said:

    Spot on Wazza. The problems with British base level rugby start at the grass roots arena. Communities are no longer to pitch in unless a wage can be found, although the army of mercenary players will soon start to struggle with the cuts in RFU funding to base level. Undoubtedly the Brods test will be incredibly tough. I would have loved to have been out there, but our Shelley’s tightened the purse strings, so we’ve booked a cottage for a week in Cornwall instead.

  • Slightly Miffed said:

    “Upset”, how can you expect these boys to go to one of the toughest rugby environments without taking a suitable wage? If I were to go I would at least expect expenses and then a little something by way of a win bonus. I have to say that my package to watch the three tests plus four of the tour games is looking somewhat worse value given the current state of the pound. Still, it promises to be one hell of a tour – ON or OFF the field.

  • really angry said:

    Warrior, i must say i’m envious of your trip out there. Here’s my best stab at a team:
    1. Andy Sheridan
    2. Jerry Flannery
    3. John Hayes
    4. Jason White
    5. Dave Ellis
    6. Tom Croft
    7. David Wallace
    8. Jamie Heaslip
    9. Harry Ellis
    10. Phil Godman
    11. Ugo Monye
    12. Gavin Henson
    13. Brian O Driscoll
    14.Simon Danielli
    15. Delon Armitage

    Any feedback would be most welcome. Anyway, i’ve got to go and take Mr Tibbs for a walk as he’s getting a bit edgy and might be ready to drop a brown bomb or two!!!

  • LA Jack said:

    Thanks Angry and Warrior, it’s good to see a bit of this at last! I like the packs you have picked with plenty of grunt but surely we need a bigger set of backs. The Springboks will be heavy, physical lads and we must select players of the same size or perhaps slightly bigger. Here’s my back line to balance power with size:

    9. Phillips
    10. Henson
    11. Vainikolo
    12. Banahan
    13. Shaw (why not try our biggest player in the centre???)
    14. Tait
    15. Lewsey

    BTW I’ll be back in Durham next season with a few lads from Sacremento RFC so look forward to renewing old rivalries.

  • Furners said:

    Jack, i’ve got to back you up on this one. Johnny Wilkinson played the majority of his early rugby at hooker, including 6 appearences for England U21s in the No2 berth. He was then transplanted into the 10 jersey, where his bulk and neck strength proved to be real assets on the 2000 tour down under.

    Just to give my post some credibility i’ll make a prediction for the england scotland game: england 21 – scotland 12.

  • JPR Rugby said:

    Good call furners. Only 6 points out…can’t fault you there big fella. I’m now completely convinced that BOD MUST CAPTAIN THE LIONS.

  • Len Benryman said:

    Here we go the usual reactionary opinion following the 6 nations. Let me take a couple of moments to slam home a couple of points.

    1. The Lions NEED Dean Richards.


    3. The players must have control over the tour.

    4. BORTHWICK must skipper the tour.

  • Norman Sphincter-Cowley said:

    Just looking through the last few posts on this thread. Some of you guys were talking real sense about the lions tour. SHAWSY in the centres would have been inspired, its just a shame the coaches didn’t have the b@llocks to see it through.