Is there a new face of atheism?


Sir, – Michael Nugent (October 29th) thanks The Irish Times for helping to make Atheist Ireland better understood. And well he might, considering the 400-word manifesto he is granted on your Letters page. I would like to add to this general air of appreciation by thanking Mr Nugent and all the members of Atheist Ireland for the publicity and indirect promotion they give to organised religion, especially Christianity.

How can religion not seem fascinating, subversive, fertile and bold compared to the bland platitudes and (in the strictest sense of this word) entirely reactionary philosophy of organisations such as this? How much “reason” can there be in rejecting “personal gods who answer prayers and impregnate virgins to give birth to themselves” but accepting the idea of a self-assembling universe, or of an ethical outlook that is treated as self-evident but is ultimately based upon nothing at all? Isn’t it obvious that to reject supernaturalism while saluting “personal autonomy and individual conscience” is gross contradiction, since you will never find any basis for those ideas in a naturalistic worldview? All in all, can any fair-minded person not feel that even the most “silly” religion is more respectful of the mystery, vitality, sublimity, uncanniness and numinosity of the universe than this barrage of banalities?

Organised atheism is a desperate attempt to ward off man’s deepest and most ancient reaction to reality; but the more that reaction is repressed, the more potently it reasserts itself. I trust that organisations such as Atheist Ireland will keep throwing the sand against the wind. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,

Ballymun, Dublin 11.

Sir, – I found Joe Humphreys’s article (“Is there a new face of atheism?”, Opinion, October 26th) very interesting.

I gather from it that atheism is already going the way of Fundamentalist Protestantism. That is to say, that it is beginning to splinter. Speaking as a practising Catholic who needs to practise more, let me offer a word of advice to atheists. You need to elect an atheist pope. Richard Dawkins fits the bill. Why not just call him his Atheistness, Pope Richard I? You need to have an atheist Magisterium, or teaching authority. You just can’t tolerate diversity of opinions among atheists. You need a little more dáiríre in your atheism.

All this talk of charitable work is obviously inspired by Catholicism. It is just the mirror image of the controversy between Catholics and Fundamentalist Protestants, “salvation by faith and good works” v “salvation by faith alone”. Also there is a division emerging among atheists between libertinism and traditional sexual morality.

What I can’t understand is this: if there is no God, and no life hereafter, why does it matter a damn what you do in this life? I mean to say, if there is no God and no afterlife, one’s deeds in this life are not going to have any longterm consequences. If life is ultimately meaningless and futile, why is rationality apparently so important to atheists? Giving up a belief in religion for a belief in science is just changing one’s religion, in fact.

Atheists need to get their act together and cut out the bullshit. There is a significant number of people in all countries who don’t believe strongly enough in anything to make an issue of it. Atheism should try to attract these people. Maybe they are the real atheists, after all. But here exactly is where the crisis will come for atheism. Atheism will need to adapt to the modern world, and dump all its dogmas in order to attract this significant number of people. Maybe you could organise conferences around the country in order to attract the malcontents, the real atheists, rather than the continuity atheists and crypto-Catholic and crypto-fundamentalist atheists who are trying to pull a fast one on poor innocents whose only shared dogma, if dogma it be, is that they hate the Catholic Church. Worth consideration. – Yours, etc,


Beaufort Downs,

Rathfarnham Village, Dublin 14.