e·van·ge·lise

1. to preach the gospel to.

2. to convert to Christianity.

Gerry Thornley observed, after Ireland’s defeat by Wales recently, that Eddie O’Sullivan seemed offended that the Welsh had the cheek to score tries off Irish turnover ball, ‘as if this was somehow cheating’. This despite the fact that Ireland had scored a good couple of tries against Scotland a fortnight earlier from Scottish turnover ball.

John Gray, writing in the Irish Times yesterday, rails against what he terms ‘evangelical atheists’ and their campaigns against organised religion. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Philip Pullman appear to be Gray’s least favourite of these campaigners with their hundreds of thousands selling books, The God Delusion, God is Not Great and Northern Lights, the latter made as a movie titled The Golden Compass.

Gray finds great offence in the fact that these and others are engaged in proletising for atheism as if this was somehow a bit of an underhand tactic. Organised churches would never resort to these black arts, surely.

We learned this week that the Archbishop of Dublin has decided that every home in the Archdiocese will receive a visit from representatives of the Catholic Church sometime next year as part of a programme of evangelisation.

(I’m thinking of those sneaky Welsh again.)

I suppose I should lay my own cards on the table.

I don’t believe in God. In fact, I am more certain that God does not exist than I am of anything else that I believe. God is a fiction, Santa Claus for grown-ups. God and Gods were invented in human ignorance to explain that which we did not and could not understand. The leaders of organised churches then usurped God as a source of fantastic power, a power which they have maintained to this day.

So, no misunderstandings there, then.

This week we also learned that weekly attendance at religious services in Ireland has dropped from a high of 91% in 1981 to less than 50% today. You might think that this would reflect a similar fall in levels of religious belief, however the same nine yearly survey shows that over 80% of Irish people do still believe in God and do still believe in heaven.

Why?

Why, when we live in such an enlightened age, an age in which we are now, slowly learning the secrets of the origins of the universe in which we live, do so many otherwise rational and intelligent people put such faith in something which so completely defies the known physical laws of the universe? Something for which they can see no proof of any kind. Something which they must surely know that they believe simply because it is what they have been told by people in authority since childhood. As I say in my bio page on this site, this is something that completely baffles me. I can fully understand how children can be inculcated into religious belief and how that belief will stay with them into and through their teenage years. If one pays even the slightest of attention to modern scientific thought then one can only conclude that the basis for most organised religions is completely preposterous.

People will say that Christianity is a wonderful way to live ones life, and they are quite correct. I have two small children, one of whom is making first holy communion next month, and they are being raised to know and respect what most of us would consider to be Christian values. Christian values are essentially very decent, human values. However, I will ensure that my children are also exposed to the truth that lies outside of religion, the truth which science has been revealing to us ever since Gallileo and Newton and Einstein and Hubble, the truth of Darwinian evolution, which reveals the unbelievable arrogance of mankind in believing ourselves to be special, the arrogance of believing in our status as the chosen ones. I said recently that socialism was a wonderful way to order human society but it didn’t and couldn’t work. I doubt that many readers of this page are clamouring for the establishment of a socialist republic along the lines of the USSR or the Peoples Republic of China. Similarly, while Christian values are a valuable tool in the ordering of society those of a zealous religious mind are I find often very intolerant of any opposing view and are therefore wholly unsuited to positions of authority and influence.

Yes there are many, many good and decent people within organised churches and they do many wonderful things, but the doing of good acts is not confined to those with faith, and without faith good people would still be good people and would still act for the betterment of human society. Human goodness does not stem from religious faith.

Islam, we are constantly told is a religion of peace, a religion where everyone is treated with decency and respect and yet wherever Islam is practised we find the most despicable intolerance and inequality and discrimination. The treatment of women within most Islamic societies is nothing short of barbaric. Being gay in most western societies is difficult enough but is a picnic compared to homosexuality in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia. When do the leaders of Islam ever deafen us with their condemnation and their disowning of those who commit unspeakable acts in the name of Islam? How deafening was the silence here in Ireland when Catholic priest were raping and buggering children in their care? The good and decent people in the church who knew of these acts were shamefully silent because of the power invested in the institution of the church by ordinary lay people. Even now the disgust at what was done by Michael Woods in protecting the assets of the church before considering the rights of victims is unseen and unheard.

So, my Easter message to you this weekend is this. If you live in Dublin, when the man from the church calls to your door in 2009, take him gently by the hand, offer him a cup of tea and do some evangelising of your own. Give him a copy of Professor Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale or The Blind Watchmaker; read him a few passages from The Fabric Of The Cosmos, by Brian Greene; tell him about the reaction of the church authorities in medieval Italy when Copernicus presented his helio-centric view of the world, probably the most significant scientific discovery in human history, and then ask him to come back in 2010 so you can see if he is still a Christian. If he is then he is an idiot.

Happy Easter.

PS. None of the above precludes me from believing that a large bunny rabbit is going to leave a delicious chocolate egg at the end of my bed tonight. In our house he comes down the chimney, just like Santa Claus.

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