European Diary

The Blind Ape

In the 1970’s, one hardly ever heard the word atheist.  One had the impression that the impassive majority never considered the subject long enough to have made the term a part of their active vocabulary; while the typical exception would proffer, with an upraised finger and a coy smirk, something along the lines of “let’s just say that I’m an agnostic.”  Even to these mainstream exceptions, the word sounded unexciting and irredeemably anachronistic, like a radical feminist describing herself as a diehard suffragette.

Ever since then it has struck me as curious that when a man describes himself as a believer, this invites inquiry and explanation, but when he describes himself as an atheist, all it does is kill conversation: “An atheist, eh?  Can you just pass the biscuits, please?”  Remarkably, this is quite different from most other popular dichotomies.  If a man says, “I admire Stalin,” he could easily have interesting things to say on the subject, as could the man who says, “I do not admire Stalin.”  When it comes to religious belief, however, the contrary position is hopelessly stagnant.

In January, 800 of London’s buses became vehicles for a promotional campaign that reads: “There is probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  The slogan for the “Atheist Bus Campaign,” which features...

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