In the UK, religion and the religious are being treated pretty roughly these days. A few weeks ago, Elton John was outspoken on this subject, saying: "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings, and it's not really compassionate." Today, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a thinly disguised criticism of Muslim immigrants, saying: "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So, conform to it, or don't come here. We don't want the hate mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed." Blair’s explanations included a catchy slogan: "The right to be different, the duty to integrate.” Earlier this year, the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins (author of scientific best sellers such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker) made a brilliant attack upon all kinds of religions in The God Delusion.
In Iraq, a suicide bomber sees himself as a martyr who will be rewarded in paradise by being introduced to seventy-two virgins. This sounds like a ridiculous incentive. But is it more absurd than the religious motivations of a George W Bush who was led to invade Iraq because God apparently encouraged him to do so?
In France, the Catholic Church recently criticized medical research using embryonic stem cells, and this criticism was expressed shortly before the Téléthon: France’s gigantic annual call for donations. Most French people were angered by the attitude of the Church, and the president himself stepped into the arena in order to tell the Church politely to shut up.
The French philosopher André Comte-Sponville recently brought out a book whose title could be translated as The Spirit of Atheism, in which he advocates a new kind of “spirituality without God”.
There’s no doubt about it: In the Old World (particularly in the laic republic of France), religion is more and more often an unwelcome visitor. The graffiti is on the wall: God, go home!