Monday, 16 July 2012

There is no God only Bosses

Hello folks,

There’s been quite a hiatus from Chris and I recently (well the last 5 months) which is frankly appalling.  At least Chris has the excuse of living in Australia and therefore now addicted to manly activities such as sport, casual misogyny and eating meat.  I have no such excuse and so thought I’d best put things right with a little catch-up.

Last Tuesday I attended a book launch, organised by the British Humanist Association for the Young Atheists Handbook by Alom Shaha.

Overall, I found the night a little odd as the venue reminded me of a Methodist church as did some of the details of the décor and details replete with lectern and choir… I guess that when the association was formed all public meetings were quasi-religious and looked like this. Old habits die hard in the Secular world too…

The evening itself was lots of fun with a free bar (you don’t get that on a Sunday in St Johns) and lovely canapés.  Of the guest speakers I had heard of two: RobinInce of the infinite monkey cage fame who talked too fast, which was a theme for most of them if I’m honest and AC Grayling who slowed it all down. When I grow up I want to have a lion’s mane of hair just like Mr Grayling… it was magnificent. He also had the best line of the night suggesting that “Militant” Atheists makes about as much sense as “Militant” Stamp Collectors… Look at me! NOT Collecting stamps…Militantly.

The obvious star of the show was Alom, who was clearly giddy and running on the kind of adrenaline I normally only see in skittish grooms.  However his talk (speech? What the hell do you call it?) did hold together and was full of the warm, humble charm that makes the actual book such a pleasure to read. Towards the end, Alom became deeply passionate about the hope he has for Bangladeshi women to be able to free themselves from the some-times horrible lives they find within their religion.  I also suspect he might regret promising to make the entire audience dhal…especially as I’ll be at the front of the queue with my largest bowl!

The book is an antidote to Hitchens and Dawkins or if like me you don’t think these guys need an antidote a far warmer and more personal account of losing God.  Instead of a reference manual that the title suggests this is just Alom Shaha sharing some key memories and thoughts on how he ended up as an Atheist and what it means to him.  Alom has previously criticised Atheism in the UK as too white and too middle class as I| am probably both of those I am largely ignorant of what might be peculiar to Muslims or in particular Bangladeshis.  So I was hoping and expecting for his journey to be quite different to mine and for me to learn more about his (ex)faith through how he lost it.

While this was certainly the case – I didn’t realise that the Koran, being written in Arabic was indecipherable to the vast majority of those who hope to use it – I was struck by how similar some of the experiences were, especially the moments of clarity that he seemed have with his own mind… the fact that it seemed perfectly natural that there was no God.  No epiphany, No big Bang, just No! Its almost as if we're all the same species with the same wants needs and desires irrespective of what God our parents prayed to.

Alom is a Science teacher and had dreams of being a scientist proper so it was a surprise that Science did not inform his decision.  That decision was made long before he discovered the joy of understanding how the world actually is though investigation. A discovery that was hindered, not helped by the science teaching at school.  Like many of us it seems that his Science teachers were crap or cared little for their subject and so unable to pass on the “magic” of it all*.  Sadly most of us are saddled with an (at best) average education but in my case family made up the difference in the arts…It is a shame that science is seen as so specialist that its off the menu at family dinner tables.  I hope people like Alom can bring their readability and smile to popularising this subject.

The Chapter about being labelled a “Coconut” was very timely as with-out it I wouldn’t have realised how unpleasant being called “white on the inside” might be or the significance of the idiot Rio Ferdinand’s comments about his former team mate.

I think my favourite image in the book is when Alom shares his first experience of eating bacon.  We all know how Heaven Hates Ham and this first glorious taste of prohibited porcine pleasure brings to the first page the fun and homely sense that courses throughout the book.  The Bacon Incident highlights how trivial religion is (do you really think he cares what’s in your sandwich?) but because the simple act of having left over breakfast was such a bold step it also demonstrates how powerful and insidious religion still is in the 21st Century. This act got me thinking so if you know any Jewish or Muslim friends who are wavering or perhaps haven’t been brave enough yet …send them round to mine for a sausage sarnie and a chat.

So, having finished the book and feeling confident that there is no super-natural deity I went to see Springsteen…On Woodie Guthrie’s 100th Birthday

* Please take note of a correcting tweet I received from Alom. Sadly one of his teachers Mr Clarke died the year he finished School.

 thanks for writing about book and launch. Have to point out that some of my science teachers were truly brilliant & inspirational