There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago, either — when the prospect of two ‘evangelical,’ high-profile atheists addressing a meeting in Belfast would have been as likely as Pastor McConnell hosting a birthday weekend for his children in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Yet on October 21, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss will be encouraging audiences at two sold-out events in the Strand Arts Centre to “cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues”.
As someone who ‘outed’ himself as an atheist around thirty years ago (causing one very senior political figure to ask me how, given my abandoning of God, I “could still call myself a unionist”) I welcome the fact that Dawkins and Krauss will be here in their very specific role as atheists.
I welcome the fact that they will be able to screen their film ‘The Unbelievers’ and that they will host a question-and-answer session afterwards.
And I hope, too, that there will be people in the audience who will challenge their arguments with logic and evidence rather than wave Bibles and condemn them to “eternal damnation”.
Similarly, I hope that some of the ‘yea-it’s-trendy-to-be-atheist’ members of the audience will resist the temptation to mock others.
As it happens I’m not an ‘evangelical’ atheist and nor am I convinced that the world would necessarily be a better place if we didn’t have religion.
Nature and evolution are both red in tooth and claw and I suspect that many disputes — moral, political, geographical, economic and social — would still be settled by war.
Politicians would still find reasons to take up arms against others.
Hypocrisy and brutal self-interested opportunism would still be the bedrock of engagement at home and abroad.
It isn’t just the clergy who abuse children. It isn’t just the clergy who turn a blind eye to uncomfortable truths and interpret key documents to suit their own interests.
Religion has often been a bloodstained player throughout history: but don’t kid yourselves that ridiculing, undermining or removing it would, in fact, solve our problems.
I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in life after death (although I hope people will still read my archived columns on the internet!).
I’m wary of politicians and individuals who cite “personal faith and religious belief” as a reason for pursuing particular agendas.
I’m very uncomfortable with religious zealotry: and the social media response of self-professing Christians to some manifestations of Islam across the Middle East appals me.
I oppose the way religious organisations in the United Kingdom think they have, quite literally, a God-given right to tell me how to live my life.
I liked the way Dave Allen closed his television shows with “Goodnight: and may your God go with you.”
Personal faith and religious belief is just that — personal.
If the Bible or Koran or whatever else are your guides for life, then so be it and good luck to you.
But let’s move on from a world where ‘faith’ is allowed to trump logic and fact.
• Read Alex Kane’s column in the News Letter every Monday