Barry Morgan, the archbishop of Wales, has complained about a phenomenon which he calls 'atheistic fundamentalism'. According to the archbishop, it is every bit as dangerous as Biblical or Islamic fundamentalism. It consists primarily of the belief that "religion in general and Christianity in particular have no substance", and indeed the belief that they are "superstitious nonsense".
I have trouble seeing what is quite so fundamentalist about this viewpoint. Surely it's normal for atheists to believe that religion has no substance? If atheists didn't think that Christianity was "supserstitious nonsense", they probably wouldn't be atheists in the first place.
The archbishop continues: "All of this is what I would call the new 'fundamentalism' of our age. It allows no room for disagreement, for doubt, for debate, for discussion. It leads to the language of expulsion and exclusivity, of extremism and polarisation, and the claim that because God is on our side, he is not on yours."
I find this argument utterly two-faced. The archbishop talks about God's existence as a given, as an axiom - perfectly fair behaviour for a Christian. But if people talk in certain terms about God not existing - perfectly fair behaviour for atheists - they are 'fundamentalists', and should be condemned for allowing no room for debate. The archbishop's logical error is so basic and so glaring that it almost doesn't need pointing out.
Personally, I very much doubt that atheism could ever be considered a 'fundamentalist' philosophy. There's a crucial difference between atheism and religion: religions actively promote a certain belief, whereas atheism is a rejection of such beliefs. Atheists don't actively disbelieve in God any more than they actively disbelieve in the tooth fairy, or indeed the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They simply reject them, complaining about the lack of evidence. You may agree with them, or you may disagree, but I can't detect anything even approaching fundamentalism in that sort of approach.
It's ironic that this story comes on the same day as a nine-year-old boy was banned from his school's Christmas party for not believing in God. In the middle of the perennial and largely fictitious war against Christmas, surely the headteacher should be pleased to see a non-Christian child joining in the celebrations? A minority of Christians believe with paranoid fervour that secularists hate Christmas, and are trying to get it cancelled - yet this man was prepared to punish and exclude a small child who doesn't believe in God, but sees Christmas as a culturally important time of shared celebration, and wants to join in with it. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
I'm a secularist, but that doesn't make me in any way anti-religious - indeed, as a Jew, I'm very proud of my religious background and heritage. Secularism, for me, is the belief that religion, or lack of it, should be a private choice for each individual, rather than a matter of state. I find it a little sad, for example, that Tony Blair felt he had to wait until he'd resigned his office before becoming a Catholic. This clearly hasn't happened overnight; he must have been planning it for quite some time, and it's a shame to think that he felt unable to join the Roman Catholic Church whilst in his role as Prime Minister. As long as the PM legislates for the entire population, rather than simply those of a religious bent, he or she ought to be allowed to hold and practice any creed whatsoever. One of the few genuinely praiseworthy aspects of Tony Blair's premiership was the way he ignored religious objections, notably against gay rights, and instead liberalised the law in that area. In effect, he allowed everyone to make their own judgement call, rather than permitting a certain brand of Christianity to dictate morality to the entire population. It contrasts sharply with the moralising tone of the Brown administration.
Principally, secularism means that no belief system should be privileged above any other, and that faith shouldn't be accorded any more respect than lack of faith. In practical terms, this means that the archbishop can talk about Jesus's teaching to his heart's content, if it makes him happy - but that Dawkins, Grayling (one of whose essays inspired that title of this post) et al are equally entitled to express their own views. To call them 'fundamentalists' is to bring politically-charged smears into what ought to be a reasonable and level-headed discussion.
Whatever personal position people take on God's existence, I hope they'll celebrate the next few days in whatever manner they like, loudly and proudly - but that they'll extend the same courtesy to others with opposing views, who want to enjoy the festive season in a different way.