Is atheism a religion after all? (Newspaper article)

Hot on the heels of last week’s news that a cinema advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer was to be banned (despite the opposition of the Muslim Council of Britain, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry), humanists have now taken offence that the current Religious Studies GCSE doesn’t include non-religious worldviews. The High Court ruled that although it was lawful in itself for Religious Studies just to cover religion, the education secretary had a duty to ensure the curriculum reflected the pluralistic nature of the UK.

It’s staggering that a ‘Religious Studies’ curriculum has been found unlawful because it does exactly what it says on the tin. Whatever next? A legal challenge to the English curriculum because it doesn’t include French? Or to a history curriculum which only includes the past?

While some Christians have protested that humanist ideas already dominate the curriculum, what I find most surprising is that atheistic worldviews weren’t included on the Religious Studies curriculum to begin with. After all, while it might take faith to believe that we and the world around us were created by God, surely it takes even more faith to believe that life can evolve from non-life? That we’re all the result of some cosmic accident?

Like religion, atheism has its evangelists. Dawkins explicitly states his aim that religious readers opening ‘The God Delusion’ would be atheists when they put it down.

Atheists also believe in a higher authority. One of their creeds, the ‘Humanist Manifesto’, acknowledges a responsibility to aspire to the ‘greater good of humanity’. But who defines what that is? Is the opinion of the majority always right? The Manifesto calls its adherents to live with ‘a deep sense of purpose’ - surely just a meaningless platitude if there is no God?

Neither can atheism side-step some of the problems that other religions face. Take the problem of evil. If we believe in a good, all-powerful God, why is there so much evil in the world? Why did God allow the attacks in Paris? Yet the atheist must answer the question: What does it matter? Why is human life any more valuable than that of a rat, an insect or a tree? Even to use the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is to borrow from a religious worldview.

To include ‘non-religious’ worldviews on the ‘Religious Studies’ curriculum is just to acknowledge what they really are. They too are based on faith.

Published in Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, 3 December 2015.