From the publication of the Origin, Darwin enthusiasts have been building a kind of secular religion based on its ideas, particularly on the dark world without ultimate meaning implied by the central mechanism of natural selection.
I have ambivalent feelings about Easter. I am sure I am not alone in this attitude towards the greatest of events on the Christian calendar, especially among people who grew up, as I did, in intensely religious (and loving) families but who have long put their Christian beliefs behind them. As it happens, my family were Quakers and that religion does not mark out the church festivals. But I went to a school that had a great musical tradition and each year there was a performance of one of the Bach Passions, alternating the St Matthew with the St John.
The New Atheists – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens – are not particularly comfortable people. The fallacies in their arguments beg to be used in classes on informal reasoning. The narrowness of their perspectives are remarkable even by the standards of modern academia. The prejudices against those of other cultures would be breathtaking even in the era when Britannia ruled the waves. But there is a moral fervor unknown outside the pages of the Old Testament. And for this, we can forgive much.
As a small boy in the 1920s, my father sang in the choir of the parish church, St Matthews, in Walsall in the British Midlands. Twenty years later, he was married with a couple of children and our small, tight family belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers. Friends do not have church services. There is no hymn singing. But every Christmas Eve, religiously as one might say, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the family gathered around the radio to listen to the broadcast of carols and lessons from King’s College, Cambridge.