MGF Brian Edwards on atheism and ISIS scumbags

My good friend Brian Edwards is an atheist. Each to their own…he has clearly even rejected Pascal’s wager.

He provides an interesting perspective on atheism, one I sympathise with in some regards:

I was 18 or 19 when I told the local Church of Ireland minister in Dunmurry, Canon Robert C Ellis, that I was an atheist and could no longer sing in the church choir or superintend the Sunday School classes on the council housing estate in nearby Seymour Hill where I lived with my aging mother. [Note the background similarity with John Key, though it stops there!)

Canon Ellis, whose initials ?RC? were a cross he had to bear, was ?a liberal on most things, including sex, but his liberalism did not extend to the Roman Catholic faith which he could not stomach. He was a gentler man than Ian Paisley, though cut from the same cloth in matters sectarian.

My declaration that I no longer believed in God did not phase the Canon one bit. His brilliant son Stuart had, like me, found and then lost religion. The university did that to impressionable young minds.

?You can,? RC said, ?continue to attend church, sing in the choir and teach Sunday School. Just don?t say The Lord?s Prayer or take communion and confine your teaching to the historical account of Jesus? life.?

I spent a day or two considering this solution before deciding that it really wasn?t feasible for the person of conscience I considered myself to be.

I?m 77 now and still an atheist . I don?t believe in God or an afterlife. When you?re dead you?re dead. That?s it. It?s one among many reasons why I don?t believe in capital punishment ? no second chance to put things right.

I have no interest in converting other people to my way of thinking, not least because of the comfort my mother?s belief in God brought her during a lonely life and an agonising death from cancer. And I have very little time for proselytising atheists most of whom seem to spend their time railing against a creature they don?t believe exists. The stupidity of that position beggars belief.

Proselytising anything is annoying, but he is dead right, atheists spending immense amounts of time and/or money railing against something that they believe doesn’t exist is the pure definition of futility.

He then moves onto dissecting the evil that is ISIS.

The atrocities being committed by Isis today are justified as the will of Allah in precisely the same way that the atrocities of the crusades or the Reformation or the counter-reformation or recent violence against non-Christians and homosexuals in Uganda are justified as representing the will of the Christian God. Torturing people who disagree with your interpretation of the wishes of a deity, chopping off their heads or burning them alive ? none of these is an invention of Isis.

And because such barbarism relies on the belief that it is the will of a higher power ? ?not what I want but what God or Allah wants? ? its practice is impervious to rational attack, as its perpetrators are impervious to rational persuasion. And therein lies the power of Isis which offers a whole new set of rules and mores, sanctioned by Allah, to legitimise the most horrendous crimes perpetrated by the disaffected and disillusioned among us.

I?m inclined on the whole to believe that religious belief has been and remains a force for ill rather than a force for good in the world. This may be because the history of religion in Northern Ireland where I was brought up is characterised by intolerance of the beliefs of others, often violently expressed.

But I think it goes beyond that. There is simply no empirical evidence for ?the existence of a divine being and? therefore no rational justification for such a belief. In Christian theology God is conveniently invisible. ?No man,? the Bible asserts, ?has seen God?.

The harm which I see emanating from religion lies less in religious belief itself than in the scope which the abandonment of rational thought in favour of religious dogma gives for irrational, ?potentially anti-social and, at the outer margins, murderous or genocidal behaviour.

I?m something of a fan of the current Pope, but it?s pretty hard to ignore the role of Catholic dogma on birth control and abortion in condemning entire populations to generational poverty. It may be consoling to think that your reward will be in Heaven, but what if Heaven is a myth? And what if there is no God, no Allah, no rewarding virgins at the gates of paradise, no paradise? What if death is final?

Well, there?s comfort, I suppose in never discovering that inconvenient truth, but it does reduce the slaughter of the innocent in the name of God or Allah to what it really is ? a horrendous crime against humanity in the name of religion.

And worse, it may be dangerous now even to express such an opinion. The ditch is narrow between us and our Aussie neighbours.

I think you could also describe my good friend Brian Edwards a rationalist…though I suspect being the tired old socialist he is he would reject that too.

I love how he catches himself falling into what he calls a “trap”.

Immediately after the Christchurch earthquake, Peter Beck, the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, and a man I greatly admire, was asked by by a parishioner, ?Where is God?? His reply included this phrase:

?God is weeping with those who weep.?

He was then asked: ?Yes, but where was God when offices pancaked and burned and hundreds died?

He replied: ?Well, we live in a dynamic, creating planet that?s doing its thing. For whatever reason, our forbears chose to build this city on this place. They didn?t know we were on the fault line. God doesn?t make bad things happen to good people. We make our own choices about what we do.?

This exchange angered me greatly and I wrote an intemperate post in reply. It included this:

?Every year millions of people die in natural disasters. Every year bad things happen to good people? Peter tells us it?s not God?s doing. ?God?, he tells us, ?is weeping with those who weep.? That?s nice. A sympathetic, do-nothing God. A sympathetic did nothing God.?

Looking back, I can see that I wasn?t just angry with Peter, I was angry with God. As I suggested earlier, it?s a trap we atheists all too easily fall into ? blaming a god we don?t believe in and whose existence we deny.

I fall into that trap pretty regularly myself. ?Must try harder!

My good friend Brian Edwards is right though…bad things sometimes happen to good people. In Syria and Iraq right now bad people are doing bad things to good people…while supposedly good people stand by and say it isn’t our fight to stop evil.

That is the real tragedy.


– Brian Edwards