The first few years of this century are turning out to be busy ones for anti-religious polemicists. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and, soon to appear, Christopher Hitchens’s God is not Great revive a tradition of impassioned criticism of religious belief and of what people do in God’s name.
The reason for the relative quiet in the closing years of the last century is plain enough. As long as religion had seemed to have little to do with anything important ”“ such as politics or war ”“ committed secularists were spared the bother of arguing that religion is bad. It is only when people do bad things in the name of their religious beliefs that atheists need to get evangelical about their creed.
Personally, I don’t feel any desire to leap to the defence of Christian faith against this renewed assault. This is not because others are doing the job well enough, but because, Christian though I am, I have some sympathy with the view that belief in God can be dangerous.
If God is not to be abused, it seems important to me to recognise that religious belief can be dangerous for individuals and for society. The fact that most of the time religious convictions in practice make believers good neighbours and good citizens does little to lessen the scandal when God is invoked to justify tyranny or terror.