Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Category: life (page 1 of 4)

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit speaks on atheism, doubt, and life

I recently got the chance to speak with Scott Hutchison in an interview for RTRfm. He’s the frontman for the acclaimed Scottish indie band Frightened Rabbit.

I’d noticed that some of their songs discuss atheism, most recently the song ‘Late March, Death March’ from the album Pedestrian Verse, with its lyric “There isn’t a god, so I’ll save my breath” and “So unfurrow that brow, and plant those seeds of doubt.”

So I decided to ask Scott about it. This part didn’t make it into the interview, so here it is.

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If you’d like to hear the rest of the interview, it’s on the RTRfm website.

Atheist church: My experience with the Sunday Assembly

I occasionally run into atheists and (more often) agnostics who say “Atheism doesn’t provide a sense of community. How are we providing a sense of community?”

Well, I was part of the Mormon community for 38 years, and let me tell you: Community sucks.

No, seriously, it’s way over-rated. If I’ve learned one thing from my Mormon days, it’s that just believing the same thing as someone else is not a very good indicator of whether you’ll get along in other ways. And my experience with other atheists has not done much to contradict this. There’s only so many times you can say ‘Yep, Sagan/Minchin/Dawkins/Doctor Who is awesome.’ Maybe it’s just not something I need, or I can get it from online communities, or something. Also, I’m afraid of echo chambers.

Mind you, I’m lucky. I have a great bunch of people online and off that I get my people needs from, and some people don’t. And some people just groove on having a community, and we need a multiplicity of approaches in atheism anyway, so I was not entirely displeased to learn that the Sunday Assembly was coming to Perth. It’s the project dreamed up by a couple of UK comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They’re on a ‘Forty Dates and Forty Nights’ tour, getting Sunday Assemblies started in major cities around the world. Apparently there’s a bit of comedy, games, and some rock music. Oh, and community. So… it’s like a born-again church? Ew.

Some people haven’t been as keen on the idea of Sunday Assembly, and I understand why. After you’ve had your millionth boneheaded ‘atheism is not a religion’ conversation, now here comes Atheist Church! Oh, great. But don’t be like that — let’s come on down to mingle with the godless and see what it’s about.

***

We’re in a lecture theatre at UWA, 150 of us, including some children, clapping and bouncing around, singing “Walking On Sunshine”. Yes, that is as daggy as it sounds. But Sanderson is here leading the singing, and he’s so enthusiastic and boisterous that I don’t mind playing along for a little while. Is this what happens at charismatic churches? It seems like it — there’s a reading just like at church, there’s Sanderson being the likeable and wise-cracking leader figure just like at church. Oh, and there’s a collection just like at church. It cost the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society a bit to hire the venue, and some of the money will also go toward the next meeting. One thing I don’t think they do at church is a game: Danish Clapping. Everyone pairs up with different people a few times, and I chat a bit with my game-partners between rounds. Next, a physicist explains a bit about the origin of the universe and the cosmic background radiation. It’s all light-hearted, kind of enjoyable, and certainly more fun than a dreary Mormon Sacrament Meeting.

***

Sanderson says Sunday Assembly wants to use all the good things about religion, but leave out the god bits. It reminds me of that approach to curing cancer that involves giving the patient AIDS (or sort of). Doctors take HIV, remove the part that destroys your immune system, and patch in something that kills cancer cells instead. Now imagine that we do the same thing with religion — take all the mechanisms that religion uses to help itself propagate, and then strip it of its toxic theistic payload. Done that way, atheist church would act as something like immunisation, since the churchy aspects of theism — whatever attraction that holds for some people — would have been safely co-opted. Or would this backfire, reifying the whole ‘church is fun’ concept? Not sure, but it seems to be a good imitation. I can’t really see anything here that would be out of place in a church meeting, except the conspicuous absence of anything to do with a god. There isn’t even any religion-bashing. Sanderson explains that they want to keep it positive, or as he says, “Nothing that would make my religious granny uncomfortable.” So maybe this would do for someone who likes the feeling that they get from church, and the exhortation to — as the Sunday Assembly motto has it — “live better, help often, wonder more”. Maybe people stumble into churches with those ideals and like what they find, whether they believe in a god or not. Sunday Assembly could offer that, but with no supernatural ingredients.

***

Sanderson leads us all in a moment of silence, and suggests that we think of what we have. What we have? I’m pretty lucky. I have a good job, a beautiful and loving wife, two smart and strong boys. My health and a home. Sometimes I think of my frustrations and disappointments, but here in the silence, they seem small compared to those of (say) people in the Philippines, hit by disaster. I feel a bit more grateful, and make a mental note to donate more to people who have lost everything.

The theme for today is ‘Impromptu’ because the whole thing has been arranged at the last minute. The venue was only arranged a couple of days ago. Sanderson is about to give a small talk on today’s theme, but he can’t think of anything relating to ‘Impromptu’. Someone in the audience helpfully suggests ‘Live in the moment!’ There it is; there’s his topic. And he speaks about being aware that we’re alive, and one day we’ll be dead and not able to be aware of anything. He gets us to clench up our fists — something he liked to do as a kid — and feel the tension spreading to our arms, shoulders and chest. Then we let it go. Aaaah — release and relaxation.

One more song — ‘Down Under’, of all things — and we’re done. Sanderson will have moved on by the next meeting in a month. Legend has it that he will return, perhaps in 2,000 years. In the meantime, it’s up to us to keep it going and he gives tips on the format to those who stay to form a committee.

***

I wouldn’t want Sunday Assembly to be the only way I get my atheism on, but it could be a part of this complete breakfast. I’d think about going again; I probably will go to the next one, though I might not get evangelical about it. It may not be to the taste of all atheists.

Tell you what, though. I saw someone there that I knew. He’s a guy who’s attended lots of churches for a long while, tried to be a Christian; he’s sort of a seeker. I said hi, and asked him what made him want to attend. His response, paraphrased, was “Well, I like going to church, but I no longer think there’s a god. I realised that what I needed in my life was more positivity and joy. So that’s what I’m here for.” (I asked if I could share that here in this post, and he said that was fine.)

More positivity and joy. Couldn’t we all use some of that? So I don’t begrudge the concept. If it takes off in Perth, I’d say that’s what he’d be likely to find at a Sunday Assembly.

A lifetime script

I have this memory of climbing into my parents’ bed (which I used to do all the time) and talking to my dad. I must have been about six. For some reason, I was curious about how-many-years-old I was, and what would happen at the various ages I’d be. For every integer I gave him, Dad told me what would happen. At eight, I’d get baptised.

What about twelve? At twelve, you get the Aaronic Priesthood.

What about 18? At 18, you can vote.
What about 19? At 19, you’ll go on your mission.

What about 25? At 25, you might get married. (Dad got married at 25, so he thought that was the right age for me.)

And so on. I always liked that talk with my Dad because it gave me the idea that life could have a structure. Not having one kind of worried me.

Recently, I was clicking around the tools in my E*TRADE account (I have Tesla stock, thank you) and found an unusual timeline for retirement planning. Well, not exactly unusual, but it describes a perfectly planned, sedate life. But it was unusual for me to see it in this formulation.

Here’s the graphic.

If that’s too small to see, it reads like this:

Where are you in life?
Age 20–29 (Starting Your Career)
Age 30–39 (Building a Family)
Age 40–49 (Climbing the Ladder)
Age 50–59 (Planning for Retirement)
Age 60+ (Living in Retirement)

A life in five easy pieces, carved into orderly ten-year chunks.

I want to say, oh how sterile. A cookie-cutter plan for a boring life.

But I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I love seeing this plan. It’s the closest I’ve found to a sensible cultural script. Doesn’t the career-then-family idea seem more like what people actually do, and probably should do? I wish I’d seen this simple menu when I was young and starting out. It would have given me a template to work from, maybe to deviate from. But something. Some much-needed direction. And it wouldn’t have been the Mormon plan I got, which was really dumb:

Mormon Plan for Mormon Males
Age 19–29 (Mission, Marriage, and Work, all at once)
Age 29–death (Endless String of Callings, Endure ‘Til the End)

Whereas what really happened was this:

What Daniel Actually Did
Age 20–29 (Mission, Marriage, Kids, Uni — Bumping Around Clueless)
Age 30–35 (Actually Figure Out Who I Was and What the Hell Was Going On)
Age 36–40 (Reboot; Divest Self of Unwanted Baggage, Do Things Properly This Time)
Age 40–45 (Starting Your Career)

And from here on out, it’s:

Age 46–60 (You’re Much Too Old to Be Climbing Silly Ladders, Just Keep Being Awesome)
Age 60+ (Most Interesting Man in the World)

Okay, so I wasn’t very good at following plans. But I’m glad I threw off the terrible plan other people gave me, and chose my own. Even so, I’m keeping an eye on the E*TRADE plan, just as a reminder that the clock is ticking, and there are some jobs to be done along the way, regardless of where I am now, or where I’ve been.

Wedding

I am pleased to announce that Miss Perfect and I are married!

The wedding was on a lovely Saturday afternoon, just a couple of weekends ago. The bride was radiant in her dress, the groom dashingly handsome in tails. After photographs and dinner, we danced all night. It was a beautiful day with family and friends.

I used to have a hypothesis about weddings, and it was that they’re intended as a stress test for the relationship. If your relationship could survive the planning, the organisation, and the negotiation of a thousand details, then you passed the qualifying round. But this wedding wasn’t like that at all, mostly because Miss Perfect did such a great job of organising things, and we fully agreed with each other on colours, typefaces, flowers, cakes, and music. We worked together to make invitations and menus. There were only a couple of times throughout the process when we asked each other: Why are we doing this again?

Why were we getting married? Secular atheists don’t need marriage. We’d been living together, sleeping together, building our home together for the last five years. We were already both committed to each other for the rest of our lives. We won’t change, we told each other. We won’t start acting ‘married’ — wait, is that a bad thing?

Okay, so if nothing is going to change, then why go through an elaborate wedding and become married people?

And the answer was simple: It was a chance to throw a really great party. No, really; great clothes, a choir, music, pomp. Especially the pomp. What a great opportunity to gather a whole bunch of people together (even family and friends from America) and have a whole day to celebrate love and relationships.

But the thing about that — after the wedding, for a couple of days, we were on a huge high from the outpouring of love from everyone and from each other. It was like being on a serotonin water-slide, riding on waves of affirmation from everyone.

We noticed another thing after the wedding. We felt like more of a couple. Of course, we walked around the house saying, “Hello Mr” and “Hello Mrs”, enjoying that unfamiliar strangeness. But we also felt more solid somehow. More established and grown-up. Our relationship was official. Society approved. Which is silly, but that’s how it feels. It feels like being real.

Marriage equality has been on my mind. Washington’s gay-marriage initiative passed last month (and I was pleased to have voted for it). However, in Australia, it’s still not legal. The marriage celebrant even had to include this little gem in her bit:

Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life …

which discriminates against not only my gay friends, but also my polyamorous friends. Seriously — isn’t that the kind of thing adults can decide for themselves? We have a long way to go, it seems.

So amid the wedding buzz and all the friends and the food and the love, and above all, my beautiful bride and I entering into a new stage of our relationship with a shiny new official status, I thought: Screw anyone who would try and prevent someone – anyone, I don’t care who – from having this, from feeling this way. It’s too wonderful to stop. Seriously — find me someone who thinks this. I’ll slap them upside the head and ask what’s wrong with them. Consenting adults in a loving relationship shouldn’t be allowed to have this amazing experience? Just because you don’t like their kind of relationship? Get out of town. This attitude isn’t just bigoted; it seems to originate from a kind of viciousness that’s worse than mere bigotry.

There are many arguments for marriage equality. Some involve hospital visits and wills, and some involve basic fairness. I’d like to add one to the list. Having a wedding is wonderful. So is the way you feel about your partner and your relationship afterward. That should be for everyone.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Our wedding booklet contained this snippet:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 2003

I’m unfriending all my dead friends

It would appear that I’m old enough to have outlived some of my friends. Some of these friends are — were — on Facebook, and so now I have dead friends on my profile.

One friend passed away suddenly, and his page was being updated by his family. It was kind of nice, like he was still sort of around. As time has passed, however, reminders about his birthday seem slightly chilling. Today was a turning point. Words with Friends suggested that I start up a game with him. That was when I said ‘enough’! Facebook is for the living.

So I’m heartlessly and unceremoniously dumping my dead friends. We would love to keep them around forever, but there is such a thing as clinging, and I don’t think it’s healthy. It’s no wonder people started burying their dead — we miss them, but dead bodies are a health hazard, physically and emotionally. And while it would be nice to think of some aspect of ourselves continuing in perpetuity, we all have to get used to the idea of a world without us.

Facebook has responded to the problem of (to put it gently) user attrition by turning the profiles of the deceased into ‘memorials‘, which means the pages will still be open for family and friends to comment on, but they won’t show up in certain kinds of feeds — for example, it will stop asking you if you’d like to ‘re-connect’ with them. While this is a good idea, my erstwhile friends are still showing up for me because no one has contacted Facebook to ‘memorialise’ them.

Just imagine, fifty years from now, there may still be a lot of Facebook users, but there will also be an enormous number of dead accounts. Facebook may start to resemble a mausoleum, with neighbourhoods of catacombs full of tombs. Or like the Earth itself, where people who are young and alive work and play busily on its surface, unaware of all the bodies beneath their feet.

A+

Regular readers will notice a lull in the frequency of posting here on Good Reason. Part of that is that I got a new job that’s keeping me busy, but then I have been busy before. And lately I’ve felt like I’m running out of things to say. But it’s not really that.

Something’s been paining me about Movement Atheism. Elevatorgate was an uncomfortable wake-up call, but I managed to hit snooze. The recent TAM difficulty renewed my discomfort. In both cases, a female atheist blogger expressed perfectly reasonable discomfort with unwanted sexual attention, and was met with rape threats (from the most unhinged) or self-serving counter-arguments (from a lot of atheist guys). The casual and not-so-casual sexism of atheist guys really bugged me. Weren’t we progressive thinkers? Why was this going so wrong? And then Thunderf00t’s actions on Freethought Blogs gave me a rising sense that something bad was happening to my movement. This made it easy not to blog. I was busy, after all. I had other things to do. And it hurt to watch, so I turned away. In the words of Leonard Cohen, I ached in the places where I used to play.

So I was encouraged by this blog post by Jen McCreight.

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

Ah, the Second Wave. Remember that? Coming out as an New Atheist, and not afraid to say it. Heady days. And remember how we used to feel like we were on solid ground when we said that ‘atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods’? Except when you looked around at other atheists, that wasn’t really true. We really did have other things in common besides just our lack of belief. We were attracted to a constellation of issues, including skepticism, secularism, science, political progressivism, and (pretty uniformly) equality for LGBT people.

I see this third wave — or as a commenter on Jen’s thread dubbed it, A+ — as a simple way of acknowledging that atheism can incorporate positive values, including social justice and gender equality. It can go beyond what I call ‘mere atheism’ and reflect the values that atheism draws us toward, but does not necessarily encompass.

An example of how this works: How do we get from atheism to respect for LGBT people? Many times I’ve seen atheists complain about LGBT posts on Reddit: “How did this get here? What does this have to do with atheism?” Well, not much to do with ‘mere atheism’, but a lot to do with actual atheism. It may be partly “the enemy of my enemy” thinking; religions have had gay people oppressed and killed, we don’t accept the right of religions to do this; ergo, we oppose it. And just as Richard Dawkins’ use of the ‘coming out’ metaphor has been apt in the case of atheists, we feel like our lack of societal acceptance and even ostracism from our families helps us make common cause with LGBT people, who endure much of the same.

So how do we get from atheism to acceptance of women as equals, deserving of respect? I see a clear line from skepticism to feminism. To be a skeptic is to constantly remind yourself that you may be wrong, that you need to keep revising your accepted beliefs, and there’s always more that you could be a little more skeptical about. Well, I’ve realised that I can do better at challenging my attitudes about sexism. Oh, but I don’t consider myself a sexist person, right? Maybe sexists never do. And if I’m truly not a sexist — if I’ve incorporated that value so thoroughly into my thoughts and actions — then why not say so?

So I’m saying so. I’m stepping beyond ‘mere atheism’ and reaching out for that third wave: A+. In some ways, it’s quite natural to do so, and in other ways, I can tell I’m going to have to do a lot of listening, thinking, and updating. But as a skeptical atheist, I can do that.

Pre-debate interview: “Where Do I Come From?”

Before the big fight, there’s always a session where the fighters get together and talk some trash. Well, that’s what we did today on RTRfm — it was me and Rory Shiner talking about the upcoming debate at Wesley Uniting Church in Perth. Except there wasn’t any trash talk, and we didn’t smash (very many) chairs over each other. I did, however, make a pointy point. Here’s the interview.

Where Do I Come From?

The point I made was this: Christianity says that it’s good at answering the question of “Why are we here?” But it isn’t! Their answer for the purpose of life is terrible, and it makes no sense.

If you can make it, do. This was between me and a Christian; throw the Hindu guy into the mix and I don’t know what will happen. There may be twice as much babbling, which means I’ll have to try and make twice as much sense.

Science tells us ‘how’, and religion tells us ‘nothing’.

This bit of the Dawkins/Pell “debate” touched on something I’ve been thinking about.

Pell trots out that old chestnut that religious people like to say about science: science tells us “how”, and religion tells us “why”. I’d like to challenge that.

Sometimes we’re touched by tragedy. We lose someone close to us, and sometimes it’s not in a “good way”, like when someone is very old and ready. Sometimes it’s someone young and someone who really needs to be here with us. Sickness and death in that kind of situation is horrible and pointless, and there’s no good reason for it to have happened. And then people who are left alive, trying to pick up the pieces, will say something like, “It sure is hard to understand why this is happening.”

It’s completely understandable to ask why. But wait — wasn’t religion supposed to answer why? It doesn’t do the job in these situations.

Science can answer why. The person died because our bodies do a pretty good job in most circumstances, but not all the time, and sometimes they can’t heal themselves of everything. Our cells reproduce the wrong way, or a virus gets us, or we have a stroke, and we die. That’s why.

But that’s not a satisfying answer because it doesn’t speak to that person’s expectations. What the person is saying is: I had a belief that a loving god was watching over me, and was going to answer my prayerful requests, perhaps if I did the right things and/or had enough faith. Given those beliefs, it sure is hard to understand why this is happening.

So drop the belief. Without the expectations caused by this belief, things become a lot easier to understand. That’s important, because understanding why (say) cancer happens can lead to a way to beat it. But relying on religion to provide ‘why’ answers is confusing and just makes us ask the wrong questions.

How I first realised I was straight

Lots of people say that sexual orientation is pretty much determined from birth, and you can’t chose it or change it. I’m willing to accept that there’s an element of choice and circumstance in who we’re attracted to, and nobody’s 100% hetero or homo, but I think I can say I’ve always known that I’m a straight guy. My moment of realisation occurred in first grade.

My Year 1 class was a tough place. I had a really sadistic teacher, and this was poison for a “pleaser” child like me. I wanted to do well in school, escape the wrath of Mrs Allen, avoid this one kid named Chad who hated me and wanted to pound me, and try not to feel powerless.

There were lots of kids in my class, but this one girl Paula was a newcomer. I noticed her appearance in class matter-of-factly, as just another kid. I distinctly remember one day working at my desk (probably with crayons, a brand new box of Binney-Smith Crayolas with 64 colours and the electric sharpener in the box). All the other kids were doing their thing, too, working in groups, or moving about the room. And then Paula walked past my desk, and said off-handedly, “Hey, Lover-boy.” And kept on walking.

What made her say that? She couldn’t have meant anything by it; it was probably one of those crazy things kids say all day long. Yet its effect on me was crystallising. It was as if a droplet of boiling hot oil had been dropped into the pool of water in my deepest self, spattered and swam, and made me dizzy. I felt confusing desires and weird attractions. I felt drawn. In that moment, I knew: I liked girls and I wanted their attention.

I don’t remember seeing her again — the tape cuts out at that point. But when people say they “always knew” they were gay, I believe them. My girl-likingness was always in me in supersaturated form, waiting for some kind of seed around which to coalesce. I don’t think I chose to be a straight guy.

The atheist temple

The big news in atheism this week: Alain de Botton wants to build an atheist temple. Which seems strange — atheism isn’t a religion, so why would it need to borrow religion’s trappings? I think de Botton tipped his hand, though, in this pronouncement:

The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre tower to celebrate a ”new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Richard Dawkins’s ”aggressive” and ”destructive” approach to non-belief.

Rather than attack religion, Mr de Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

”Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha but you can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good,” he said. ”That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective … Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, atheism has become known as a destructive force.

Destructive force? For me, Dawkins and Hitchens are two guys who have come to epitomise well-tempered reason, intelligence, and courage in the face of mortality, so de Botton’s criticism doesn’t ring true for me. I’d like to suggest a little test which I’ll call the S.E. Cupp test: When someone says they’re an atheist, do they spend more time promoting atheism, or castigating other atheists because of their tone? If the latter, then what’s the difference between them and a theist?

Dawkins has called the project a waste of funds, PZ says it’s a monument to hubris.

Me? I say it’s redundant. We already have a temple. I was there earlier this month. Or, at least, at one of them.

The atheist temple I went to was the Temple of Knowledge, and it’s better known as the New York Public Library.

It gots lions.

Why would I call it an atheist temple? Because it’s filled with the work of people. People; not gods. People (and you can see them there every day) engaged in the process of gathering knowledge and combining it to make new knowledge. This is the goal of science, which is an atheistic form of reasoning.

I walked along its halls of solid marble, where generations of humans have come to read and learn.

No gothic arches, these. How could you help but be in awe of not just the building, but the building’s purpose?

Like a temple, the magnificent Reading Room prompts a hush. 

And the people who built this place — yeah, they were tycoons who made their money from the skins of small furry animals. But they wanted to build a place where the knowledge of the world could be preserved, and they cared enough to make it amazing. And they inscribed this on the walls, in letters big enough for anyone to read:

“On the diffusion of education
among the people
rest the preservation
and perpetuation
of our free institutions.”

I read that, and I think, you know, they got it. They really got it! Even back then. Our society depends on education. Our freedom depends on it. You can’t preserve freedom in a population of ignoramuses; they’ll just tear it down again the instant they feel afraid. It’s such an alien concept in this age, when one political party has dedicated itself to the destruction of the Department of Education, and (through homeschooling) constantly works to undermine the public school system so that children will be protected from education. It seems like a quaint and noble sentiment, but we need to relearn this thinking that came from better minds than ours. Just as we need another quaint and antiquated notion symbolised by libraries: the public good.

But that’s not all I saw. There were treasures.

Holy shit! It’s a Gutenburg Fucking Bible! One of only 40 perfect ones left. Yes, it’s a bible because for some reason, people thought the Bible was important back then. But what this book did was make reading and publishing commonplace. That’s much more important than the book’s rather poor contents.

And check this out: it’s Christopher Robin’s toys! That’s not just Winnie a Pooh — it’s Winnie THE Pooh. And the others! It was great to see them there, even though it made me think of Toy Story 2. I look at Tigger and realise that Ernest Shepard really nailed it.

These are clay tokens with cuneiform on them, some of the earliest writing that people ever used. That made it possible for people to transmit knowledge over generations.

And while I was in this Library, I felt so connected to people in other ages and to the future. It was a feeling that I can only describe as spiritual, even though I don’t like that word. But it was the same feeling that I felt in the old religion but more intense and meaningful.

You can keep your paltry theist cathedrals. Do not copy Mormon temples — they are monuments to superstition and foolishness. Let St Patrick’s fall. Instead, build a library, Mr de Botton, or an observatory, or a university, or a museum. They’re the only temples that atheists have any business building.

Actually, St. Patrick’s will make a very nice reading room in about 100 years.

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