I am constitutionally a sceptic ( a term which, like "humanist", has been degraded to mean simply atheist, a sense I don't intend), but not being cocksure either way, I think civilised life depends on a benevolent forbearance that is being eroded by Puritans of all stripes.
I've submitted the following letter to the Speccie in response to this by Rod Liddle, but like as not it will not be published, so you may as well have a preview.
In typically flippant manner, Rod Liddle (13 September) mocks the alleged stupidity and cowardice of would-be Islamic martyrs. It’s true that there is an adolescent power-seeking element: I was confronted by a serious-faced posse of 15-year-olds in a school corridor on 13 September 2001, and the spokesman said, “Sir, what happened on Tuesday: good, innit?” With that, leaving their kaffir teacher satisfyingly speechless, the delegation walked off.
But the self-appointed leader was far from stupid, as I knew: he could probably have got his inflatable A* in GCSE English a year early. And teenagers mind-manacled by a few simple ideas can be very brave, which is why armies everywhere have been glad to use them.
Moreover, this is not a Children’s Crusade, but a war of ideas. We had our own a generation ago: “Smash the System”, Ho Chi Minh’s lantern fizzog stencilled on Oxford college walls, etc. If Liddle wishes for an answer, it is to be found in the article immediately after his own, where Harry Mount quotes Philip Larkin: “A hunger ... to be more serious.” Wiffy-woffy liberal democracy is under attack from both domestic Left and alien religious Right. The politico-religious settlement that was the Church of England is crumbling.
In a Gramscian campaign, the means of cultural transmission (the educational curriculum, the broadcast media, even some of the clergy) have been captured and turned against what used to unite us. Recently, we have gone from the martyrs’ certainty of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer to the confusing fast-talk of Bishop David Jenkins, the slapstick clerical comedy of Dawn French and the nihilistic assertiveness of that scruffy peacock Richard Dawkins. When, a year or two ago, the BBC transmitted “Any Questions?” from a church at Christmas, the panel inevitably included a smug young atheist exhorting the faithful to “embrace the dark.”
The real Delusion is that we can cut down the ancient forests of our history and expect a lovely garden to spring up among the stumps. As Robert Bolt’s More says, “Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?” The seriousness for which people hunger is not found in the drunken debauchery alternately promoted and lamented in Parliament and the newspapers, and that which is being destroyed will find its replacement.