Monday, 6 February 2012

Free speech, the ASA and the new atheists

Having recently defended the right to say in public that God demands the execution of men who have sex with other men, today I have been springing to the much more congenial task of defending the right to say "God heals" (one comment here and passim here). Though "congenial" is hardly the word to describe the fact that it is now within the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority to rule on the truth value of theological propositions.

At the weekend Damian Thompson wrote despairingly, and therefore not very helpfully, about the atheism of young opinion-formers. If Damian's colleague Tom Chivers can be taken as a representative specimen, he's bright enough, to be sure, but not, I think, quite as clever as Damian suggests. Certainly nowhere near as clever as he is, to judge by the evidence of his mugshot, in his own estimation.

What is worrying about the new atheists is not their cleverness. It is the fact that they have grown up imbued with the conviction that anything they disapprove of can be and should be banned. Demanding bans is a pure reflex. It has become the only way of getting attention for your belief that a point of view is deluded and dangerous. If you don't call for a ban nobody will hear you above the commotion of all the other banners.

Conservatives need to stop using "liberalism" as an umbrella term for the things they are agin. Nobody under thirty has the remotest conception what liberalism means. And they should take heart - Damian T please note. The mania for banning things must surely be the covert expression of a profound insecurity. Even in the case of Tom Chivers.

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