Muriel Grey on ‘Enlightenism’

Muriel Grey joins the massed ranks of those defending the Enlightenment against religious belief in general and Islam in particular. Apparently, Enlightenment values are compatible with describing the Aishah Azmi case in the following terms: “some woman (we think – for all we know it could have been Paul Gascoigne under that niquab [sic]) was claiming her right to mumble lessons at children while wearing a bag over her head.”

Sunday Herald, 29 October 2006

Tired of all the religious garbage? It’s time to become an Enlightenist

by Muriel Gray

Sunday Herald, 29 October 2006

GIVEN the uniformly alarmist nature of the news, leaving the country for the half-term holiday felt good this year. Choking in the wake of our carbon emissions was a nutcase Britain utterly obsessed with religion. People were threatening Jack Straw with violence; some woman (we think – for all we know it could have been Paul Gascoigne under that niquab) was claiming her right to mumble lessons at children while wearing a bag over her head, and the pope had made the hilariously Monty-Python esque declaration that he was “considering” abolishing limbo for unbaptised babies, no doubt making intelligent Catholics squirm with embarrassment at the screaming silliness of heavenly admission by human whim.

But on our return, sadly, there is no let up. Some senior Australian cleric declares that women without hijabs are uncovered meat inviting rape, and now we have arguments over faith school quotas and whether or not 25% of pupils admitted should come from other faiths, including no faith. If I tell you that I am sick, sick, sick, way beyond the back teeth, of all this dark ages, loony tunes, divisive religious garbage then I am making an understatement. The worst thing is that although for the most part all the nonsense can be ignored, when it gets political it simply cannot, and there is nothing more political than how we educate the next generation of British citizens.

Let’s start with vocabulary. Let’s stop describing these tax-funded establishments as faith schools. They are superstition schools, for that is what they teach. Alongside hard facts, innocent children are hoodwinked into accepting as real the mythology of virgin births, gods who regard women with bare heads as wicked harlots, that Noah’s Ark was real and that Darwin was wrong. It’s clear that, given the rising tide of superstition sweeping our country, no politician will help end this state-funded child abuse, and so it is time to try and fight back. The difficulty with people who think as I do is that we are always described in the negative as atheists. The word, although it simply means not believing in a deity, is mostly used in the pejorative to imply a lack of belief in anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. We are not a group who are seen as a “community”, who are organised in our desires, or who can bring political pressure to bear on our government in the way herds of men in frocks seem to do with the sweep of a cassock or twitch of a beard.

So let’s get organised. Someone tried a group called “The Brights”, but the name is so smug and pretentious that it’s not surprising it was a damp squib. Why not take instead The Enlightenment as the inspiration? Enlightenmentists is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s try Enlightenists. I know. I just made it up. It’s the best I can do, but we’re going to need a label if we are hoping to get things like our own schools.

Here’s what I believe as an Enlightenist. Atheism is not a driving concern, since belief in God is of little consequence. After all, if there is an interventionist God then there would be continuing demonstrable evidence of such, which there most certainly is not, and if there is a creator God who is non-interventionist then he neither requires nor merits worship, and if there is no God at all then so be it. Therefore you could happily suspect that there might be a non-interventionist God of sorts that could eventually be discovered scientifically and still be an Enlightenist. Since no action needs to be taken until such an unlikely discovery, it doesn’t matter. Now let’s move on.

Enlightenists believe in the awe-inspiring, wonder, beauty and complexity of the universe, and aspire to unpick its mysteries by reason, constant questioning, observation, experiment, and analysis of evidence. The bedrock of our morality is empathy, from which logically springs love, forgiveness, tolerance and a profound desire to make a just, egalitarian society and reduce suffering. The more knowledge a person has, the more they question and understand the real world, and the more they are required to analyse what is true then the greater the increase in empathy. Enlightenists care and wish to do good not because a vengeful God tells them to, but because intelligence suggests it is the only and the right thing to do.

So there we have it then, that’s the belief manifesto. Now, where the hell are my bloody state-funded schools? We’re always told about the high performance of superstition schools verses non-denominational ones, but we know that’s because any parent willing to pretend to be religious to get their child in is a parent interested in their child’s education, and involved parents equal successful children. Can you imagine the unseemly scramble for places if we were to be granted a state-funded Enlightenist school? Children would be welcome from any religious or ideological background, with the parents only having to fulfil the brief of allowing their children to be taught in the Enlightenist manner.

This would mean they could still be Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Satanist, Druids, whatever they like, but their children would be taught to question the whole matching set of baggage. Sit back and watch the superstition schools empty.

Once we got our schools and started churning out multiracial youngsters free from any kind of manipulation, save that of being taught to question everything, we could start our political lobbying. Why should religious concerns be put above ours? Why shouldn’t we have the right to be appeased when we are offended by religion, the way the religious whine like toddlers when someone shakes a stick at their myths? Why shouldn’t we be consulted and treated with respect as a community? Why are the sincerely held beliefs I’ve outlined inferior to those of a Christian, Jew or a Muslim? You think I’m joking. I’m not. I pay my tax. I want representation too.