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What atheists like Richard Dawkins got wrong

Celebrating spirituality: Piero di Cosimo’s Immaculate Conception. Getty

Britain has become one of the most “godless nations” in the world, says James Marriott in The Times, with just 49% of us saying we believe. And “as religion fades, reason blossoms across the land”: public discourse is civilised and rational; science is esteemed like never before. “Ha ha ha.” The opposite, of course, is true. “Astrology is – astonishingly – a booming industry. Antivaxers prosper on GB News.” Educated people increasingly think “personal truth” trumps objective reality. Ludicrous conspiracies like QAnon have become “quasi-religions”. The decline of Christianity hasn’t eradicated irrationality and tribalism, because “few are capable of living without faith”. All that’s changed is the way in which our religious feeling is expressed. Fifteen years ago, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens “gleefully” attacked religion. “It turns out that what they really despised was human nature.”

These enthusiastic atheists failed to see that for all the church’s problems, religion did at least bundle all our “irrational impulses” into one place. Now the irrational is spreading through society. The similarities between the moral crusades of the “woke” movement and Calvinism are striking: the “obsession with heretics”, the idea that “we all bear the ‘original sin’ of prejudice.” Even among the more moderate-minded, “political beliefs have replaced religion”. The big problem is that liberal capitalist democracies have made people free and rich but failed to provide “meaning or existential purpose”. And while we have been good at replacing the worst of religion — “its sectarianism, its certitude, its antipathy to reason” – we have yet to find an alternative source for its virtues: “seriousness, beauty, spirituality”.