The other day I’m having a drink with a friend and she starts on about the Pope thing and I tell her: “Yeah, I read the speech but I didn’t write anything about it.”

Actually, I read it very closely with a view to doing just that but, as an atheist, concluded that there was really nothing to write about, except to say: listen guys, don’t worry about it, because, you know, THERE’S NOBODY THERE!

Of course, they’re not going to fall for that one, are they — scientists and modern philosophers have been telling them the same thing without avail since the Enlightenment.

Fact is, they want to believe it, don’t they? And that’s fine: I have no problem with other people’s beliefs, even though, in my opinion, religion — any religion — is the ultimate sting. I think: let them be stung.

So look, I have to tell my friend to forget about the Pope thing. To my Muslim friends (I have many and they know and respect my views, which is more than I can say for the few Christians I count as friends) I say, if the Pope’s speech upset you, forget it, take strength from your faith, ask yourself: can words, or cartoons for that matter, harm the Prophet? 

Outside of friendship, as a secularist, what I say is that everything, faiths and deities included, is, in a secular society (which accurately describes the society I live in, although sometimes it seems that I’m the only one in it) open to discussion and sometimes criticism. And if that strikes you as simplistic and dismissive then you’ve got my view on the subject nailed to the cross (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

Because the whole “faith” thing, although it doesn’t hold scientific water, is in a very real and dangerous sense water-tight: If you’re a secularist and you’ve ever tried arguing the non-existence of a supernatural God with a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew you’ll know exactly what I mean. You can’t do it, can you? Because faith precludes reason: “well, look, you can say what you like but I know God exists because I believe he does”.

What the Pope said about Islam was that it is incompatible with reason, because some medieval Christian bigot said it was a faith of violence. The pot calls the kettle black and, while they’re arguing about it, the water goes cold.
The main agenda of the speech, however, wasn’t about about Islam versus Christianity. It was about the war — and by that I mean the very real conflict — between faith and reason, between religion and secular humanism.

I’m over it.