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Friday, Oct 31 , 2014 ( Muharram, 1436)

Updated:10:00 PM GMT

Atheists, Believers Lock Horns in UK

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"We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism," Slee said
CAIRO — Britain is alarmingly dividing into two intolerant, un-comprising camps of Atheists, on one side, and believers, whether Muslims, Christians and Jews, on the other, the Guardian newspaper said Monday, February 26, in a special report about religion in the United Kingdom.

"We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism," says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark in London.

Slee said Britain has been divided now into fundamentalist secularists in one corner and fundamentalist faith people in another.

"Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each other as destined to fry in hell," added Slee, referring to the British scientist and chair for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

John Gray, professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, agreed.

"It is not just in the rigidity of their unbelief that atheists mimic dogmatic believers. It is in their fixation on belief itself."

Rising Atheism

Clerics and theologians say atheism and secularism were alarmingly on the rise in society and there is a widespread fear that religion is being treated as a problem to society, best solved by airbrushing it from the public sphere.

The God Delusion by atheist Dawkins sell 180,000 in hardback, demonstrating what an appetite there is for what analysts call "unapologetically militant atheism."

"The church is feeling very threatened," says Hanne Stinson, executive director of the British Humanist Association.

Stinson cited a poll last December by Ipsos Mori, which indicated that atheist were making up a staggering 36 percent of Britons.

Analysts further cited recent actions taken by public institutions and the government against religious symbols like crucifixes and niqab.

Late last year, British Airways insisted that employee Nadia Eweida remove her cross, and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called on Muslim women to remove their niqab if they wanted to meet him.

Such actions "have helped bring a sense of mutual persecution to many people of different faiths (including yarmulke-wearing Jews and turban-wearing Sikhs) - and a sense of solidarity. Many people of faith share a concern that Britain may be following secularist France," the Guardian said.

"One particularly fraught current issue creating inter-faith solidarity is gay adoptions. Many Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims and Jews last month united against the government's sexual orientation regulations that would mean all adoption agencies could not discriminate against gay couples in placing children with adoptive parents," it added.

"Absolute Truth"

Azzim Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, said that the problem with atheists and fundamentalist secularists is that they think that they have the absolute truth.

"That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight. They want to close the door and ignore religion, but this will provoke a violent religiosity. If someone seeks to deny my existence, I will fight to assert it," the Guardian quoted Tamimi as saying.

Rabbi Julia Neuberger agreed.

"What I find really distasteful is not just the tone of their rhetoric, but their lack of doubt. No scientific method says that there is no doubt. If you don't accept there's doubt in all things, you're being intellectually dishonest," she said.

Their stance also resonates with what the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

"The aggressive secularists pervert and abuse any notion of diversity for the sake of promoting a narrow agenda," he said.

Tamimi, however, blamed Christian clerics in the West for the rise in atheism and fundamentalist secularism.

"Christians did that to themselves - they allowed religion to move to the private sphere. That would be intolerable for Muslims," he said.

"Secularism doesn't mean the same for Muslims from the Middle East. The story of secularism in the Middle East is not one of democracy, as we are always told it was in the west. Instead, it is associated with tyranny - with Ataturk in Turkey, for instance. Islam is compatible with democracy, but not with this secular fundamentalism we are witnessing," he explained.

Director and writer Stewart Lee echoed Tamimi's opinion.

"In the west, Christianity relinquished the right to be protective of its icons the day Virgin Mary snow globes were put up for sale at the Vatican. But in Islamic culture it is very different. To use a corporate image, Islam has always been a lot more conscientious about protecting its brand," he said.

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