Andrew Brown and Daniel Trilling discuss the cult of Richard Dawkins

The other day I wrote something to upset the followers of Richard Dawkins and one of them tracked me down to a pub. I had been asked to give a talk to a group of ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ about whether there are any atheist babies — clearly not, in any interesting sense — and at the end a bearded bloke, bulging in a white T-shirt, asked very angrily where Dawkins had said there were any. I quoted a couple of his recent tweets on the subject:

When you say X is the fastest growing religion, all you mean is that X people have babies at the fastest rate. But babies have no religion.

How dare you force your dopey unsubstantiated superstitions on innocent children too young to resist? How DARE you?

These seemed to me to suggest quite strongly that Dawkins believes that babies are born atheists. But my heckler wanted scripture. ‘Where does he say this?’ he asked. ‘I’ve got his book, here!’ and he pointed to his bag. ‘Where does he say it? He doesn’t say it anywhere! You’re a liar!’

He reached into his bag and pulled out an iPhone, with a speaker already attached to it, and started to play a video clip in which, presumably, Richard Dawkins denied that he had ever claimed there were any atheist babies.

If this had happened even five years ago, the meeting would have been on the heckler’s side. In fact his performance was greeted by a general squirm. It’s difficult to remember the hosannas that greeted The God Delusion and the vote by Prospect’s readers that named Dawkins as Britain’s greatest public intellectual. Much of the atheist/humanist/secularist movement is now embarrassed by him, and repelled by the zeal of his cult of personality.

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