Monday, November 16, 2009

It's that time of year again.

Yes, I know this is yet another return to an already frenetically milked theme, but let's face it, I exhausted my “range” long ago. And with Christmas looming, it's also kind of inevitable. A few days ago my friend Martin, who works for a publishing house in Prague, sent me a copy of “The Atheist's Guide to Christmas”. Martin is naturally well aware of my views on religion and so may have thought it might appeal, but was primarily interested in whether I thought it would go down well here or not – his boss, who no doubt has a keener business sense than either of us, is apparently considering having it translated into Czech and published here.

Immediately the obvious question that came to my mind was why on earth was Martin, a Czech, asking me what I thought might sell to Czechs? I still haven't had a satisfactory answer to that one, still, it's flattering that he values my opinion so much. On the surface of things it might sound like a good idea to market the book here, since the Czech Republic is possibly the most godless country in Europe, at least in terms of the number of people who freely and unselfconsciously classify themselves as atheists. Added to that of course, Christmas comes every year, so even if it's too late to get the book translated and on the shelves for this year's Christmas frenzy, there may be potential for it to become a perennial classic, an alternative bible even.

On the other hand, I couldn't help feeling that precisely because atheism is such a commonplace, prosaic phenomenon here, the whole exercise might be rather pointless, and as such, likely to be ignored. It might be partly due to the influence of communism here that religion has simply not played a very large role in this country in recent times – although of course communism didn't prevent religion from remaining a major force in neighbouring Poland or even Slovakia. Whatever the case, Czechs generally don't have as much reason to loathe religion as much as those who have been brought up in Britain, or worse, Ireland, the USA, or Poland for that matter. Surely anyone who deliberately goes out and buys an “atheist's guide” to anything does so out of some kind of antipathy to religion, whereas few people here feel anything more than indifference.

Having briefly skimmed through the book (or pdf. file, to be more precise), I can only say that my doubts have been compounded. Not only is it replete with cultural references to 1970s Britain – how are Czechs supposed to relate to Scalextric, Raleigh bikes, Bernard Matthews turkeys or Wizzard? – but on top of all that its stated aim is to be “the atheist book it's safe to leave around your granny”. Well what's the fucking sense in that? If you're going to publish a book that's meant to appeal to those who are pissed off up to their eyeballs with religious bullshit, why then frustrate your constituency by being so bloody nice about it? There are writings by some atheist “big hitters” such as Dawkins, Derren Brown, Ben Goldacre and also some respected music critics such as David Stubbs and Simon Price, so there might be some cause for the militant atheist to hope for a bit of merciless cleric-bashing, but this has to be weighed up against the rather dispiriting fact that there are also contributions from such luminaries as Claire Rayner and Simon le Bon (which I have to admit I haven't read in any great detail, but really, for fuck's sake!). And it's also a blatantly obvious fact that whilst Dawkins might be able to construct a coherent scientific argument, he's a fucking atrocious writer and believe me, he excels himself in this particular work. The boring old tosser.

When all's said and done, what self-respecting atheist needs a “guide” to anything anyway? Surely we're adult enough to read “serious” atheist texts, and I suppose if I was being generous I might include the God Delusion in those, but frankly it's shit, so I won't. But for Christ's sake (eh?), haven't there been enough brilliant and entertaining atheist thinkers for us to consult without the need for us to turn to this cheap, patronising, bite-sized whimper of platitudes?

A waste of time, in any language.


Anonymous jitka said...

I agree. What's the point in having a 'subversive' take on religion in a country where subversion is the norm. And I like the bit where you talk about being an unselfconscious atheist - an Irish colleague of mine thinks he's such a rebel every time he starts his clamouring about being an atheist....

9:04 AM  

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