I'm an atheist. A fully paid up member of the rational society. A firm believer in logic over optimism. I have so very little patience for any religion, and even less for those who choose to use it as an excuse for, say, casual bigotry, or as reason for some atrocity, or as explanation for some otherwise explicable thing or other: 'doctors said it was a 1 in a million chance that baby would survive, and she did - it's a miracle!' No, no it's not. It may have been statistically unlikely, but it was nevertheless possible, which does tend to reduce its eligibility in the miracle stakes.
See, I've always been entirely rational. Fan of the scientific method. Observe the world around you. Come up with a theory that explains what you see. Experiment with it. Check that your theory can predict future events. If it doesn't work, observe some more, come up with another theory. Repeat until you discover E=MC2, stick your tongue out at a passing photographer and retire in the knowledge that your face will adorn a million t-shirts.
Religion is the polar opposite. Belief requires trust without seeking proof. Proof negates belief. The Guide had it right -
"The Final Proof of the non-Existence of God was proved by a Babel Fish.
Now, it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-boggingly useful could have evolved by chance, that some have chosen to see it as the final proof of the NON-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
'But,' says Man, 'the Babel Fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don't. QED.'
'Oh dear,' says God, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
'Oh that was easy,' says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.'
This is all to explain why, once upon a time, I was predisposed to believe that to make people like each other again all you had to do was remove religion. Ban it, I thought, and you remove 99% of the world's problems. Consign it to a footnote in history, and you remove most of the reasons for people to hate one another. But now I'm no longer quite so sure.
I think that, deep down, we're just programmed to hate one another. Religion is neither here nor there. It's the excuse, the catalyst. If it weren't for religion there would be something else. Is what happened in Woolwich a product of religious intolerance? No. Woolwich is an example of two ignorant, disaffected young men who sought revenge for a perceived sleight. It was a postcode stabbing writ large. Were they brainwashed? Were they encouraged to do what they did? Probably. But what they were led to believe isn't the important thing, it's that they were in a position to be brainwashed in the first place.
The reaction to Woolwich worries me more. Not of the EDL and BNP nutjobs (idiots spoiling for a fight, come what may) but the middle class man on the Clapham omnibus who tutted in disgust at the burning down of the mosques and then viewed a couple of videos of a more presentable member of the EDL and announced 'well, not at all what I expected, spoke some sense actually.' The X Factor-watching Daily Fail-reading commuter who nods along with the perfectly reasonable leader that says perhaps greater freedom for the security services to pry into personal communications is warranted because, well, you know, particularly in the mosques bad things are being said and you need to be able to stop them, don't you? The status-updating, cringworthy poem-liking Facebook brigade, immersing themselves in grief porn over some poor boy they've never met and probably wouldn't like if they did, announcing in their droves that it's time we put a stop to all these foreign types coming over here and moaning about the place, and if they don't like it they should just bloody leave then. Down with this sort of thing.
Voltaire means nothing to these people. Memories are short. Thinking so wooly you could knit a scarf with it.
As a species we like to think that we've evolved, that we're the pinnacle of civilisation, with our jam, our toasters, our ipads and our smart TVs, but we're really not, are we? Present us with a crisis and we turn into UKIP voting automatons. And that's just annoying, when you realise that we're capable of the most remarkable acts of kindness and generosity and wonder. Tell you what, let's leave religion well alone and ban the Daily Mail. That'll do.