Nobody expects the atheist inquisition

I’ve just had the slightly odd experience of reading an online response to an article of mine in an Irish magazine which I didn’t even know had been published yet, and only dimly remember submitting. It was made twice as funny because it was obvious the critic hadn’t actually read my article either. His only concern was to take me to task for what he almost seemed to regard as an act of heresy, which is even funnier because the article is in an atheist magazine.

What he’d done was to respond to my insolence in pointing out not just the problem of an atheist group in one country bolting on a vaguely similar atheist group in another country’s solution to providing a public service (hospital chaplaincy) without considering the local specifics first, but that in this case, and in the original country, neither the government’s scheme for providing the public service nor that atheist group’s plan for amending it were well thought out either.

In my article I had advocated approaching such things by ignoring the established system and approaching the whole issue from scratch. In particular, I had stressed that we have to start from basic questions such as what service do we want to provide, who do we want to provide it to, and how do we want to provide it.

In the process, I demonstrated that a related major problem is that hospital chaplaincy in both the UK and the Isle of Man developed by accident, and predominantly because of a number of social prejudices and conventions. In around a century it has never, actually, been thought through in either country. Instead, what has happened is that social prejudices and conventions have been compounded in the development of an ever-less appropriate practice, even as they have been challenged or just atrophied and died in the wider society.

My critic didn’t seem to have read any of that. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the spectacle of an Irish atheist charging in like a Spanish inquisitioner simply because I had the temerity to question the teaching of a London group who have set themselves up like a kind of atheist Vatican over the rest of the British Isles is, frankly, hilarious.

I only wish Robert Anton Wilson (the late and great arch prankster who caused me to notice and poke fun at such things) could have been around to read it. Even as Bob was dying, he had just sanctioned my setting up a Manx branch of CSICON (Committee for the Surrealist Investigation of Claims of Normality), his spoof response to the rather self-important CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), which does a nominally useful job in debunking “miracles” but in such a humourless, overblown way that nobody notices. How he would have laughed at this one.

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