I have to admit I was a little confused by this piece when I first read it. I am not that familiar with Craig Brown but have heard of him and have come across a few of his TV specials (I'm a big fan of British comedy). I couldn't find any hints that he meant his recent Daily Mail piece, "Hell hath no fury like an atheist scorned", to be satirical. How a person who in other circumstances seems to be so thoughtful could slip into such blatant ignorance laden bigotry is mind boggling. Without any indication that it is suppose to be farcical it cannot be seen as anything other than a petty narrow minded piece of shit.
It seems to be meant as a criticism of a piece written by AC Grayling. Unfortunately, I could not find a free full-text copy (I did find a few excerpts and abstracts) of "Apes and Atheism." It is in the current issue of Prospect. It will probably be a few months before I'll be able to get a copy. From the excerpt it looks like it is a review of Frans de Waal's latest book. It only takes a few paragraphs of Brown's piece to realize that it is really just a pretext to attack both atheists in general and a few specific ones.
Right from the start he seems to mischaracterize Grayling. He claims that the piece is meant to be in "support of atheism." From what little I was able to read it was a critique of a specific book on specific grounds. I am quite familiar with Grayling's work and I can't imagine his objections being any different even if the book made atheist look like the most amazing group of people on the face of the planet. It sounds like he took issue with de Waal's faulty reasoning and inconsistencies more than anything else. I also found Brown's seventh paragraph rather interesting.
"But Grayling is highly selective with his statistics, and only manages to whittle the percentage of Anglicans down to 3 per cent by defining as an Anglican someone who goes regularly to services. In fact, a recent survey showed that 22.2 per cent of people in the UK describe themselves as Anglican (and 59.3 per cent of people in England and Wales call themselves Christian)."
Assuming Grayling's numbers are wrong, there are two points that jump out. The first is that Grayling does define his terms. He makes it clear what he is talking about. Theists have a tendency to avoid clear definitions which makes any discussion virtually impossible. Also, he is not the only one to note that there is a difference between practicing a faith and identifying with one. Theologians, clergy, and even average believers have at times not only acknowledge the distinction but made it an issue. Double standard? I'd say it is.
His piece rapidly devolves from there. Just two paragraphs later Brown continues,
"Elsewhere, Grayling’s footwork is even more deft. At one point, he counters those who point out that Hitler and Stalin were atheists by sighing ‘The usual replies have wearily to be given’, as though those who disagree with him are being pig-headedly dim-witted. Almost as an afterthought, he adds that ‘Incidentally, Hitler was not an atheist — “Gott mit uns” (God with us) said the legend on Wehrmacht belt buckles — and Stalin was educated in a seminary, where evidently he picked up a few tricks’."
And compounds his stupidity with,
"So there we have it: Stalin WAS an atheist, or as Grayling’s colleague Richard Dawkins himself once conceded, ‘There seems no doubt that, as a matter of fact, Stalin was an atheist.’ And so, too, was Hitler. ‘Gott mit uns’ predated Nazism by 300 years. It was employed for the first time by the Teutonic Order in the 17th century, and was inscribed on the helmets of German soldiers in World War I. For Hitler, it represented the historic rallying cry of the German nation. Even Dawkins, in The God Delusion, concedes that this reference to God on Nazi buckles ‘does not prove anything’."
I have yet to meet an atheist who denies that Stalin was an atheist. However, it is a fact that Stalin never did anything in the name of/for the sake of atheism.* So, what does it matter that he was an atheist? Any identifiable group is bound to have assholes among them. As for Hitler, he was NOT an atheist. The belt buckle is precisely the type of sleight of hand he's trying to smear Grayling with. It's irrelevant and has nothing to do with why anyone with a functional brain cannot dispute that he was in fact a CHRISTIAN. Apparently, Brown has never read Mein Kampf, the book that served as a Nazi blueprint, or listened to or read transcripts of any of Hitler's major speeches. Hitler didn't just praise and reference God and religion he frequently, both verbally and in writing, claimed to be fulfilling God's will.
Facts, like intellectual integrity and basic professional ethics, don't seem to matter. Brown, for whatever reason, wants to smear atheists and any pretext seems to be sufficient. If this whole piece was meant as some type of farce it is a failure. Once you cross the line from hyperbole and absurd exaggeration into ideologically driven misrepresentation and out right fabrication you are no longer using humor.
* I challenge anyone to give even one example of writing, a speech, or any
document (not forgeries like the Hitler Table talks) that demonstrates
Stalin promoting atheism. And, I do mean atheism not communism, or his own cult of personality.