God botherers

There's "probably no God", apparently. I read it on the back of a bus last year, courtesy of an advertisement paid for by the British Humanist Association. Mind you, then the Christian Party countered with its own series of ads claiming: "There definitely is a God." For a period last year, in fact, all my spiritual guidance came from slogans painted on buses. If confronted with an ethical dilemma, I'd stroll down the high street and wait for the number 42 to trundle past with "Morality itself being a construct, only your conscience can be your guide" written along the side.

But now that the bus wars have died down, the consensus seems to be that it's unlikely there's a God. Ever since Richard Dawkins wrote his book on the "delusion" a few years ago, the anti-God industry has enjoyed a boom period. The shelves have been crammed with titles such as God Is Not Great, 2,000 Years of Disbelief, 1,000 Tiresomely Reiterated Anti-Church Arguments, and so on.

An atheist Christmas service at London's Bloomsbury Theatre was a box-office smash. Dawkins is now the most popular God-basher since the days when Christians used to be fed to lions. You can hardly have a nativity play without the bespectacled bogeyman storming the stage, scattering the little shepherds and angels with a cry of "Where is the proof of this?!"

In short, atheists are becoming as annoying as believers used to be. Yes, Christianity and all the world religions are based on ancient, unreliable texts; and, yes, they've been used to legitimise awful deeds; and, yes, it's awfully difficult for a man to come back from the dead. But the majority of people in the UK were quite capable of working this out before the new wave of happy-clappy atheists rocked up. Do we have to keep congratulating ourselves on how we've outgrown those silly old faiths? If it used to be awkward to have a Christian ring on your doorbell and give you a leaflet, it's scarcely less irritating to be at a dinner party and have some recent graduate mouthing off about evolution and the Big Bang.

All this godless smugness is almost enough to make you hope that the whole God story is true, after all. If atheists are right, they're going to have very little opportunity to gloat about it. Their last words will be something like: "So, I was right, eternal nothingness awaits. Damn." Whereas if there is a Judgement Day to look forward to, and God blasts on the last trumpet to summon us to give an account of ourselves, Dawkins's five minutes in the spotlight is going to be even more eagerly awaited than Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry. Perhaps, like Blair, he'll claim that he was just doing his best with the available information. Or maybe he'll say he read it on a bus. Either way, the publicity won't hurt those book sales.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, IRAN