Show Hide image

Why Richard Dawkins is the best argument for the existence of God

Russell Brand questions Richard Dawkins, explains Transcendental Meditation . . . and offers readers

Russell Brand questions Richard Dawkins, explains Transcendental Meditation . . . and offers readers a touch of the divine.

I'm glad Jemima Khan asked me to contribute to this issue of the New Statesman as it (at last) gives me the opportunity to prove the existence of God. You may think me unqualified for a task that has baffled the finest theologians, philosophers and physicists since the dawn of time but don't worry, I've been unqualified for every job I've ever embarked on, from learning to drive to working as a postman for the Royal Mail, and both these quests were successfully completed, aside from a few broken wing mirrors and stolen letters. So, unlike the Christmas money of the residents of Ockendon, Essex, you're in good hands. Atheists are all about us, sermonising from the godless pulpit on the benefits of their anti-faith with some pretty good arguments like, oh I dunno, "evolution" and oddly, I think, given the stated nature of their motives, being incredibly reductive in their line and manipulative in their targets.

Zero fun and too much mental

I once had the pleasure of talking to the brilliant Richard Dawkins, who has been called the "Abu Hamza of atheism". (It was me who called him it, just then.) In his remarkable documentary The Genius of Charles Darwin the professor excellently relayed the information within his hero's On the Origin of Species, gave us some key information from his own masterpiece The Selfish Gene (which I only read because I took it to be an unsanctioned biography of the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons) and set about unravelling religion and spirituality with the adorable fervour of the Andrex puppy making off with some scriptural lavvy paper. Choice among Dawkins's targets were the kind of daft 'apeths we're accustomed to tolerating on our telly; low-browed creationists gurgling up Genesis like (forbidden) apple chutney and knee-jerk fundamentalists, who are always zero fun and far too much mental.

Who could fail to concur with Dawkins's erudite dismissal of these hapless saps? No one. I have Dawkins to thank for my own understanding of the fantastic discovery that is evolution; his passion and expertise in this documentary hugely enhanced my knowledge and illuminated what for many spiritual people can be a difficult subject.

It is only in his absolute renunciation of God that the professor and I part company and, heaven knows, I'd understand if you wanted to join his party. In almost any expedition in which the rival guides were myself and Richard Dawkins, I wouldn't be surprised to find myself pulverised by the converted horde stampeding towards the professor.

However, it's not just swivel-eyed haters and mad mullahs who live a religious life, and to condemn all religion and spirituality on the basis of their slack-jawed, knee-jerk saliva-flecked vitriol (spit-triol?) is as unfair as the simplified dogma that the choir of pious atheists harmonise against. Gandhi, as I recall, was quite a religious man.

St Francis of Assisi was a straight-up believer. And while the tenets of Buddhism are varied on the notion of God, the creator, I think it would be fair to describe the Dalai Lama as a spiritual chap. I don't see atheists queuing up to call the Dalai Lama a dickhead. These are the examples to which we should turn when questioning the existence of a power beyond man. Not Glenn Beck or some other capillary blob on Fox News.

Dawkins, the patron saint of atheists, would say that all religions are simply wrong - a baffled blanket of cosy lies to warm dopes into snug compliance; unproven ideologies based on faith. I think God exists beyond the current reach of science, that one day our fast-evolving minds will know God empirically as they do now only intuitively. That the mystical will become physical.

Galileo Galilei, the man credited with being the first to point a telescope skyward (all previous users had presumably been Renaissance peeping Toms), speculated that heliocentrism was viable: that the earth likely circled the sun. He was imprisoned for this observation, which, viewed retrospectively (through my invention, the retro-speculars), seems unfair. He was, after all, correct. Evidently the persecution of scientists by religion has irked the members of that community but I think that the theoretical annihilation of God is a reprisal too far.

We must, on both sides of the debate, show compassion. I for example have overlooked the bald fact that Galileo's parents gave him a bloody stupid first name considering their surname was Galilei. Galileo Galilei. He would have gone through hell at my school, not for being a heliocentric heretic but for being a ridiculously titled child. We already had another lad in my year called David Dave (honestly) so his problem wouldn't have even been original.

Religion has rightly been cited as the cause of much suffering and conflict, way beyond what ol' star-gazing "two names" went through with his prison stretch and forced retraction. Plus the Pope (I think it was Pope Benedict Benedicto) recently pardoned GG, so let it go.

A croissant conflict

It has been said that "man is never more vehement in killing his brother than when it is in God's name"; perhaps that's true, but we humans can seek out conflict in any situation. My last serious argument was about a croissant. It had been placed in the fridge beneath a meat product and could have been contaminated by dripping. If I'd had a sword on me I would have happily carried out a jihad in the kitchen and I'm a vegetarian. It is our nature to quarrel and fight just as it is to inquire and to empathise.

Frankly I think atheism is a commodity we cannot currently afford. "No atheists on a sinking ship," they say, and a quick glance out the porthole reveals icebergs aplenty, but I'm not suggesting God as some demented alternative to desperation - no, this is a phenomenon that touches my life every day.

Through Transcendental Meditation, twice daily I feel the bliss of the divine. Through the mental repetition of a mantra, eventually my chattering monkey mind recedes, gently banishing concerns of the past and drawing the inner eye away from speculation and want. I connect to a boundless consciousness that has no pal­pable relationship with my thoughts, fears or desires. In this impersonal state of awareness.

I recognise that consciousness exists beyond time, beyond the individual. There was a time when the universe did not exist, this we know. We also know that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. This means that something, not nothing, existed before the universe. We do not know what but there is wonder and intelligence enough to suggest that design may have been a component.

Could a witless miasma of molecules and dust ever have created anything as ingenious and incredible as Richard Dawkins? I don't think so, but I'm prepared to listen and tolerate any theories and arguments, a concerto of contemplation, a requiem of speculation, to divert us till we know the truth.

“Arthur", with Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, is released on 22 April

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 27 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The God Wars

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Archbishop Welby and the hidden price of being Mister Nice Guy

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance.

The most important thing about Justin Portal Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, is that he’s not Rowan Williams. How we all miss Rowan Williams! The whole point of the Established Church is that its ministry is for all Britons, not just confessing Anglicans; and Dr Williams achieved this difficult task brilliantly. That he did so was, in large measure, due to his appearance: the most fanatical adherent of sharia law hearkened to his fluting emollience, because, resembling as he does a fictional wizard straight out of central casting, they assumed he was either Gandalf the Grey, or Albus Dumbledore, or possibly both.

With Dr Williams’s successor we must bear witness to a marked decline in the archiepiscopal phenotype. Far from resembling some wand-waving sorcerer, and despite all the rich caparisoning, Justin Welby still looks like exactly what he is: a superannuated Old Etonian oil executive from west London with a sideline in religiosity. His is not a bonny countenance; rather, he resembles a constipated tortoise with sunburn. Frankly, he could do with a beard – the more patriarchal the better – simply to cover up that sourpuss.

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance, and second in the manner of his ordination.

Welby is one of Sandy Millar’s men. (And I say “men” advisedly.) When Welby heard the call to be ordained in the late 1980s he was initially rejected by the then bishop of Kensington, who said: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.” Prophetic words, indeed. It was Sandy Millar, one of the founders of the evangelical – indeed, charismatic – Alpha course, at Holy Trinity Brompton, in London, who came out to bat for Welby. The evangelicals must have been delighted when they got one of their own into Lambeth Palace, yet ever since he took up his crosier he’s been insidiously sticking it to them. I’m going to explain why, but first a word or two about evangelicals.

It’s disconcerting the first time it happens to you: you’re standing up in church, ready to groan your way apathetically through another fusty Victorian hymn, when instead of the moaning of a clapped-out organ, an electric guitar strikes a resounding chord and the worshipper next to you bursts into enthusiastic song. Worse is to follow: for, as she warbles, she slowly raises one arm, extends it, and begins to wave it about like a tree bough while the other arm remains rigidly at her side. Looking around you, you see that the congregation is like unto a forest: so many raised and undulant limbs are there. Yes, you have fallen among evangelicals – and if you thought ordinary Anglicans were a bit too nice then you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Purely to show open-mindedness, my wife attended an Alpha course run by one of our son’s schoolfriend’s parents, who was an evangelical minister. After a few weeks she began to seem a little – how can I put it? – spiritually pained, and when I asked her what the matter was, she said she was having something of a crisis of no faith. “It’s just that they’re so very nice,” she said, “and the God they believe in is so very nice, too. They make me feel anxious I might be upsetting Jesus by not believing in Him as well.”

Nice as he may be, Welby remains an evangelical, and evangelicals have a tricky time when it comes to homosexuality, because although not exactly fundamentalists, they nonetheless cleave strongly to the Word of the Lord, rather than chipping up to the church fête from time to time to buy a few tombola tickets. So, simply by looking into his own heart, Welby knows the situation is intractable: those homophobic Africans and redneck Americans cannot be appeased, and though he personally is opposed to gay marriage, he has said he’s “always averse to the language of exclusion when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us”.

Welby seems to feel Jesus loves us by letting us go, because he is now making noises about a “looser relationship” between the various Anglican churches: one in which – while they all remain attached to the Church of England – the connections between them become more attenuated. Some of his evangelical chums must be swaying with anxiety rather than enthusiasm but they should rest easy; on all other important matters the archbishop is behaving in an exemplary fashion.

Not a week goes by without him making some anodyne statement or futile gesture condemning food banks (then asking people to give to them), offering refugees tokenistic accommodation in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and generally mithering on about the scourge of poverty while giving spiritual succour to those who’re doing very nicely out of the status quo. ’Twas ever thus: our Established Church may well be for all Britons, but, in Justin Welby, we have a prelate who speaks eloquently for the . . . few.

Next week: Madness of Crowds

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis