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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

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Why is our idea of motherhood still based around self-sacrifice?

To become a mother is to leap, definitively, onto the side of the carers, with no possibility of turning back.

It comes as a shock, that first night. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, reading all the books that tell you it’s nothing like in the books, it’s only once you’re experiencing it for yourself that you find out what they really mean.

Giving birth is, of course, not like anything at all. We can grasp at as many analogies as we like –climbing a mountain, shitting a pumpkin – but, as with being born or dying, it remains its own unique, brutal experience, one which can only be gone through alone. If it falls into any sort of category, it is perhaps that of “massive, life-changing exertion, after which one deserves a long, undisturbed, triumphant rest”. Only you don’t get one. Had you, under any other circumstances, had someone slice open your stomach and pull out seven and a half pounds of matter, you’d be given some time to recuperate. But since that matter has a beating heart, you’re expected to stay up all night feeding it, the pull of that tiny, eager mouth on your not-yet-hardened nipple functioning as an instant initiation into years of sacrifice.

So you get through that first night, which is always very dark, even in the middle of summer, and then there’s the next one and the next. The daytime – morning-after bright – is when you remember to be happy because, after all, you are (what new mum wouldn’t be?). Thoughts such as “will it get easier?” are banished the moment they arise. This lasts until you get to the third day. Then your hormones crash and the milk comes in and what was left of your person becomes a hardened, tender, sticky mess of bodily fluids, red-brown blood and yellow-white milk, and still that tiny mouth keeps on gnawing.

I am eight years away from the first time I experienced this, five weeks away from the last. It’s taken me until the birth of my third child to admit that it’s been difficult at all. We structure our emotional lives around artificial binaries: public/private, work/leisure, carer/cared for. To become a mother is to leap, definitively, onto the side of the carers, with no possibility of turning back. We pay lip service to the notion that Mum has needs, too. The day my son was born I got given a New Mother’s Pamper Pack: bath oil, body lotion, moisture balm. It sits unused in the bathroom. My son is outraged at the time I spend in the shower or going to the toilet; a “pampering” bath is out of the question. The gift of being one of the cared for, just for a little while, didn’t come with the lotions and potions.

When Charlotte Bevan walked out of Bristol’s St Michael’s Hospital, her daughter Zaani Tiana was four days old. Just enough time for milk to come in, hormones to crash, panic to set in, even for a mother without a history of severe mental illness. Bevan had, according to her mother, been “breastfeeding constantly” and had stopped taking risperidone, the medication used to treat her schizophrenia, in order to avoid passing on the drug to her baby through her milk. Less than an hour after leaving the hospital Bevan is thought to have leaped to her death in Avon Gorge, taking her daughter with her. It is a terrible, shocking waste of two lives. Particularly painful is the fact that, however beneficial breastfeeding might be to infants where the cost to the mother is low, for Bevan the cost was clearly far too high. Regardless of whether her drugs would have saved her, breastfeeding just shouldn’t have been that important.

Of course, it’s easy to say that now. Still we’re told that breast is best (look, it even rhymes!). However much we might claim that in becoming a mother, in making that irrevocable shift from cared for to carer, certain people (the very ill, people like Bevan) should consider themselves exceptions to the usual rules, this does not necessarily make things easier for them. Our cultural construction of ideal motherhood is based around self-sacrifice; what other way is there? And while so many aspects of this are intangible, at least breastfeeding and not taking medication are measurable acts, enabling one to achieve at least one form of purity.

By all accounts Charlotte Bevan wanted to be a good mother. She may have fallen between the cracks for a number of reasons –lack of mental health resourcing, the inexperience of practitioners, inconsistency in the advice she was given – but she was also a victim of our intolerant, rules-based standards for “good” mothering. No one around her was demanding that she meet these standards, but it would have been impossible for her not to know they existed. Moreover, the more vulnerable one is, the greater the pressure one might feel to conform to them, to prove that, contrary to disablist beliefs about who can be a “fit” mother, one can still be the care giver rather than the cared for (because there is no space in which to be both).

This week, as the inquest into Charlotte and Zaani’s deaths continues, Rethink are publishing the results of a survey of over 1,000 people affected by schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychosis. The results show that 89 per cent feel long waits and inadequate care are negatively affecting their lives, by which is meant not just a worsening of symptoms, but a knock-on effect to work and relationships. It is a reminder that prejudice and a lack of resourcing do not just mean schizophrenia patients miss out on care; those around them miss out on the care these people have to offer. It is a cost that is rarely counted due to the assumption that one can only either give or receive.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the Bevan case comes from knowing the close proximity of joy and despair. The early days with a newborn need not be one bewildering, sleep-deprived fog. They can also have a peculiar magic to them. Your baby is a curious little alien, eyes not quite focused on a world in which everything is new. He or she hasn’t yet learned of all the arbitrary divisions we make. You have a creature who knows absolutely nothing and seems all the wiser for it. Amidst the boredom, pain and panic, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. You just need to know the wonder won’t make the dark feelings go away. It’s not a case of either/or. You can be the besotted mother and the person who needs extra support to make life bearable.

On a day-to-day basis I know that I am the carer, my baby is the cared for. My one-month-old is vulnerable in ways I am not. But there are grey areas, places of overlap where such rigid distinctions break down. A mother’s vulnerabilities coexist with her strengths. That first night she spends alone with her baby might be experienced as a baptism of fire, in which she enters a world where here needs come second. Many can and do endure it, but there ought to be a gentler way.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, you can contact the Samaritans free by calling 116 123 – all details here

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.