Blog Taboos • 3 January 2007 • The SnowBlog
This is larking about with dynamite I suspect, but I'm going to quickly try to touch on both religion and politics in this post before running for cover and trying never to mention them again. First, I've just finished Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion. I'd like to recommend it but I'm unable, to the point of being rather amused at my inability, to think of a single thing to say about it that won't upset someone. And I don't want to do that. I will say that I found the first third of it to be laugh-out-loud funny. I'll totally understand if no one else feels that way, but I was very tickled. And with the best will in the world, I didn't expect to find Prof. Dawkins funny. His expression always looks too sharp for that (though the recent realisation that he is married to a former Doctor Who companion has made him seem much less austere). But I think he was helped along here by having a whole new fertile field of comedy to himself. Those of a religious persuasion, please try not to hate me for saying this, but to the outsider some scriptural beliefs can seem rather farfetched. This book is the first time I can recall anyone daring to say it. And then having some fun with the idea. If I believed in hell I'd certainly expect to be going there now because even though I knew it was wrong, I laughed anyway. So for the liberal but ungodly among you, The God Delusion is quite the guilty pleasure. It's full of things you've probably longed to say your whole life but knew you weren't allowed to. I would not be surprised if it gradually sells more and more, until it begins to set records.
And still with Professor Dawkins, but moving onto the second taboo, I note he has a piece in today's Guardian and its appearance has crystallised another prediction I want to make. I think that politics is about to become popular again. I foresee a lot of formerly non-political people wading into public debate on matters of foreign policy, human rights and international relations. I know, to digress for a moment, that I'm not the only one to find the BBC's shipping forecast comforting - the impression that while we sleep, the Empire is in the hands of steady, sensible chaps (of both sexes) with clipboards and a solid grasp of what needs to be done. And we all hope that something of the sort really does occur in Whitehall and Westminster, freeing us up to fret about the small stuff. Well that compact, the basis on which most of us neglect the news and busy ourselves with matters closer to home, has certainly seen better days. Prof. Dawkins, past and present, can be taken to illustrate the point nicely. 'Each to their own,' he has previously seemed to say. 'I will give myself over to the minute study of Natural Selection on the understanding that others are tackling diplomacy, the legal system and the general piloting of the ship of state with similar diligence and dexterity'. And I think he's not been the only one to think that way. You can try to get any of us to pay attention to weighty matters or great moral dilemmas but our reply is, as Eddie Izzard puts it, 'Look, I'm trying to cook some eggs here.' The shift I see coming is that Prof. Dawkins and others are realising that politics in the real world is a postgraduate subject being performed to GCSE standard. 'Surely,' I imagine him thinking now, 'politics can't be any more tricky to understand than evolution'. I think one gradual consequence of the developments of the last five years or so will be the de-mystification of politics. While many conceded that it wasn't especially honourable or interesting, politics was assumed to be difficult and arcane. I think the second half of this decade will see the end of that belief and more of a sense of 'oh, give it here' taking hold among the big cheeses of all disciplines. So quick! Everyone, start writing accessible and/or funny political books and if they're very amusing perhaps we can publish one. Assuming it won't get us into any trouble.