Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dawkins to preach atheism to US

Dawkins to preach atheism to US

RICHARD DAWKINS, the British scientist who has become the high priest of atheism, is launching a crusade in America to win new recruits to the church of nonbelievers.

He is to embark on a lecture tour of 2,000-seater halls in the Bible Belt and the Midwest in the wake of the presidential primary season, which reaches its climax in early February.

Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion has sold 1.5m copies in the English language, has teamed up with Robin Wight, the man behind some of Britain’s most memorable advertising campaigns, to make it respectable to admit to being an atheist.

No presidential candidate could hope to survive in the polls in America if he or she admitted to doubts about the existence of God.

Wight, who was behind the slogan “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange”, is helping to rebrand atheists in a less negative light.

Wight, 63, chairman and co-founder of the WCRS advertising agency said: “We need a different name.” Alternatives that have been considered on Dawkins’ internet forum include “brights”, “fact fighters”, “realists” and “the faithless”.

The American tour is being organised by a charitable foundation set up by Dawkins in the United States to push his agenda after a year-long struggle with the tax authorities. The campaign will go global in 2009 to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his book, On the Origin of Species.

Dawkins, 66, the professor for public understanding of science at Oxford University, will release the paperback version of The God Delusion in the US early next year.

The scientist, who is married to his third wife, Lalla Ward, the actress who once played Dr Who’s sidekick Romana, expects a hostile reception in some places but claims there are as many atheists (20m) as any one religion in the US.

“They are not burning my books yet. It would be rather fun if they did,” he said last week.

Dawkins, who sometimes lectures in T-shirts bearing the slogan “Evolution � the greatest show on earth”, said: “America has a problem with evolution. There is an astonishing level of sheer ignorance fomented by religious prejudices.

“The Bible Belt is a lot less monolithic than it portrays itself. I have a feeling that there is rather a large groundswell of people who agree with me. I may be preaching to the choir but I think the choir is larger than many people realise.

“People thank me for speaking out. They are grateful that I articulate what they wish to say but can’t because they live there.”

He added: “We have the ‘Out’ campaign. We do see an analogy with gay rights. There are a lot of people in the closet in America.”

One convert is Dawkins’s daughter Juliet, who was sent by her mother to be, as Dawkins puts it, “indoctrinated” into the Catholic church. Friends of the family say she too is now an atheist.

Religious leaders in America dismissed Dawkins and his followers. The Rev David Cox, of the First Southern Methodist Church, Charleston, South Carolina said: “I would certainly like to protest. [Dawkins] is a tool of Satan, of the AntiChrist it sounds to me. All God-fearing people will be opposed to an atheist touring.”