Atheism is bad for you

Well, Popey has kicked up quite a stir with his visit, notably over his negative comments about atheism. Whether or not he has been misunderstood or taken out of context is subject to debate. What is not up for debate is the tired old connection some religionists make between mass murderers and atheism.

"Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were atheists… therefore atheism can lead to mass murder."


Firstly, the assertion that all of the above were atheists is demonstrably false. They may have exploited religion to meet their political agendas and even had their own understandings of their respective religions, but they never exercised in the name of atheism. The complete opposite is the case.

Just to take the case of Hitler (the one about whom I know most), Hitler went to great lengths to create a German church, stripping out the Jewish influence and building on the Jew-hating elements of the Catholic faith. His hatred of Jews was in all likelihood fostered from birth in his Catholic upbringing. He made peace with the Catholic Church. Mussolini, Franco, and the Vichy regime of France (all allied with Hitler in the Axis) were steeped in Catholicism. German soldiers in the Reichswehr fought with the words "Gott mit uns" (God With Us) on their belt buckles.

Secondly, more importantly, and more obvious to anyone with half a brain, the causal connection is laughably erroneous. Saying that Hitler did wicked things because he was an atheist is as ridiculous as saying he did them because he was a vegetarian or a teetotaler, or because he once ate a slightly sour grapefruit.

Historically, the justification for mass murder and genocide has been openly claimed to be divinely inspired or commanded far more often than it has been attributed to atheism. I challenge anyone to name a mass murderer who has specifically acted in the name of atheism (as opposed to some political doctrine, often founded on the back of a religious or cultural beliefs).

There are good atheists and bad atheists. There are good theists and bad theists.

Speaking (or rather writing) as an atheist, I don’t need scripture to tell me what is right and wrong. The fact that religionists will ask ‘whence comes your morality, if not through scripture’, I say ’tish and pish’! A good atheist’s morals will in all likelihood be very similar to those of a good Christian. The difference is, they do what they do because it is the right thing to do… not because they’ll burn forever in Hell’s flames if they don’t. The humanitarian values adopted by modern Christianity (which has chosen to abandon some of the more unsavoury aspects of its faith) predate that faith, but are also common in other faiths. Religion does not have a monopoly on ‘goodness’. We ‘good’ atheists believe that we have one shot at life and that’s it. There is nothing before and nothing afterwards. This life matters. This life counts. Live it to the best of your abilities and treat other people the way you would like to be treated. That is, quite literally, the "Golden Rule".

Europe Bike Trip – Part 8 – Gravelines, France to Home

The advantage of having the morning on my own meant that I could visit some of the places I’ve always wanted to visit around the English Channel on the French side, but never really had the chance to do. So, I headed firstly along to Dunkirk to take a look at the beaches there, which had been used for the evacuation of British and French forces in Operation Dynamo in May/June 1940. It was quite something to be there with that sense of history in front of me, but I was all too aware how quickly time moves on. There were no large monuments to the significance of the site and Dunkirk is, to all intents and purposes, just another French town.

My final part of the trip was an excursion around Calais and to the beach there, following out to the infamous Sangatte, an otherwise nice village whose name has been tarnished by the presence of the detention centre there (which I couldn’t find) and finally Cap Blanc-Nez, with a great view across the channel to the white cliffs of Dover.

I’d been there a few minutes enjoying the view when Chris phoned to say he had arrived at the port, so I headed straight back to board the ferry. Following a nicer crossing back to Dover, we made the journey back home.

Distance: 291 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 7 – Langsur, Germany to Gravelines, France

Today’s ride took us straight over the border into Luxembourg, across that small Duchy (passing it on the left-hand side), and on into Belgium. I have always had an unfair view of Belgium as merely a through-road to other countries, and as we had decided to take the opportunity to visit Brugges as part of this trip (on other peoples’ recommendation), I was looking forward to changing my opinion. Brugges was indeed a nice city and looks like it is defintely worth a longer visit, but there’s something about Belgium that doesn’t really appeal. It has probably been the brunt of several unfair jokes, and the spoof 1989 Comic Relief Nosenight, which featured Lord Halesham repeating "The Belgians" as the answer to several questions, didn’t really help.

Having left Brugges, we headed back over the border into France and onto Dunkirk, where we had a disagreement about where we wanted to stay this evening. Chris wanted to go back into Belgium, and I wanted to stay in France, rather than go back on the route. I’m always happier (rightly or wrongly) to be able to speak the local language of somewhere I want to stay, and my Dutch is pretty limited, so we went our separate ways for the final evening of our trip. I found a nice place to stay in a town called Gravelines, right on the coast and on the river Aa (clearly named for the dictionary), looking out onto lots of yachts. The evening started quite nice but turned rainy, so I stayed indoors for the evening and read.

Distance: 298 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 6 – Haslach, Germany to Langsur, Germany

Fearing the worst this morning, we got up to find that there were plenty of clouds around, everything was wet, and the temperature had dropped, but at least it wasn’t raining. We packed everything away quickly and got straight on the Autobahn, heading up through Germany past Ulm, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and Kaiserslautern, and finally into Trier, the oldest city in Germany.

We initially popped across the border into Luxembourg, planning to stay there, but then hopped back across the border into Germany and stayed at what was probably the first available place to stay across the border, the Moselstuben in Langsur on the bank of the river Mosel. Run by an Italian family, it was quite a friendly place, but I managed to bash my head on a window while rather stupidly running up some stairs.

A couple of drinks and a nice Italian meal later and the pain had gone a way a little. Once I’d headed up to my room and was reading, I was a bit taken aback by a couple of local ‘air-raid style’ sirens going off. As a child of the 1970s/1980s, this was rather eerie and unsettling, and the rush of emergency vehicles that followed was a little unsettling, but as there were no emergency warnings on television, we could only assume it was a local emergency services warning. I was just back in the 1980s again for a short time.

Distance: 361 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 5 – Flims, Switzerland to Haslach, Germany

A spectacular day’s riding today, in perfect weather and through some of the finest scenery. We had a nice hotel breakfast and then headed off eastwards across Graubünden, stopping initially to do a quick tour around Davos (the highest town in Europe), where I came to work the winter season at the Kongress Hotel in late 1989/early 1990. I hadn’t been back since, and although much of the town and shops remain as they were 20 years ago, there has been a definite growth in the town and the number of shops and buildings in general has increased. It’s a very pretty town as towns go, situated in the heart of the largest ski resort in Switzerland, and hosts the World Economic Forum every year.

Once out of Davos, we headed up to the Flüela pass, which is a mountain pass, connecting Davos to Susch. At 2383m in altitude, it’s high above the tree line and is clearly an attraction for bikers of the area and further afield. We absolutely loved the road and had time allowed, we’d have probably turned back and ridden the road a couple more times.

Once down the other side of the Flüela pass, we headed towards the Austrian boarder, calling at Vulpera, where I worked the summer season of 1990 at the Schweizerhof hotel. We took the opportunity to grab a coffee and I had a long chat with the owner of the shop, whose own story was pretty incredible. He swam across the Danube in August, 1989 to escape the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), two months before the Wall came down. His father had been a Stasi officer and had informed on his own son for ‘crimes against the state’. He had been imprisoned there as an opponent of the regime. He was clearly happy to be able to talk to someone about the GDR and said that he had never returned since fleeing and settling down to start a family in Switzerland. It sounded like he didn’t really want to see how the place had changed since then and wanted to remember it for how it was – despite all that had happened to him. It struck me that despite all the negative experience that he had, he didn’t want to see the place he grew up transformed beyond his own recognition.

For the remainder of the day, we rode across the border into Austria, across Austria in Germany and then found a campsite in Haslach, Bavaria, where we spent a rainy night under canvas… well, nylon actually.

Distance: 193 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 4 – Vevey, Switzerland to Flims, Switzerland

Switzerland is a country I like very much. I like and admire the way it is run, from its political system, which is arguably the most democratic in Europe, to its beautiful landscape, its excellent transport network, and of course its people. I had the pleasure of working in Switzerland for three hotel seasons (just under a year) in the early 1990s and I was keen to get back and revisit the three places I had worked at the time (my initial reason for doing the trip) to see how they had changed.

We started today by heading west along the lake to Geneva, where we had a couple of coffees and I managed to acquire an accessory to attach the camera I have to my bike helmet (I had left my own at home and had to resort to gaffa tape to record some of our earlier journey). Following this excursion into Geneva, we headed back along lake Geneva and then took the motorway across Switzerland, around Fribourg, Bern, a short diversion through the centre of Luzern (or Lucerne), and then on to the canton of Graubünden (or Grisons, to give it its English name), which is where I was based during my three seasons working in hotels. Our first point of call was the Sunstar Hotel Surserlva in Flims-Dorf, which is where I worked in the summer season of 1992, between my second and third years at university.

The hotel is set in a beautiful location and is a four star hotel. I had called earlier in the day to book our rooms and told them I had worked there 18 years ago. Word got around the staff and by the time we arrived, I was constantly asked if I knew someone called Lenny. I’d never heard of Lenny, but everyone seemed to think that he’d been there since 1990. It became a bit of a running joke that members of staff would ask if I knew Lenny. I didn’t know any of the staff who work there now. The guy who was on reception when we arrived made me feel old by saying that he wasn’t even born when I had worked there. Great!

Chris’  leg has been playing up a bit – don’t know whether it’s cramp or what, but he suggested that we go the whole hog and have an evening meal at the hotel rather than go out to find somewhere cheaper to eat. We had a wonderful four course dinner, but didn’t feel bloated afterwards, as the portions were just right. Had a little altercation after the meal, based around meeting up to plan the ongoing route. Wasn’t pleasant at first, but these things are bound to happen, and we resolved it and went to the bar to sort out the route over a couple of drinks.

Distance: 332 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 3 – Les Adrets de l’Estérel l’Eglise, France to Vevey, Switzerland

It was Chris’ wish to visit Monaco as part of our bike trip, and so, having packed away our muddy tents this morning, we headed off along some nice twisty roads around the campsite we stayed at last night. After a few minutes we rejoined the A8 and continued down to Nice, where we stopped for a coffee, We then headed straight for Monaco, intending to go around the streets which comprise the Formula 1 race track. In the event, neither Chris nor I were familiar enough with the layout of the city to successfully do this, other than the famous tunnel part of the track, which we went through a couple of times.

My impression of Monaco remains as it was the last time I went. It’s a crowded but interesting place, a model of organised chaos, and quite simply a place where people go to look at rich people. Beyond that, I can’t say that it did much for me, and Chris had the same opinion. Having spent a good hour or so riding around the traffic chaos and puzzle that is Monte Carlo, we rejoined the A8 and continued into Italy, initially heading east along the coast on the A10 and then northwest/north on the A6, around Turin, and then further north on the A5 into the Alps.

We took the Gran St Bernardo tunnel across the border into Switzerland, stopping off to buy the ‘vignette’ required to drive on the Swiss motorway network, and then continued through Martigny and on up to Vevey, on Lake Geneva, arriving just as the sun set magnificently over the lake. I had suggested a campsite I stayed at back in 1993, when I had last come to Vevey – La Pichette, set right next to the lake. We ended up hanging around for an hour for the owner of the site to turn up. He did eventually, and we were able to set-up, albeit in the dark, and not right next to the lake, as I had remembered it.

Distance: 371 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 2 – Chaumont, France to Les Adrets de l’Estérel l’Eglise, France

After a hearty continental breakfast in a restaurant full of some kind of French senior citizens’ coach outing, we hit the road again at 08:20. The weather was much improved – cloudy but at least there was no rain, and we got back on route towards our destination, intended to be somewhere around Nice. Heading off, we passed through from the the Champagne area into the Rhone-Alps region and then into the South of France, marked by the transition in the types of trees growing and the style of buildings.

By mid afternoon, we were very much in the south and the weather was much improved. The French autoroutes system served us well and we were 32 miles outside Nice when the black clouds loomed again. I had checked the weather forecast in the morning and heavy thuderstorms were predicted for the Cote d’Azur, so we sought out the nearest campsite from our trusty Garmin Zumo 550 satnavs, and headed straight there – a campsite in the picturesque village of Les Adrets de l’Estérel l’Eglise. Unfortunately, we were just too late, and as we were just about to set up our tents, the heavens opened… big time. The camping area we had been shown was on a raised bank in the trees – quite a nice spot, but by the time the storm had passed, the ground was soaking wet, and the tents were soaked through and muddy. Fortunately, as the ground was so warm, it didn’t take too long for the ground to dry off fairly significantly, and, as I had literally held my tent above me off the ground to keep my bike clothing dry, I faired reasonably well, even if my tent didn’t.

Having set everything up, Chris headed down to the small campsite restaurant for a drink. I joined him a bit later, once the remaining bits of rain had passed, and we both had a pizza for our evening meal and a couple of beers.

Distance: 472 miles

Europe Bike Trip – Part 1 – Home to Chaumont, France

I set off at 05:21 on from home, meeting with Chris just off junction 3 of the M6, who told me that the police had already pulled him over (clearly out of boredom) on his way from Birmingham. When they asked where he was going and got the reply "Monaco", they were probably a little taken aback, but sent him on his way, and so we headed down to Dover, picking up a nice bit of heavy rain just as we got into Kent, which meant that our rain ‘resistent’ bike gear was already wet when we boarded the ferry at Dover.

A short hop over the channel and a cooked breakfast later and we were in Calais… and it was still raining… heavily. We continued heading southwards; our plan had been to get somewhere between Dijon and Lyon by the end of the today’s riding, and we took the autoroute (and toll) option to get as far south as quickly as possible, but we had constant driving rain all day and were completely wet through, so, at 17:39, we decided that we’d had enough and sought out a local hotel, Le Grand Val, in the nearby town of Chaumont and managed to get the last available twin room. Putting our bike gear next to the radiators to dry we went to the hotel’s Wild West themed restaurant for our dinner and a couple of drinks. After the day’s riding and weather, we were both pretty exhausted after dinner and so we turned in.

Distance: 521 miles