In 2006 Richard Dawkins wrote what might yet prove to be one of the most important books of the 21st Century, The God Delusion. It cut though fantasy and superstition like a knife, before going on to fuel a worldwide culture of scepticism. However, seven years on and Dawkins appears to have become unnecessarily divisive and detached. His seemingly unprovoked tweet, attacking Mehdi Hasan for his belief that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse, upset bloggers from each end of the political spectrum. Attracting harsh criticism both from Paul Staines on the right and Owen Jones on the left. So how did the genius behind The Selfish Gene become so awkwardly removed?
The answer to this question may lie in the nature of our own national identity. While Northern Europe maintains an almost non-existent relationship with religion, the 'god is not great' debate goes on with acidic passion across the rest of the world, where the political and social power vested in god remains omnipresent and almost omnipotent. In America the church still acts as a harbinger of homophobia and obstacle to education. Meanwhile, it is hard to find a bigger factor in the subjugation of women across the globe then the influence of fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.
It is for this reason that in most of the world, a verbal or written attack on religious belief is celebrated as an act of courageous satire. To us Brits however, this kind of rhetoric can seem highly uncouth. And why shouldn't it? After all, the debate here is all but over. Religion hardly interferes with our daily business at all.
There are still minor annoyances like the bishops in the House of Lords, Thought for the Day and the Church of England's near monopoly on our primary school system, but nobody is really getting hurt. Unless the pope happens to be visiting town, the British militant atheist is quite redundant on our little island. And so when some misplaced artillery, from a solider fighting the ongoing battles abroad, hits one of our best journalists, we feel a sporting need to defend him en masse.
The problem is that while it is very easy to simply brand Dawkins as "intolerant" or simply call him a "bigot," a highly irrational reality remains and that is that many of us are more interested in protecting a journalist from having his feeling hurt (although Mr Hasan himself seemed pretty unfazed by the matter) then the truth.
On the face of it, Mr Hasan's belief in the onetime existence of winged horses is entirely irrelevant, as most of his writing appears to consist of highly informed critique's of Tory government policy. (I'm not just writing that to make this article appear balanced, Mehdi Hasan often writes excellent articles I wish I had written myself)
What concerns me is the idea of anybody who questions religious belief being labelled a "bigot" while absurd delusions like talking snakes, 900-year-old shipbuilders and the virgin birth are respected in the 21st century. An era in which the ongoing climate change debate should be making the promotion of scientific, evidence-based reasoning, more important then ever.