Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player


Heresy 2

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It’s quite a strident Heresy tonight (Radio 4, 6.30pm). The guests are Marcus Brigstocke, Natalie Haynes and lovely Reverend Richard Coles (well, they’re all lovely, I’m just especially fond of Richard); received opinions for them to destroy are

TRANSPORT STRIKES ARE BAD FOR COMMUTERS

KATE MIDDLETON SHOULD GET A JOB

and

ATHEISM IS A MORE RATIONAL POSITION THAN FAITH.

  It’s all very jolly and funny, until we get onto the last topic and Marcus Brigstocke is suddenly shouting “God is revolting!” at the vicar. Put it this way: if the recording had been a dinner party, I’d have been fussing about with the cutlery and saying “Ahem, ahem, coffee anyone?”

  But that’s one of the things I love about Heresy. I always want to have some proper meaty argument and discussion in the mix, even though it’s the comedy slot, and it can create a very different mixture of shows. Some episodes are very light and funny, some are scratchy, some are very deeply-felt, some appear to be deeply-felt but people are just making exaggerated satirical arguments… This episode is very different from next week’s, but has some really funny stuff in it, alongside the moments of unusually real and sincere expression, and I like it a lot. Hope you enjoy it if you listen.

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Daniel at 11:17 am on May 26th, 2010

I misread that as “Kate Silverton needs to get a job”, which would be a little harsh in my opinion. Seriously though, how much of a stinker did Emily Maitlis have on Newsnight yesterday? Upstaged by Ed Balls and Toby Young, she’s starting to make Gavin Esler look like Primo Levi. Pitch for it Victoria.


AndytheDealer at 2:56 pm on May 26th, 2010

Ahhh, this is the one they wouldn’t let me in to, even though I had booked tickets online.

I think I know why.

The young lady on the door must have seen the look in my eye.. the kind of person who would have shouted back at Marcus Brigstocke…‘But not half as revolting as you!’


Sentient at 6:03 pm on May 26th, 2010

Come on then Coren, on their backs please . . is atheism the more rational position, or just the right one, a ton avis?  And if it is, would u agree that Richard Dawkins is the worst posterchild for it, i hate the approach that has no sympathy/empathy for why people believe in god . . also, should we expect a new series of party poker premier league, with u on it?  And saw a brush-off u made of a guy in hampstead asking for a date like he wanted u to vote on a bill he was proposing, nice moves . . think u could handle the maitlis gig?


The Tim at 11:03 pm on May 26th, 2010

I’d really have liked to have seen the Vicar’s face when Marcus Brigstocke said ‘God is revolting’ - perhaps he replied:

‘Against what is He revolting?’

Could you not afford Richard Dawkins?


MarkJB at 7:51 am on May 27th, 2010

It’s not rational to be atheist. God is a word that can have a meaning like “the reason we are here” or “the laws of physics” (Einstein). Is it rational to deny the laws of physics or your own existence?
But I agree with Marcus’s comments on the God of religions, the jealous Gods etc (created in the likeness of man?) if they have any meaningful existence, now.


Victoria Coren at 10:06 am on May 27th, 2010

Well, if you want my opinion: people might feel faith strongly and intuitively; or they might, in seeing no tangible evidence and feeling no instinctive faith, feel strongly that there is nothing; but if you’re talking about ‘reason’, given the nature and scale of what we’re talking about, the only RATIONAL position is to be agnostic.
  I wanted to do this topic because I find it ridiculous that atheists consider themselves ‘enlightened’, ‘scientific’, ‘more rational’ or in any way superior to/than believers (or vice versa); both sides are basing their certainty on a leap of the imagination, it can’t be otherwise. There are arguments in favour of certainty either way, but, in the face of essential unknowability, ‘being more rational’ isn’t one of them.


Sentient at 10:26 am on May 27th, 2010

I disagree - taking Christianity as an example, though this approach works with every religion; the evidence on earth is nothing like the situation that the bible - particularly the new testament - implies it should be: to live, animals don’t feel like god’s children, they have to kill each other to survive.  Seems strange that the god described by Christianity would see that as the best way forward . . it’s a simplistic point, but true nonetheless; our understanding of god, no matter how free-minded we claim to be, comes from some sort of religion - and yet, in every case, the world we can see and rationalise with never fits the world depicted in any scripture.  Thus, believing in them and their source is irrational.  I reckon.  Now what about the goddam Partypoker Premier League?


KlooRhee at 11:45 am on May 27th, 2010

Maybe I don’t know the exact meaning of ‘rational’ but being agnostic doesn’t feel like it. An agnostic, if he wants to be a true one, has to question everything and that is a lot of wasted thought. Doesn’t seem rational to me.

What I think is rational is to respect other people’s chosen paths and talk about your own beliefs only when someone really insists. Could save a headache. Lot of atheists are haters, unfortunately…


RomanticRecluse at 12:07 pm on May 27th, 2010

I went to a CofE primary school and was taught RE and before I left I was an atheist.  There were personal and political reasons but the main reason was that I thought that many of the things I had been told in RE were impossible.  Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the virgin birth, the feeding of the 5000, the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of an omniscient omnipotent omnipresent god: all impossible.

Whilst science can’t explain everything yet, it isn’t based on a leap of imagination.  Science is based on observation, analysis and experimentation and, more importantly, it makes it possible to predict what will happen and take action to do things like try to heal the sick or protect the environment.  Science is a centuries-old worldwide step-by-step process of learning.


Victoria Coren at 2:31 pm on May 27th, 2010

Ah, but it must be a leap of the imagination either way because, if there were intelligent design, it would be so far beyond our understanding and we would be such a tiny component part within it, we could no more figure it out than the characters in a novel could “know” anything about its author. Therefore, in my opinion, it is irrational to “know” either way.

  Premier League Poker was filmed in Las Vegas this year and I didn’t play it; not sure when it’s on TV.


MarkJB at 3:26 pm on May 27th, 2010

Agnosticism I think is the safe bet.
To be a real agnostic you might consider that the universe may be infinite, something that science will never be able to prove one way or another, and that the ultimate nature of everything, not just God, may thus not be determinable. This viewpoint is naturally, historically, heretical, to science and religion.


RomanticRecluse at 3:55 pm on May 27th, 2010

Intelligent design?  It’s an attempt by some Christians to update the “God moves in a mysterious way” idea to counter secularism and the theory of evolution.  It’s a leap of imagination of the type that religion needs.

Science doesn’t need a leap of imagination to show that a man can’t be fashioned from dust and a woman then created from his rib, the Red Sea can’t be parted by a strong east wind, a virgin can’t give birth, a man can’t turn water into wine and the dead can’t be resurrected.  Science needs an understanding of the laws of nature derived from examining evidence and that understanding keeps getting better.

Meanwhile, religious people keep undermining the moral authority of their faiths.  Did a god design religious terrorists and paedophile priests?


The Tim at 8:56 pm on May 27th, 2010

Almost all people are agnostic – it’s just that they don’t know it. I agree with VC about agnosticism being the only rational way, but the real question is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ but ‘What is God?’

There’ve been so many definitions - the ‘reason’ mentioned by Mark & VC in this thread and the laws of science talked about by Einstein. The God that many Christians believe in (and many atheists take pride in not believing in) is actually an idol (e.g. a man sitting on a throne) of their own imagination, which priests do NOT believe in. Every God is an idol until it gives a sign – just think about that. Many people who say they don’t believe in God actually do – they don’t call it that.


spiderpig at 12:36 am on May 28th, 2010

People seem to miss the point of faith: it’s not rational, and can’t be, because if it were, and there was proof, it wouldn’t be “faith”. There needs to be uncertainty, and a certain amount of incredulity. Of course there are people who think it’s all complete rubbish, but they need to understand that often there’s no reason for those who do have faith to have faith. Atheism isn’t necessarily a default position, but I can see why people are sceptical about the existence of God etc., given that it does take a leap of the imagination to believe in some of the things described in the Bible. There are so many arguments which aim to ‘prove’ the existence of God, but ultimately, they’re futile as no argument, however sound, can prove something that solely relies on faith, i.e., faith!


Senitent at 9:53 am on May 28th, 2010

Ooh think i touched a nerve . . I swear if the only woman left in then is Annette bloody ‘I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get there’ Obrestad then I guess I’ll have to fold . . sucks your commentary was hot ;-p


markey at 1:34 pm on May 28th, 2010

Depends what you have to do for your faith.
Get up at 6am on a Sunday and put on suit. Not me.
Pick up soap in the Catholic shower. Not me.

My nana had the right idea. I was brought up in a small North Yorks coastal village with a large number of chapels - basically free standing rooms. My Nana would select one and attend until she lost at the weekly Beetle Drive and then switch.

To me, Heresy implies an effortful argument against a religion and its beliefs. I prefer bunking off - an effortless rejection.

Richard Coles is cool though. He’s like the nice gay vicar who’s OK with you not turning up to anything, or not grassing you to police for nicking. He seems destined to occupy that late afternoon Radio 4 land that was occupied by Robert Robertson.


Victoria Coren at 2:04 pm on May 28th, 2010

Ah, well, it’s not heresy in quite such a strict sense - for that, we’d have to argue against religion every week for six weeks and it would get a bit samey. The point of Heresy (the radio show) is to argue against modern orthodoxies, modern received wisdoms - and one of those is that religion is a load of superstitious old bunkum and atheism is the cool scientific way. So we were arguing against THAT, not against religion itself in the medieval sense of being heretics…


The Tim at 2:12 pm on May 28th, 2010

Alles klar, mein Liebchen!


Mark Bridger at 4:05 pm on May 28th, 2010

Well..
I’m going to say, heretically, that the idea that there is God, or rather, that the existence of the Cosmos and Reality is an expression of intent, is actually THE rational position, for me anyway. I see it as the ultimate inevitable implication of a certain explanation of physics and the Cosmos.
Moving from there to the anthropic God of religion(s) though is not a rational path but one of faith, wishful thinking or subjective feelings, human super-imposition, evolutionary social conditioning or interpretation - and so it may provoke the counter-irrational prejudice of atheism.

Agnosticism I don’t see as a strictly ‘rational’ point of view because it does not involve a great effort of reason. It’s more a humble acceptance of the obvious truth, that we cannot know for sure.


markey at 6:47 am on May 29th, 2010

Ah, not against religion. Too late. I’ve now got a job of lead in the back which I’m trying to sell on ebay and a few eagle lecterns acting as clothes dryers. I guess I’m struggling with the difference between ‘heresy’ and ‘grand larceny’ in the same way I struggled between ‘mischief night’ and ‘mindless vandalism’.

I did listen to the show. It’s good ‘make the tea (food) radio’


John at 1:41 pm on May 29th, 2010

I enjoyed the recent Heresy and thought the reverend vicar came across as a really serene geezer; The One Show surely beckons for Richard Coles, plus sidekick of course: Coles and Cotton, together at last, like raspberry and ripple.


Ben at 2:29 pm on May 29th, 2010

Well I’ve never been religious & I pray to God I never will be.


AdrianB at 8:05 pm on May 29th, 2010

Just listened to this episode and have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Natalie’s response, pretty much repeated by you Victoria in the comments here.

Agnosticism refers to knowledge, something that applies to all of us if we are honest. Even Richard and Marcus are agnostic, but one is an agnostic theist and the other is an agnostic atheist.

So twisting the question to argue that agnosticism is the more rational position is a bit of a cop-out.

“I believe there is a god”. If you can answer yes to that then you are a theist, if you can’t then you are an atheist.

I suspect you Victoria, like me, are an agnostic atheist.


Johnmcc at 8:51 pm on May 29th, 2010

I suspect that it is very unlikely that Richard Dawkins would be bothered enough about religion to campaign against it if all religious people resembled Richard Coles, but that it was the creationists and the anti-secular/anti-liberal Political Movement associated with them annoyed him enough to spearhead the Atheist movement.

The most irrational thing about Dawkins is that Richard Coles probably has very similar opinions in those issues that are important to Dawkins such as science teaching and keeping religion out of politics. Instead of spearheading a purely Atheist movement, Dawkins would probably achieve far more of what he wants to achieve as part of a broader based Secular movement that does not exclude those who are both religious and reasonable.


ConfusedByPedantry at 9:28 pm on May 29th, 2010

“The Labour Minister and I – Power is definitely the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Sorry about crashing the thread but I was hoping you could put me out of my misery and tell me what it is about this heading that the pedant in you was unable to tolerate?

After far too much thinking the only objectionable thing I see is the capitalisation after the dash, but I have a horrible feeling that isn’t it. Please help.


Victoria Coren at 12:06 pm on May 30th, 2010

Should be “the Labour minister and me”, not I. But please don’t let’s discuss it here, because it’s discussed at some length in the comments under the next blog post, “Taxi”...


alex best at 4:08 pm on May 30th, 2010

I don’t think whether we take a position of being an Atheist, Agnostic or Believer makes a difference to whether the “belief” in God is Rational or Irrational as it is not a purely intellectual question. We are an “emotional” race, driven by both emotion and mind and therefore will always find difficulty in separating our instincts from our intellect. If only we could!


Rog at 7:02 pm on May 30th, 2010

Being agnostic may well be the only rational view to take, however, the fact that we are human surely means we are all likely at times to think irrationally (especially women, particularly when it comes to football and the offside rule - joking)

Seriously, this is what makes life so interesting. We think, we have feelings, we laugh, we cry, we hurt.  Emotions ensure that we are not always logical or rational… if there wasnt a god, I think people would invent something similar…


Victoria Coren

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