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What happens when two atheists and two agnostics meet for lunch? When the folk in question are, respectively, John Gray, Alain de Botton, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Bryan Appleyard, the answer is a very interesting conversation.

Writing for the New Statesman, Bryan Appleyard provides a flavour:

  • "The talk is genial, friendly and then, suddenly, intense when neo-atheism comes up. Three of us, including both atheists, have suffered abuse at the hands of this cult. Only Taleb seems to have escaped unscathed and this, we conclude, must be because he can do maths and people are afraid of maths."

Certainly, it seems that Alain de Botton's recent book Religion for Atheists earned him a deal of abuse:

  • "To say something along the lines of 'I'm an atheist; I think religions are not all bad' has become a dramatically peculiar thing to say and if you do say it on the internet you will get savage messages calling you a fascist, an idiot or a fool. This is a very odd moment in our culture. Why has this happened?"

But just how new is this culture of abuse? Though latterly assisted by the internet, it is surely part of human nature, to be found among theists and atheists alike – and even between the followers of different strands of conservative thought. 

In the end, bigotry doesn't require an 'ism' of any sort, just a basic lack of kindness and courtesy. 

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