Date: May 05 2012
My jet-black, three-legged cat Tristan sat on Professor Richard Dawkins' lap looking up adoringly at the celebrity atheist. (As reported in last week's column I live a rich fantasy life in which my good friend and fellow atheist Professor Richard Dawkins has been staying with me during his Australian tour. In last week's column I took him to Canberra's Anzac Day dawn service.)
Dawkins and I were sitting in my living room. I, indicating my extreme age, was engaged in that old-fashioned activity of reading a real newspaper printed on paper.
Deeply irritated by something I'd come across in the paper, I seethed, ''God give me strength!''
''But Ian,'' The World's Leading Atheist piped up. ''There is no God and so you're going to have to find strength from somewhere else.''
''It's just a stock exclamation,'' I fumed, for the relentlessness of Richard's atheism can get under a chap's skin.
''I don't mean I'm literally looking to God to give me strength any more than when I exclaim 'Shit a brick!' that I'm literally going to do that.''
''Thank goodness for that. But what's upset you, old fellow?'' Richard persevered.
I explained that I'd just been reading the story of how, following a minor accident during a tennis lesson at what the paper was calling a ''prestigious private girls' school on the Gold Coast'', pupil Finley Enright-Burns has launched legal action against fellow pupil Julia Wright-Smith. The litigious Ms Enright-Burns was hit in the eye by a tennis ball, one that flowed from the racquet of Ms Wright-Smith. Ms Enright-Burns is suing her schoolmate, the school and the tennis academy. She says that everyone was negligent in not giving her protective goggles to wear.
''This modern litigiousness really rattles my cage, Richard. And this comes on top of that case where a female public servant has successfully sued for compensation from her public service employer after she had a small accident in a country motel while having sex.''
''Was that the one,'' Richard guffawed, ''where she'd finished work for the day but back in her motel made the two-backed beast so powerfully that a lamp fell off a wall and hit her in the face?''
''That's the one,'' I confirmed. ''She also got compensation for supposed 'psychological' trauma. Why didn't the magistrate think that the way the woman had enjoyed some impromptu, wild, wall-bangingly, fixture-dislodgingly vigorous sex was compensation enough? It would compensate men. Whatever goes through the modern minds of people like her and like Finley Enright-Burns?''
''Do you notice, Ian,'' my friend observed, having to raise his voice a little to be heard above the contented Tristan's tenor purring, ''how it's only our generation, the generation you write your downmarket newspaper column for, that finds this modern litigiousness disgusting? It's unique to us, although in my case I've long since achieved a lofty detachment from it so as to be able to study it, the way we professors do.''
''You smug little bastard!'' I muttered, but Richard, on a hobby horse now, was anyway too carried away to have heard me. But the treacherous Tristan, sensing from the tone of my voice a criticism of his hero, gave me a stare full of daggers.
''The reason why it all upsets our generation so much,'' Richard continued, ''is that we were reared in tougher and more God-fearing times in which every accident we had was never anyone else's fault. It was always either our own fault (and our fathers would give us a clip round the ear to punish us for falling out of a tree) or was an accident that was what parents and the law courts in those days called an Act of God.
''What I think has happened is that as people have increasingly given up their savage and primitive belief in God they know He can't possibly be to blame for anything bad that happens. This is liberating. While we were backward enough to believe in God we had no chance of redress or revenge. He was impregnable. But now that He's out of the equation we look around, rationally, for human culprits.
''The sexually active public servant knows that it wasn't God who threw the light fitting at her. Ms Enright-Burns knows that the ball that hit her in the eye wasn't one of God's deliberate volleys. These cases are great news. This is all a great intellectual leap forward for our species.''
''But Richard,'' I spluttered, ''since all this litigiousness is truly wicked wouldn't it almost be preferable for people to be God-fearing and not to take out their rage on other people?''
''Ian, I'm afraid that in the fight for the cause of Truth and Rationality there will always be some collateral societal damage. This is an instance of it. But these are just societal flesh wounds, little cuts and bruises.
''Small price to pay for our liberation from the slavery of brutish ignorance and belief in religious mumbo-jumbo.''
''Answer that one, slow-witted Ian!'' the expression of Tristan the Turncoat said as he fixed me with his haughty, lemon-eyed gaze and snuggled deeper into our guest's tweedy lap.
''Gosh, I've become attached to Tristan. I'll miss him when I go back to Oxford,'' the World's Greatest Atheist mused.
''Why not take him with you?'' I invited.
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