‘Atheism is to theism,’ Anthony Grayling declares, ‘as not collecting stamps is to stamp-collecting’. At this point, we are supposed to enjoy a little sneer, in which the religious are bracketed with bald, lonely men in thick glasses, picking over their collections of ancient stamps in attics, while unbelievers are funky people with busy social lives.He finds the analogy wanting,
But the comparison is flatly untrue. Non-collectors of stamps do not, for instance, write books devoted to mocking stamp-collectors, nor call for stamp-collecting’s status to be diminished, nor suggest — Richard Dawkins-like — that introducing the young to this hobby is comparable to child abuse. They do not place advertisements on buses proclaiming that stamp-collecting is a waste of time, and suggesting that those who abandon it will enjoy their lives more.But I think Hitchens should have pushed this admittedly poor analogy. Atheists are the men who make use of the postal service; who frequently write and receive letters; yet claim stamps are both undesigned and have no purpose; and the postman is a fiction.
Professor Grayling is too pleased with himself to have realised this. Intoxicated with amusement at his own dud metaphor, he asks: ‘How could someone be a militant non-stamp-collector?’ I rather think he has written the manual for anyone who might like to take up this activity.