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Best not defend atheism, Richard. But you go right ahead and offend it.

Richard Godwin's piece "Militant atheism is as extreme as any belief system" is worse than offensive. It is wrong. The article is based on three outright popular myths the author either knows to be untrue or hasn't bothered to investigate.

Firstly, Mr Godwin equates "Hitler, Stalin and Mao [being] rabidly anti-religious" with the record of religious crime and violence. This is simply poisoning the well of any atheist worldview.

To anyone who has studied the matter, Hitler's avowed Catholicism and concordat with the Vatican, Stalin's background as a seminarian and Mao's reliance on stupified, superstitious peasants, simply cannot be equated with secularism. (A term which Godwin gleefully confuses with atheism. Devil may care for any distinctions between beliefs provided they are not religious). The dictatorships of the 20th century were not a product of a commitment to scientific skeptical enquiry and secular law, but of these leaders' ability to manipulate religious credulity for their purposes.

The second myth is that there are crimes motivated by atheism. Against the almost daily acts of brutality committed by expressly religious groups from ISIS to the paedophile-harbouring Catholic Church, Godwin presents one single act of violence: the Chapel Hill killer. It was later found that this murder was over a parking dispute: police did not register it as a hate crime.

The Chapel Hill killer wore shoes. So did Hitler and Stalin. If the gods they didn't believe in were relevant, was their shoe-wearing habit a factor in their crimes as well? Nothing could be more absurd.

The final myth Godwin propagates is the equation between "militant atheism" and religious extremism by comparing Richard Dawkins to Abu Qatada. Without having to do any research here (like a journalist might...) I'm pretty sure I can state that Abu Qatada's criminal record outweighs Dawkins' nonexistent litany of crimes. The facts will support the most 'militant' of atheists as a saint compared to the meekest of Bostonian preachers. Dawkins' vocal, even abrasive views about religion don't make him a criminal.

If I were Dawkins, I would consider legal action for such a statement. Then again, the press is awash with such untruths and Dawkins is presumably too busy preparing lectures and doing scientific research to challenge them all.

Godwin is yet another writer willing to  throw atheism under the bus in order to curry favour with the faithful 'moderates' in the waning years of a religious monopoly of public life. It is offensive for those of us who value reason over superstition to be lazily equated with violent criminals for the crime of being vocal.

But don't worry, Mr Godwin. Nobody will burst into your news room with automatic guns to shoot you, your fellow journalists and the janitor for "causing offence" to atheism. But I suspect you already knew that.

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