Dear Agent M,
I realise it seems a bit ’know all’ of me to kick off my letter to you in this way. Cutting to the chase too soon. Spoilers. All that sort of stuff. But then I am in a state of mild ecstasy at having cracked the code and worked out your true identity. Normally, you see, I am not that smart when it comes to these kinds of puzzles. Bit slow at solving Sudokus or seeing through a scam that some people spot in nanoseconds. But then it happened. A moment of insight and personal revelation. Suddenly your master disguise became apparent. Your brilliant undercover operation came into focus. May I say, what verve, what skill. What a piece of derring-do. But let me explain a bit more.
When I first read your article that ‘Atheists and Anglicans could unite against intolerance’ I was non-plussed. ‘There must be two Matt Ridleys’, I reasoned. ‘One whose books scoop up awards and whose sagacious words are acclaimed across five continents. And then another Matt Ridley given to publishing articles about Islamic extremists as a feeble excuse to clobber ‘evangelical extremists’ (‘They’re all the same, you know’) and to call all decent upstanding citizens to man the barricades. How shallow. How alarmist. Indeed how downright libellous. So I was puzzled and not a little disturbed. Now I was with you all the way with the atheists and humanists getting brutal handling from the Islamists. I nodded at your comments about the kid-glove treatment doled out to Islam by the church at large. But sympathy and respect for your analysis evaporated away on reading your call to sufferers of milder strains of the ‘faith virus’ to make common cause against badly infected types like me and my friends in evangelical churches. We were, it seems, ‘Trojan Horsey types’ bent on indoctrinating the young and using our privileged position to be an absolute public menace. What was more, our evangelical convictions, it appears, come out of the pages of an economics text-book or are deducible from the behaviour of laboratory rats. They are just an all-too-predictable response by one global religion in competition with another global religion for scarce resources, in this instance, people’s hearts and minds. How bleak. How soulless. Well there we are.
But then it dawned on me. ‘How stupid of me! How had I missed the obvious?’ Not two different Matt Ridleys after all. No, far more subtle and cunning than that. You are a kind of secret agent, working behind the enemy lines, sowing confusion on our behalf amidst the ranks of the atheist- humanists. As Hushai to Absalom, you are ‘Agent M’ (‘M’ for ’Matt’ of course!) busy providing advice to the atheist combat machine, sending them on fools’ errands, bidding them engage in fruitless and time-wasting manoeuvres. There we were thinking it was all another inflammatory humanist rant, when actually you are encouraging your ‘friends’ to adopt thinking and tactics that can only serve to make them appear foolish and hilariously detached from the real world. I take my hat off to you. A brilliant strategy.
Take your main piece of counsel. I must say your hope that wishy-washy Anglicans and atheists should team up to fight the common foe is delicious. Imagine it. Richard Dawkins and the Vicar of Dibley doing a ‘double-header’. This is the stuff of our dreams. Can you not see it in your mind’s eye? John Humphrys on the ‘Today’ Programme in the ‘just before-the-weather-forecast’ slot? There before him an Anglican and an atheist in warm embrace as they battle against extremism. My toes are curling at the anticipation of the slicing and the dicing they will get. First the church’s representative in this coalition of the willing. Can’t you just see Humphyrs barrelling down on him? ‘This is all a bit rum isn’t it? Your atheist friends reckon you are infected with only a slightly milder version of the virus than the lot you are trying to shout down have got. Hardly the basis for a great working relationship that, is it?’ Ouch! Or to the atheist. ‘Come off it. You are just pulling the wool over their (the Anglicans) eyes. You really think they are a bunch of swivel-eyed loons as well, don’t you.’ Double ouch! The enterprise in tatters. The ‘Dawkins and Dibley’ duo mentioned in the same breath as ‘Laurel and Hardy’. Another fine mess! Please, anything you can do to encourage this coalition would be most welcome.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the ‘new front’ you are encouraging the atheist-humanist establishment to open up. I mean of course the ‘We poor hard done by humanists’ tack. This has mileage. I am sure it would be greeted with the same hoots of derision and incredulity as if someone suggested a campaign to get sympathy for bankers or pay-day lenders. Perhaps I could suggest some pieces of merchandise you could mention to your Absaloms in the palace. Given the canine breed that Richard Dawkins’ advocacy of Charles Darwin has been associated with, how about a natty line in t-shirts sporting the slogan ‘Rottweilers have feelings too, you know!’. Or maybe ‘Hug a humanist today’. It would be a moment to savour. I am sure sympathy would ooze from every pore of the British public. If nothing else it gives a fillip to the evangelical cause to know just how prickly and thin-skinned the humanists are.
Now I am sure your ‘handlers’ have already discussed with you the direction this could take. But if I could just make a few suggestions? We might press to have the rationalists and freethinkers officially designated as victims. There are already moves afoot to gain this recognition from other quarters of the atheist-humanist lobbying machine. In that regard I am sure you are right that we are pushing at an open door. If we can depict these poor things as exiles in their own country, craving acceptance in this cruel world, like stateless citizens belonging nowhere, ostracised, misunderstood and unappreciated, it would be a rich seam to mine. Ah, think about it. Reduced to eking out an existence at the margins of society as they pen their regular articles for ‘The Times’ and see their work translated into thirty languages. A bleak wilderness indeed. Or every time you go into Tesco, there grinning back at you is your latest tome inveighing against religion, sat squarely on the ‘Top Ten Bestsellers’ shelf. What a confirmation of one’s marginalisation and barely tolerated status. Or when the latest invitation to make another no-holds-barred anti-Christianity programme for Channel 4 lands with a plop on your doormat. Further confirmation of how you are not welcome in this nation dominated by a ruling elite of combative religionists. Or when yet another rave book review gushes forth in ‘The Guardian’. Why you could wallpaper your living room with the things. But they merely serve to compound the sense of loneliness and uphill struggle for acceptance. Oh, yes please. I am no advocate of cruel sports. But this would be like shooting fish in a barrel for us. Use anything in your power to move this project forward.
Indeed, having mentioned a moment back our good friend Professor Dawkins, more air time for him would also be a huge boon. I fear he has inherited one of his famous memes that whenever he goes on Twitter some ill-chosen illustration or offensive comment is involuntarily sent forth. Ill-judged comparisons using paedophilia as an example. Draw-droppingly awful comments about people with Downs Syndrome. I am not quite sure what his particular set of selfish genes is trying to accomplish by all this. But rather than opt for the altruism route much debated in his recent spat with Professor Wilson, his genes appear instead to have pressed the self-destruct button and be luring their host into adopting some discreditable and tasteless positions. Rarely in the history of human endeavour has someone blessed with such copious quantities of publicity’s highest grade oxygen, managed to splutter so much, gasp, go blue in the face and perform these rather gruesomely weird public acts of self-asphyxiation that he manages to do. Now I cannot promise anything. But there is a slight possibility we could have a whip-round and underwrite, anonymously, the annual cost of his Internet connection and access onwards to his beloved social media. From his track record to date, our investment would be handsomely repaid. I am sure the thought of more gaffes, miss-speaks, and inappropriate comments would quickly swell the coffers of any war chest set aside for this particular campaign in the culture wars.
Well I must finish. You will doubtless have a host of activities to attend to as you carefully maintain your cover. Again I cannot promise to add to your impressive list of awards, but there may be an honour we can confer at some point in the future. Certainly if you managed to achieve for the atheist-humanist establishment what your judicious chairmanship achieved for ‘Northern Rock’ in 2007, your place in our annals would be assured. Though, as an aside, I am tempted to ask whether your chairmanship of that ill-starred bank was another of your cunning under-cover operations, perhaps a secret agent this time for the ‘Occupy the City’ movement, ‘bringing capitalism to its knees’, that sort of stuff. But then I may just be getting a bit carried away. Anyway, your recent offering was certainly commendable and shows real promise for the future. We will track your work carefully and be only too happy to comment upon any future covert operations that merit being brought to the attention of our people.
Keep up the good work.
With best wishes,
Chris Hand (or did I mean Uncle Screwt…..?)
Brief Biography of Matt Ridley
Matt Ridley is a scientist by background and training. Doing a DPhil at Oxford on sexual selection in pheasants, he followed a career in writing and journalism, contributing to various national newspapers and periodicals. Topics his books have covered have included the place of co-operation and virtue in an evolutionary worldview, the genome and the role of ideas in the progress of society. According to his website, his books have sold over a million copies, receiving various awards on the way, and been translated into thirty languages. He is listed as a distinguished member of the British Humanist Association and has a seat in the House of Lords as Viscount Ridley. The biography on his website describes himself as having been ‘…non-executive chairman of Northern rock plc…’ What he fails to mention is that he was chairman when Northern Rock had liquidity problems and was the first bank in this country for 150 years to have had a run on it.