December 14, 2019 - 7:00am

I was delighted to see that a London Christmas institution has had a rebrand. Comedian, writer and very public atheist Robin Ince has been running Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, what The Guardian described as a “silly but rousing celebration of rationalism”, for a decade. He packs out venues with audiences who want to see scientists, mathematicians and philosophers riff on the season of goodwill, rather than bible readings. It always looked a lot of fun, but I’ve never been because the name appeared to exclude me.

Maybe I will go this Christmas because it has been renamed Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious people. The shift from a self-consciously anti-religious stance seems to go deeper than just branding, because the charity receiving support from the event this year is The Trussell Trust.

The Trussell Trust is most famous for running food banks, mainly in partnership with local churches. It describes itself as an:

‘Anti-poverty charity founded on Christian principles …[and by]  Jesus’ words: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me – Matthew 25:35-36.”
- The Trussell Trust

So, we can still assume, a mainly ‘godless’ audience will be donating to churches that are helping those in need this Christmas.

Thank God for some good news. Not because religious people can stick some kind of flag in Robin Ince, or his very successful event (we can’t, and shouldn’t). But because in increasingly tribal times, with lines drawn ever tighter and positions held more strongly, this is a move in the opposite direction.

The last shadows of the New Atheist movement must really be fading when a public atheist can acknowledge (even if only implicitly) that religious people might be curious too, might like science and maths and reason too. And not only acknowledge it, but financially support a charity founded on a bible verse. Maybe there is reason for hope in the season of peace to all mankind after all.

Elizabeth Oldfield is the former head of Theos. Her writing has appeared in the FT, Prospect and The Times. Her Twitter handle is @esoldfield