If Richard Dawkins was a religious man he’d no doubt be termed a zealot. The sheer fervour with which he proselytizes his belief that all religions are bad, God is a fantasy and spirituality is merely a panacea to help the human race cope with the frightening reality of an afterlife-free existence is practically religious in itself.
He has a new series on More4. I don’t plan to watch it. The trailers have been enough in themselves. They feature Dawkins, close-up to camera, positing his theory that the human race would be a much finer species whose moral progress would be far better assured if it abandoned its primitive reliance on religion for existential succour. Basically, he says, left alone, good people would do good things and bad people would do bad things but religion makes good people do bad things and thus we’d be better off without it.
Now I am not particularly religious. I used to be C of E because I was brought up that way but over the years I’ve found myself wrestling with those old beliefs and find they have too little for me to hold onto. It’s a private fight and I don’t intend to share it with you all here.
But even I – great pseudo heathen that I am – can see that Dawkins’s argument is essentially far too reductive and, well, just stupid. And Dawkins isn’t a stupid man. Far from it. He’s a proper Brainiac; expressive, articulate and knowledgeable. But he does seem to have a blind spot when it comes to religion and spirituality. You can practically see him foaming at the mouth whenever the subject is broached. Stick a crystal worshipping hippy in front of him and you can honestly see him contemplating murder or, at the very least, a lobotomy without the brain owner’s consent.
My problem with his argument is this:
Yes, religions do sometimes make good people do bad things.
But so do most political systems – if not all.
In fact any kind of administration very often makes good people do bad things.
So what do we do, Richard, get rid of all religions and political systems? Do we just leave the good people to be good and the bad people to be bad? Chaos and anarchy?
Fine. Let’s do that.
Only thing is I’m pretty sure that that would lead to poverty for the majority.
And you know what? Poverty and starvation more than anything else often make good people do bad things. Look at it this way: if your kids were starving to death would you rob and possibly murder to feed them? I think I would. But maybe that’s just me?
But maybe I’m just not one of the “good people” that Dawkins talks about?
But what is it with the whole good people / bad people thing anyway? It in itself is reductive to the point of ridiculousness. In fact it’s so black and white as to be no better than any of the polarizing religions that Dawkins professes to hold in contempt! In my experience people are rarely “good” or “bad” they are just people. Very few people are solely bad and very few solely good. People do good and bad things for a whole heap of different reasons – religion being only one of them (though religion does tend to make people proclaim the reasons for their actions far more publically than, say, politics or the old “I was only following orders” argument).
Quite frankly, as a race we find reasons for doing bad things all the time and dismantling all world religions will do nothing to change this. All that will happen is it might keep Richard Dawkins off our tellies.
Hey – a good outcome from a bad act!
See, I said his argument was stupid.