Monday, August 23, 2010

The God Killer

Richard DawkinsIf 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?

Hmm.

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.

Dork.


34 comments:

Gina said...

Yes, I tend to agree with you. I find those escaped God Squad people who then turn to atheism just as irritating and over-zealous about their lack of faith.

It really annoys me that people feel this need to belong - either to a religion or to a non-religion - always following the ideas of others.

I am not religious at all and I am not an atheist or an anything else. I am just me. I don't want to think as anyone else does or put myself in a category with anyone else.

I won't be watching the programme either - it will just annoy me.

Tee hee - I feel annoyed already! Just as well you didn't write in support of Dawkins or my blood pressure might have soared even higher!

the fly in the web said...

He does seem to be a (non) religious fanatic...

Steve said...

Gina: heaven forbid that I be the cause of your soaring blood pressure (I shall leave that to Keeley). I wonder if Dawkins see the irony - that as much as he is trying to free people from religious beliefs he is having to recruit them to another cause; his own. I wonder if he see the other irony that, for all he thinks he is doing the world good, he us actually making a great many people angry and upset - a good man doing a bad thing? And he's not even religious!

The fly in the web: plainly the only thing he does believe in is himself. When he stops believing in that I wonder what will happen to him...?

Being Me said...

Amusing that he uses the terms "good" and "bad" (bad/evil... same-same), because they are the terms by which religions would have their followers believe they need the religion in the first place so that they may have mercy delivered upon their souls!

I have a grounding in C of E as well - the most blatantly man-made of all man-made religions! - but have not set foot in a church for prayerful connection to my guidance in well over 30 years. I don't need to, I can do that anywhere. Which is beside the point, really.

Suffice to say, this bloke seems to be bunging religion with spirituality (a word that regrettably has such a stigma attached to it now so that the true meaning of it is so often lost), when the two are actually separate.

It's amazing how fearful the zealous unfaithfuls can be.

Steve said...

Being Me: good point - spirituality and religion are two separate things entirely. One needs spirituality to be "religious", but one does not need a religion to be spiritual. Alas for Mr Dawkins, he appears to have neither by the bucket-load.

Kelloggsville said...

You got me all worried. I am a Christian and I am now concerned about what bad things my religion is going to make me do. Is it that if I wasn't religious tutting at the old woman dithering in the post office queue wouldn't be a bad thing and is is only bad because I know it is non-christian. Or am I about to do something really horrendous like tell her to hurry the fuck up or I'll steal her purse. Blimey good job I'm not really really religious or I might start blugeoning her. Dork looks really creepy in the photo, I reckon he's really a religious nutter waiting to yell at a women in a post office queue!

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: weirdly the voices in my head (undoubtedly religious in origin) are telling me to buy a sawn-off and rob my local PO, thus relieving them of their ill gotten mammon and to set up a religious commune on the Costa Del Sol where the quaffing of alchoholic libations will be an essential part in giving thanks to the lord the universe and denigrating Mr Dawkins. Being a righteous fellow I'm off to do the deed right now. Amen.

Tenon_Saw said...

@Kelloggsville: So long as we keep 'short accounts' with him upstairs that's OK - JC did all the hard work. It isn't our fault we are stuck in human bodies which are apt to want to do the wrong things; St. Paul knew that.
Religion is not just about being Good or Bad at all, it's about trying, faith, a personal relationship with (as Dave Allen used to put it) 'your God'.

Most importantly, it is about not doing what the world wants. If Dork represents 'the world' (as I regret he does, more and more) I shall keep the faith if only to spite him.

Anyway, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager which Dork clearly hasn't.

Great post steve.

lunarossa said...

I think extremism - and not religion or atheism or else - is the danger in our modern society. Tolerance is the answer. Live and let live. I truly believe that. Ciao. A.

Owen said...

Hooo-eeeee... from whatever direction, I've had enough of religion and non-religion to last me a lifetime.

Every time I turn around I'm seeing or reading something about religion or the lack of it. Am about fed up. With all of them.

There's the old story about how many zen buddhists does it take to change a light bulb. The answer is three. One to change the lightbulb. One to not change the lightbulb. And one to do neither.

I think I'll do neither, if that's ok with you...
:-)

Suburbia said...

I like your argument a lot, will try and watch him tho', if I can.

Steve said...

Tenon_Saw: being a hedge-betting man I'm with Pascal. As for trying... my wife says I am very. I'm sure God will concur with her. ;-)

Lunarossa: tolerance seems to have slipped the mindset of the good/bad Mr Dawkins, I fear...

Owen: you are possibly the sanest man in the universe as a consequence. I salute you, sir!

Suburbia: keep a crucifix handy - and some garlic. Just to be on the safe side. ;-)

Heather said...

the whole good/bad thing is a very stupid argument. Like you say, there are all sorts of reason people do bad things and no such thing really as good and bad people. The man is clearly a nitwit. A very intelligent one maybe, but a nitwit none the less.

vegemitevix said...

Dork indeed. The funniest thing of all is observing a complete change in direction. I wonder if it's just a pendulum thing though, will he swing back to a considered balanced view in a few years?

Steve said...

Heather: I'd love to see someone level that accusation at him live on telly!

vegemitevix: I doubt it. I've heard rumours that the part of the brain that "houses" spirituality or the capacity for it is virtually missing in Mr Dawkins. I kid you not. It may explain his stance somewhat. As my wife says it's like someone with no eyes wondering what the point of eyesight is...!

Miss behaving said...

Good and bad exist in is all , probably in equal measure, just, fortunately for most of us we don't live in conditions that allow the bad side to flourish.
As you said, poverty is a biggie, eradicate poverty and install hope and we'd see the 'bad' shit plummet.
I don't know who he is and won't be able to watch if I wanted to, but I'm with LUnarossa,
'live and let live'.

Steve said...

Miss Behaving: yep me too. Even Richard Dawkins. I guess.

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Steve said...

Ethan Emma: that's very kind of you and I shall certainly consider your request.

French Fancy said...

We do have all his books back in the French house and Mr FF could quote chapter and verse from them. I read The God Delusion, agreed with it at the time but then promptly forgot most of the basic points he made.

He is a wonderful man though - I mean he bought Lalla a bichon frise as a present - proof of his goodness indeed.

Steve said...

FF: Mr FF is a wonderful man or Richard Dawkins is a wonderful man? Who bought the bichon? I'm confused. And possibly not wonderful.

French Fancy said...

Mr FF got me two bichons and RD got Lalla Ward(the old Dr Who heroine to whom he is married) a bichon.

Two men, three bichons, one a genius and one okay but a bit too strident sometimes

Steve said...

FF: What?! Richard Dawkins is married to Lalla Ward and he doesn't believe in God?! There you go: the man is crazy!

A Write Blog said...

I think you are largely right.

The human race would be no different if we did away with religion. It would just find something else to replace it.

I'm an atheist but that's me.

Many seem to need a structure that they can attach themselves to and close their minds. Religion is just one structure and at least religion can try to get the best out of people.

Not all the alternatives do this.

LöstJimmy said...

...what he's married to Lalla Ward???
My word!
He can't be a heathen now can he?

Steve said...

AWB: most administrations certainly don't!

LöstJimmy: my point exactly. Surely some kind of divine intervention must have thrown them together.

Gappy said...

I like this post. I like what you say about so called 'good' and 'bad' people. Everyone has the capacity for both good and evil - sometimes entire communities can lose their minds to badness - just look at Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

However I have much more time for Richard Dawkins than you. I realise that his anger and 'zealotry' can be off-putting, but ultimately the truth is on his side. He can prove what he is saying to be true, whereas followers of religion and spiritualism cannot. There lies the essential difference.

Steve said...

Gappy: but Confuscious he say that proof is not truth; they are too totally different things. I think religion can teach us a lot of truths about humanity and life, whether or not you believe in a deity. Religions after all the result of many wise men and many wise thoughts - centuries of them. We dismiss them at our peril just as we follow them blindly at our peril.

Gappy said...

But if proof not be the benchmark for truth, then anybody could just peddle any old bullshit. And they do.

Steve said...

Gappy: good argument. And I don't have an answer for it other than it is faith that moves mountains, whereras proof tends to keep them rooted to the spot. ;-)

MrsW said...

I used to feel exactly the same about Dawkins. In fact, when reading The Blind Watchmaker I felt if anything that he made a case for a Creator given the absolute wonder, complexity and downright unlikelihood of our evolution. Then I gave myself a bloody good shake and remembered that we are not unlikely, how can we be? We are here.

Despite being an atheist myself I too used to feel Dawkin's bordered on atheistic zealotry, that he should just accept that differing viewpoints can co-exist. But more and more I see religion attacking science. Half of Americans believe that man was created "as is" sometime in the last 10,000 years. Despite a whole body of evidence they reject evolution. ID is being taught as an alternative to evolution in schools in this country as if it's a valid science. The whole mechanism of scientific query, that hypotheses can only be disproved and until such time as they are we must accept them and continue to scrutinize them, is under threat.

I think his passion to protect science from the mumbo-jumbo pseudo-science being spouted by religions as fact is absolutely necessary. Whilst it is all but impossible to fight against such blindness as "Evolution can't be true because I BELIEVE it can't" someone has to. Surely?

Steve said...

MrsW: I think any kind of zealotry - whatever the motivation behind it - is bad. It blinds people not just from the right other people have to their own point of view but also to that most fundamental of all human moral requirements: tolerance.

MrsW said...

Ah but that's my point - I no longer consider Dawkin's passionate defence of the scientific principle zealotry. I think that making up a pseudo-science such as ID based on nonsense and lies, and using it to attack accepted scientific theories that stand up to rigorous scrutiny cannot be tolerated on the grounds that everyone has a right to believe whatever rubbish they want. When it comes to biology, physics, geology, paleontology or any other science flippantly dismissed in fundamental christian schools the world over, all points of view are not equally valid. Therein lies the madness of the Spaghetti Monster :)

Imagine if I started telling all the children in your neighbourhood that you torture kittens for fun. Would it be fine for me to hold that belief and teach it to others despite any evidence you could produce to the contrary simply because I faithfully "believed" it and had the right to have my "belief" recognised and tolerated?

I do like the way your post is making me think here. Sometimes I look at the fence and wonder if it's comfy - I need a kick up the butt to remind me which side I belong on! :)

Steve said...

MrsW: how did you find out about the kitten thing? It was only once and the kitten asked for it... honest! ;-)

I think it does us good to be challenged mentally; to review our beliefs - or even to review what we think we believe in as there is always a difference between the two. As for ID, I don't know enough about it to comment with any confidence but anything that discounts empirical fact seems counter-evolutionary in itself!