Is Religion the Root of all Evil? Part 2

Posted in Janine's blog on Tue, 17/01/2006 - 11:29,

My thoughts on the second part of Richard Dawkins' Channel 4 programme. (By the way, did anyone else notice that there were very few adverts during this programme, and would anyone like to speculate as to why?)

In part 2, the Prof tackles religious schools. “There is something exceedingly odd about the existence of sectarian religious schools. If we hadn’t got used to it over the centuries, we would find it bizarre.” Religion, he says, is alone in being allowed to define children by their parents’ beliefs – you don’t hear, for example, of “Labour children” or “Tory children” in the way you hear about “Muslim children” or “Christian children”.

When schools teach creationism as truth – that the world was created in six days, 5,000 years ago, more recently than when most archaeologists agree that the agricultural revolution took place! - it is miseducation, “innocent children being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods”.

So far, so good.

He points out that there are 7,000 ‘faith schools’ in Britain, and that is set to increase, with more than half of the new Academies expected to be sponsored by religious organisations.

But unfortunately, he goes no further in discussing government policy, or mainstream ‘faith schools’, and instead takes the path of least resistance and takes up the cudgels against private, ‘extreme’ religious schools.

It was a sorely missed opportunity to argue with those who agree that the ‘extreme’ (I dislike that word, for these reasons) version is bad, but would defend mainstream ‘faith schools’ on the grounds that they do teach science, don’t teach creationism, teach kids about different religions, don’t really force it down people’s throats, get good exam results etc. You’d have to look elsewhere for a good argument on this.

Dawkins interviews Rabbi Gluck from North London, who presents the indoctrination of children as the right of communities to pass on their culture and traditions. Dawkins also tells us about Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), in which there is no R.E. because every subject is taught in a ‘Christian’ way (Noah’s Ark figures in the geography syllabus, health education informs pupils that AIDS is the wages of sin).

Adrian Hawkes, of the Phoenix Academy, argues that if there is no god, then there is no lawgiver, and therefore no reason for anything to be considered right or wrong. Professor Dawkins rightly expresses astonishment that you would do good things just to please god, rather than because they were good things. He might have mentioned (but didn’t) that democracy is a lawgiver in the absence of god.

Dawkins went on to expound his idea that religious superstition is a dangerous virus, passed on by clerics, teachers and parents. Maybe that’s a useful analogy, I’m not sure. But if it is, let’s take it further. Viruses are transmitted from person to person in ways which medical science can explain. But the ways in which they are passed on – and the effect they have on individuals – is also strongly influenced by the social conditions in which they live. Viruses spread more quickly, and harm more gravely, in conditions of poverty, inadequate housing, poor nutrition, lack of freedom and democratic accountability, and lack of access to medical services. I reckon that religious superstition does too, but Dawkins does not address this.

There was an interesting interview with a woman to tries to help people recover from childhoods terrorised by religion (conducted, correct me if I am wrong, in the lovely Clissold Park). There was a witty expose of the Bible’s claims to be a moral code, when in fact its Old Testament at times advocates rape, human sacrifice, and killing family members who try to convince you to follow other gods; and its New Testament introduces St. Paul’s “nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin”.

There was also some horrifying stuff from the USA about ‘Hellhouses’ – theatrical performances designed to terrify you into following God – and the murder of doctors who carry out abortions. As a thought-on-the-side, I wondered how a country which has these things, and has so many millions of ‘believers’, also made the excellent CSI (premise: evidence is everything) its favourite TV show.

We did have an interview with a liberal cleric, Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries, who Dawkins takes to task for ‘cherry-picking’ the Bible. And a thought-provoking discussion about “how science reveals the true origins of human morality” – through “altruistic genes”, Dawkins argues.

At the end of two hours TV, what is my overall view of all this?

Dawkins is right to counterpose science to religion. But to me, his failing is that he counterposes only science to religion.

At the end of last night’s programme, Dawkins returns to the theme with which he opened last week: “The here and now is not something to be endured before some eternal life. The here and now is all we have got. Atheism is life-affirming in a way that religion can never be.” Amen to that, as they say.

Life is beautiful, he says. Quite right. But what he does not say is that life does not look so beautiful if you live in a slum, or under military occupation, or in fear, or if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if you are exploited or discriminated against.

Leon Trotsky said something more complete that Dawkins does: “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.” Dawkins’ atheism allows him to appreciate that life is beautiful, but he says nothing of the need to cleanse it of anything other than religious superstition, and in doing so, weakens his attempts even to do that.

I reviewed part one here.

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/01/2006 - 19:53

As with part one, the empahsis on the "extremist" fringes was not helpful. On various occasions throughout both parts, Dawkins suggested that such people sat on an unborken spectrum with more moderate believers, perhaps even constituted the logical endpoint of faith. I don't think he really managed to prove that though.

I thought the last twenty-or-so minutes were by far the strongest. The discussion with Richard Harries was interesting and much more relevant given that such people are the kind of believers we are most likely to meet (at least I hope that's the case). I really liked the bits about the immanence of morality as a counterpoint to the religious idea that it needs to be imposed externally. It's an idea which I think is potentially very liberating.

I still think the show was a missed opportunity. There's a seemingly endless stream of shows extolling the virtues of faith, but very little putting the case for atheism. Indeed, I can't think of a comparable show in recent times. I doubt it's won atheism many new converts. Pity.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/01/2006 - 17:31

I think Dawkins sets up a series of straw men, only too easy to knock down. I guess the Left is happy to go along with the illusion that religion is simple fantasy and full of stupid notions. Yet asserting something is so does not make it true.
For example, Janine refers to: 'St. Paul’s “nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin”' Well how is the idea that, if i may crudely summarise, that there is some way to break free from a cycle of evil 'sado-masochistic'? There is nothing sadistic or masochistic in the idea, whether you agree or disagree, of atonement.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/01/2006 - 13:38

Lots of men have committed evil acts..maybe they are the root of all evil? Or, how about human beings? Maybe we should commit mass suicide.
My point..hate is the root of all evil. And every race, every type of person who hates will find any reason to practice it. Surely we're smart enough by now to figure something as small as that out. And maybe then we will finally stop attacking everyone who is different.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/02/2006 - 13:05

(Sorry, I couldn't work out how to log in)

Love of money is "the root of all evil" (St Paul).

Richard Dawkins said a great deal that many Christians would applaud - straw targets, as one writer says. How many Christians in UK think it is OK to kill someone for supposedly breaking a Bible rule? None, I hope: that is totally opposite to everything Jesus stands for.

However, one of Richard's repeated themes was simply wrong: Christianity is not "blind faith"; it is no more blind than his insistence that evolution is "fact". Yes, microevolution is fact, easily seen and repeatable, but surely no scientist believes that macroevolution is fact: it cannot be replicated, so it is a hypothesis. It is scientists' interpretation of data; perhaps one day RD will be faced with a professor who turns his theory upside down: I hope he will go and shake his hand and congratulate him.

Christianity is rational and is based on historical evidence backed up by archaeological findings. Many people have set out to prove Christianity to be untrue and have not only failed but they have been totally convinced of its truth: some have written books about it. It would be interesting to know if anybody who set out on that mission did succeed. It shouldn't be that difficult: all you have to prove is that Jesus was not crucified OR that he did not die on the cross OR that he was not buried OR that he did not rise again in the body. In fact, the evidence in favour of the truth of those events is overwhelming, but it is "historical" evidence, which Dawkins, a scientist, may not understand or appreciate, even though we accept without question many historical events with less evidence for them than exists for Jesus's death and resurrection.

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