Professor Richard Dawkins on religion
Religion is a topic that I feel quite strongly about, so much so in fact that I don't talk about it much with other people as I know it will just lead to arguments and ultimately people who have religious beliefs just not talking to me anymore. So it's fair to say I don't talk about it, don't discuss it much with people and try not to get into debates about it. However I will watch other people talk about it, and so the two part show on Channel 4 starting this coming Monday is up my street.
In fact the trailer for the show struck an amazing chord with me and this Professor Richard Dawkins managed to put into words what I've always thought but just never quite grasped.
I've never believed in a being that is solely responsible and has control for everything in the Universe, and I've never understood those people who do. However, for those people who do have religion I have been accepting and understanding of their choices, and I've not challenged them beyond a healthy debate.
Yet it all seems wrong to me. Once I began to understand life and myself I just couldn't see why people would hold onto these beliefs and why they became so impassioned about them to the point of anger and, in more extreme cases, violence.
It's almost as if people use religion as a help to get them through life when they couldn't get through it themselves, often being described as a crutch, a crutch of belief.
There's also those people who use it as an excuse in their life, to pass responsibility for their life, and the decisions and events within it, onto a figure of belief, an all powerful figure, anything but themselves.
There's another group I've witnessed in my life, those that use religion as an excuse for exclusion, segregation, and ultimately for violence. You can see it in football supporting, in marriages and broken families, in troubled areas, in genocide and in wars.
Having a set of ideals which you follow in life seems a much more attractive proposition. These could be anything you want, but they would be guidelines for how you should behave and treat others in life. I've always found that idea much more attractive than any religion. Interestingly, if you remove that concept from religion then all I see left are the issues above, and that leaves it looking far from positive.
VO: Irrational militant faith is back on the march.
The time has come for people of reason to say enough is enough.
VO: Religion is overtaking science, evolution is under threat.
The God of the Old Testament has got to be petty, vindictive, unjust.
VO: Richard Dawkins argues that for the sake of humanity we need to reject all religions.
With these thoughts always in my mind I saw the trailer for the two part show on Channel 4 called Root of All Evil?. The first part is shown on Monday the 9th at 20:00 and is entitled The God Delusion. The second part, The Virus of Faith, shown on Monday the 16th of January, again at 20:00.
I was amazed at the comments on the trailer, that someone had the guts to speak up and suggest such things, things I seemed to agree with although for slightly differing reasons.
The next time I was on the Internet I searched for Professor Dawkins and found a wealth of results, then I came to a couple of his articles which had more impact on me than the trailer itself. The first of these articles was called Religion's Misguided Missiles, a somewhat controversial title, but also extremely attention grabbing.
He talks about the development of a perfect missile for the use of terrorists, and comes to the conclusion that the best is a human being willing to sacrifice their own life for the sake of their cause, and that to do that takes the promise of something after death that is better than life, and that takes religion.
...You'd have to get them young, though. Feed them a complete and self-consistent background mythology to make the big lie sound plausible when it comes. Give them a holy book and make them learn it by heart. Do you know, I really think it might work. As luck would have it, we have just the thing to hand: a ready-made system of mind-control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations. Millions of people have been brought up in it. It is called religion and, for reasons which one day we may understand, most people fall for it (nowhere more so than America itself, though the irony passes unnoticed)...
...To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.
He makes a strong point, and a very clear one. I would recommend reading the full article as it's extremely well written and quite a refreshing viewpoint.
I was surprised reading this, surprised that someone actually had the balls to stand up and speak such open truths, and it resonated with something I just saw on television over Christmas, something totally unconnected that my workmate Louise reminded me of. She suggested it's just the same as Derren Brown's recent programme called The Heist. A programme where he took mid level managers in for a days seminar which taught them some of the techniques that he himself uses and how they can help in the Business world. During this day, through simple suggestion, he increased their aggressiveness and focused their attention on the idea of robbing a Security Van. One week later, while they were travelling to the next meeting, three of them did just that, and against all their normal impulses they held a toy gun to the Guard, screamed at him to get down, took the money and ran. Stunning, and all through the power of suggestion. Afterwards the people had to be chased, cornered and calmed down before being deprogrammed. It all seems strangely similar.
Everything I believed about religion, and particularly organised religion, was here. It controls its members for its own cause, whatever that be. A group of people with their own personal agendas organise the Religion and control the way in which the members act and behave through orders from their God. It's all through history, and very apparent in the biggest cult of them all, Christianity.
I've read some books and articles on the history of the Papacy and the Church as we know it today, and the history is filled with corruption and genocide in the name of God. Some of the events are completely shocking and match even those from Somalia, Bosnia and even Rwanda. The founding of the Papacy was built on men fighting for power and recognition above all others, and the Crusades were more an excuse to rape and rob lands of their wealth and natural resources. None of this could be viewed as the will of any God.
It all started to ring home for me, and when I read the second article the feelings conveyed hit the mark with me. The article talks about the problems that the author sees Religion bringing to the World, and it does it in a very eloquent and convincing way.
...Religion...has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, "Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? — because you're not!"...
...Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe... no, that's holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we've just got used to doing so? There's no other reason at all, it's just one of those things that crept into being, and once that loop gets going it's very, very powerful...Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be....
...My last vestige of 'hands off religion' respect disappeared as I watched the "Day of Prayer" in Washington Cathedral. Then there was the even more nauseating prayer-meeting in the New York stadium, where prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonation and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place. It is time for people of intellect, as opposed to people of faith, to stand up and say, "Enough!" Let our tribute to the September dead be a new resolve: to respect people for what they individually think, rather than respect groups for what they were collectively brought up to believe...
...It is not an exaggeration to say that religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labelling device in history. Who killed your father? Not the individuals you are about to kill in 'revenge'. The culprits themselves have vanished over the border. The people who stole your great-grandfather's land have died of old age. You aim your vendetta at those who belong to the same religion as the original perpetrators. It wasn't Seamus who killed your brother, but it was Catholics, so Seamus deserves to die 'in return'. Next, it was Protestants who killed Seamus so let's go out and kill some Protestants 'in revenge'. It was Muslims who destroyed the World Trade Center so let's set upon the turbaned driver of a London taxi and leave him paralysed from the neck down...
...if it had not been for religion, the very concept of a Jewish State would have had no meaning in the first place. Nor would the very concept of Islamic lands, as something to be invaded and desecrated. In a world without religion, there would have been no Crusades; no Inquisition; no anti-Semitic pogroms (the people of the diaspora would long ago have intermarried and become indistinguishable from their host populations); no Northern Ireland Troubles (no label by which to distinguish the two 'communities', and no sectarian schools to teach the children historic hatreds — they would simply be one community.)...
...The resilience of this form of hereditary delusion is as astonishing as its lack of realism. It seems that control of the plane which crashed near Pittsburgh was probably wrestled out of the hands of the terrorists by a group of brave passengers. The wife of one of these valiant and heroic men, after she took the telephone call in which he announced their intention, said that God had placed her husband on the plane as His instrument to prevent the plane crashing on the White House. I have the greatest sympathy for this poor woman in her tragic loss, but just think about it! As my (also understandably overwrought) American correspondent who sent me this piece of news said:
"Couldn't God have just given the hijackers a heart attack or something instead of killing all those nice people on the plane? I guess he didn't give a flying fuck about the Trade Center, didn't bother to come up with a plan for them"
This is indeed an interesting point he makes regarding those events of September the 11th, and something I've heard mentioned by a British comedian regarding the recent Hurricane devastation at New Orleans. He commented on how people refer to the Hurricane as an Act of God, and then after the event people gathered together to pray to God, the very creature who apparently caused the whole mess! It's funny to think the comedian Jimmy Carr caught hold of this idea as well and turned it to satire rather than serious social comment.
It all harks back to that very short quote he gives at the start of the advert for the show tonight. "Good people do good things and evil people do evil things, but for good people to do evil things it takes religion". I knew that this had struck a chord when I read it, and now after reading through these articles I'm even more convinced.
What will be interesting now is seeing what happens after posting this article, can this become a level headed and intelligent discussion where my view is different to others, or will I be labelled and find that people who used to talk to me now don't because of their beliefs? I think that will be a very interesting moment, and I expect that some people will take offence to what I have written, and irrationally so.
This is my belief though, and until now I had never really been able to articulate it so well. Thank you Mr Dawkins. I shall watch your programmes with anticipation and with the hope of much more revelation.
One final point, my spell checker did not recognise any of the names of religions written here...isn't that a nice thought?