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Professor Richard Dawkins on religion

Monday 9 January 2006 | Written by Richard Brunton | Life : The World | Comments (24)

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.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things, but for good people to do evil things it takes religion.

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.
Professor Richard Dawkins - Channel 4 trailer

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.

Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this - it's a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn't we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards?...

...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.
Richard Dawkins - Religions Misguided Missiles

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.

"To blame Islam for what happened in New York is like blaming Christianity for the troubles in Northern Ireland!" Yes. Precisely. It is time to stop pussyfooting around. Time to get angry. And not only with Islam...The late Douglas Adams put it with his customary good humour, in an impromptu speech in 1998 (slightly abridged):

...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"
Richard Dawkins

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?

Comments

Matt Adcock
09-01-2006
08:58

Hi Rich, interesting stuff!!
Would be interested to know what views you've read up from the other side i.e. those who have embraced Christianity like C. S. Lewis - confirmed aethist who 'found God'... etc.
As that other great atheist Friedrich Nietzsche said:
“A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!!”
And despite my twisted love of violent movies, horror films and sci fi nonsense I have to confess that I'm a born again Christian...
I am also a big fan of Dawkins (and Jimmy Carr for that matter) as there is nothing I like more than hearing the differing views of another (that's probably why most of my friends are non Christians and so many Christians I know are complete assholes - but that's also probably another story anyway).
So, just for your consideration - I think God must be completely gutted at the evil that has been perpetrated in the name of religion but without wanting to sound glib - if you give man free will, the capacity for evil and a selfish (at heart) heart then you have to accept that everything is 'fair game' when it comes to being f*cked up... You can't create a world of freedom and then 'force' people to worship you, and man's nature being what it is, any differing viewpoint is liable to create bloodshed somewhere down the line - it doesn't have to be religion, it could be football teams, it's an intrinsic part of our 'tribal' response to outsiders etc...
At the end of the day I believe that God is there and to believe in him or not - It's a choice...
Sorry about ranting, now I'm off to watch SURFACE on ITV2 which looks great and is getting 'hot buzz' from the US. And as a Christian I think links nicely to the "dragons of God" - 'Leviathans' or 'Tanin' which at times seems to refer to a magnificent, mythological beast of the sea, powerful, mighty, and wild beyond words, yep it's there the Hebrew Bible... and God said that it was good...


Richard
09-01-2006
09:31
[TypeKey Profile Page]

What you've just described thereMatt is something to which I have no issues with myself, that of personal belief. You're an open minded person who doesn't seem to be blindly following faith but accept free will and choice.

What's wrong with worshipping something or someone in your garage for example, would that something or someone be offended and rack fire on your soul because you didn't do it through a hierarchical structured network of franchised locations governed by an elite group of humans?

Dawkins made some amazing points this evening, which I will write about in due course, and he certainly showed some serious wrongs tied in with organised Religions.

Colin Hardie
10-01-2006
01:54

Good article in todays online Guardian

http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/profile/story/0,11109,1682655,00.html

Richard
10-01-2006
04:10
[TypeKey Profile Page]

Cheers for that Colin, really interesting read there. I'm planning a follow up post after I watch the second episode and might just grab a comment from there too.

Richard
11-01-2006
09:25
[TypeKey Profile Page]

Sorry Matt, forgot to mention. My main source (and forgive me I'm at work so I'll check again tonight) was a book called the Pope and the Papacy. I've read various other references about the Crusades, Inquisition, Knights Templar, etc. but that is one of the main reads I've had that's given me my reference for the history of the Papacy and the organisation of the Church.

hap
20-01-2006
06:02

While there are a lot of points in your post that I might disagree with, I think limiting to one extremely important one is best. Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics. As it stands, it appears as though you are limiting your sources to offer a view of Christians that fits your argument. We are not all Catholics. As a Christian, I see the Pope as nothing more than an elected official. Maybe you should research those like me before forming an opinion on Christians in general.

Steve
20-01-2006
11:02

Richard,

Fascinating article you have written and I also saw some of Richard Dawkins progs.

The thing that helps me is to separate out the activities of religion (which I loathe) from the relationship that I have with God through Jesus. I have stopped trying to fight for "christianity" and instead focussed on this relationship and its amazing how this removes any sense of agression towards others. In fact I no longer feel any threat from religions including Islam as I am not trying to win with "my" religion.

Instead I know that Jesus proved himself to be God's son (ref. all the historical references to him, as depicted in the film Passion of the Christ for example although final reference is of course the accurate historical record not the film!) and He has died for me and that means I get eternity in paradise - Sounds BRILL to me!

Keep writing - I like it Rich!

Steve

Richard
27-01-2006
05:00
[TypeKey Profile Page]

Thanks for the comment Steve, out of everyone I know it was you reading this that concerned me the most!

Russell
01-02-2006
08:33

Richard,

As a man of faith it encourages me to see this issue is at least something you are thinking about. I have to agree with the previous posters. Man can mess up most any noble or righteous institution. Free will is gift we all have. Even looking at the Bible it’s filled with men and women that made “wrong/immoral” choices. I guess that’s why I think there is a beauty to Christianity that most people don’t see. Salvation comes to us not for who we are or what we’ve done, but better said, salvation comes in spite of who we are and in spite of what we have done.

Your friend Steve said it well. That whole us vs. them thing is all wrong. That was the beauty of Jesus - he accepted everyone as they were. Richard, you should really read CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which is considered a classic book. Better yet, another great book that made a case for Jesus was Josh McDowell’s More Than A Carpenter. Richard, that book made a lot of sense to me when I read it and I would be surprised if you read it and it didn’t question your views a little bit.

Anyways I’m glad that you now that you have found a person that can clearly articulate how you feel about your belief system. Now it’s time to challenge that opinion and see how it holds.

Richard
01-02-2006
02:25
[TypeKey Profile Page]

"Now it’s time to challenge that opinion and see how it holds."

That's an extremely interesting comment Russell, and one that makes me look back through the entire article and wonder if you have done this yourself. For it is entirely about belief.

Mine however is based on factual, proven knowledge, human condition and actual historically recorded and witnessed events in recent years - wars, terrorism, etc.

I'd be happy to read these books (currently wading through the 9/11 Commission Report and then I have a Movie Book to read and review, so it'll have to wait a little while) once I do though, I'll see if they change my mind or promote me to write something about it.

I also think there's a clear distinction to be made between organised religion and personal belief. It goes back to my comments a few steps back about being in your garage...I have strong feelings towards organised religion. Personal belief and faith is one thing, but the organisation of that by man is entirely another. Note that by belief and faith I am not specifically stating anything regarding a God or any other figure of religion, I just simply mean belief and faith.

James
02-02-2006
06:23

Hey Rich,

Dawkins is a fantastically articulate speaker and even better writer. He is (in my opinion) the second greatest popularizer of scientific understanding in the 20th century (but only second to Harvard's late Stephen Jay Gould). If you enjoy his short work, I'd really suggest you dig into his longer book-length bits, they offer more substance than his soundbites that often leave the rest of us wishing for so much more! Dawkins has been one of my greatest literary and conceptual interests for quite awhile and what I find neatest about him is that his work has seen quite a decisive move over his long and notable career. He is certainly a top notch scientist and a great representative of an increasingly frustrated portion of society. Hands down his book "The Selfish Gene" is one of the best and most readable science books of the past few decades. I would unreservably recommend his works (especially the longer ones) for consideration in a self-consideration of religion, science and society.

But Dawkins is actually very unpopular at his own institution (Oxford) at the moment and his ideas have recently come under heavy assails for not being very well thought through (not his science, which is above reproach, but rather his thoughts on society and Christianity). Fellow Oxford professors Keith Ward and Alister McGrath, along with the leading research palentologist in the U. K., Cambridge's Simon Conway Morris, have all made apt note that while his science (which he has tragically not undertaken reseach in for several years) is inspirational, his writings on religion are lacking the same careful and thorough basis. Former Oxford Professor of Philosophy (now at University of Reading)Anthony Flew, the most noted philosophical atheist in the Western world for the past few decades has even said that he has come to see his views on religion, which he formerly and publically shared and professed with Prof. Dawkins, were neither intellectually sufficient nor scientifically able to do without the contribution of a metaphysical understanding of the universe. It was a big deal in the news that Flew was first reconsidering and then dynamically shifted his view. Now he believes in a creator. Yikes.

So I have two suggestions. If you really like Dawkins, read some of his longer works (they really aren't that long). You might really enjoy The Blind Watchmaker. But also read some of these very interesting recent criticisms. The absolute best among the later group of these is Oxford Biophysicist and Historical Theologian Alister McGrath's "Dawkin's God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life" (Blackwell, 2005). McGrath is the most authoritative and actively publishing theologian alive today. He spent 25 years following the works of Dawkins and this is his internationally acclaimed response. It has been given thumbs up by everybody who's involved in the discussion and Dawkins himself has stated that he is accurately dealt with in the work and may not be able to respond to McGrath's criticisms. He is currently (or was at last I heard) ceasing any new works of note (other than some warranted republishings of his classics) to consider and interact with the implications of these criticisms.

Simon Conway Morris has a less direct series of responses in his work "The Crucible of Creation" (Oxford, ??) Also really fun are some of the similar works of Former Cambridge Theoretical Physicist and Theologian John Polkinghorne and Oxford Philosopher Richard Swineburne.

I hope this is an encouragement to really digest Dawkins and his impact if you are interested. The devil is in the details.

Mark
24-02-2006
06:51

I am not a philosopher or a theologian - more of a social scientist in my practice. The problem that I see is not one of religion - beliefs, values, ethics - per se, but rather of politicized religion and control. The major Abrahamic religions, as they have become politicized to a greater or lesser degree throughout history, have been the cause of so much of what has been evil throughout the annals of human existence, the resulting actions of which have been unanimously against the basic precepts of their respective faiths and creeds. When taken back to the basic tenets of faith, ethics, values and espoused behaviours, there is much to admire as a blueprint for an orderly and peaceful society.

One might legitimately ask why one requires the existence of a deity to effect such an ethical blueprint. My suggestion for an approach - not an answer - is that the deity him/her/itself may not be necessary, but metaphysics probably is.

Richard
25-02-2006
12:33
[TypeKey Profile Page]

Hey Mark, great comment.

I think that the idea of politicised religion and control is the exact same as the term I use, organised religion. Organising the idea of self belief into an entity that places a structure of human management underneath the figure of belief is the problem. The human side clouds everything else and causes all this evil and hatred.

Removing that level of human management and organisation shouldn't be a problem, for could the figure at the head of the religion not accept that individuals can worship them in their own way, rather then obeying rules created by a human management structure beneath them?

So I think the deity is necessary in the individuals belief, but the enforced structure and rules from the human management layer beneath them is most definitely not.

JCC
25-02-2006
09:30

Regarding unquestionable beliefs: 'National Security' is to government as 'The Sacred' is to religion.

chris Jenord
26-02-2006
04:21

Great article. I wanted to reply to dawkins with these thoughts.

Thank you so much for your courageous programme ‘the root of all evil?’
This letter, unlike many I expect, contains no vitriol! Far from it. However, it is not solely a letter of congratulations. Your programme got me thinking!

I guess, given that I am a science teacher and an atheist, you were already preaching to the converted but your programme left me feeling enlightened and at the same time enraged (by the views expressed by some of your interviewees) but more than anything else, scared. Scared because human nature has a fine track record at delusion, and an even better one for violence (especially when such delusions are challenged!). Fervently held delusion is such a sorry state and yet, as you say, where do you go with it? Deluded people are by definition extremely hard to reach. However, this leaves most of our planet’s children held down and inevitably sucked in by fearful and hateful religious agendas. I guess, seeing as we are just products of natural selection it is incredible that we have any rationality at all, but after your programme somehow it felt a fragile thing in need of careful nurturing. Old ideologies are always at their most dangerous when threatened and your programme has dealt a long overdue right hook to several billion devoted deluded souls! I guess us atheists can expect a bit of backlash!

However, as a school teacher I have perhaps an interesting insight upon the very period of our lives when young people take on board or reject the norms and attitudes of society.

It is here that hope lies. Education has such a powerful potential. But for what exactly? It is our direction beyond disbelief I am questioning.

Your programme was largely about challenging the madness of religion, and of course defending the credibility and rationality of science. As a teacher of 15 years now, I have seen the way the young minds in my care deal with the big challenges of adolescence. They journey from what they ‘are told’ towards what they consider to be their own individual views. This journey is often wild and fraught with conflict and insecurity. Perhaps human civilisation as a whole is in some sort of analogous teenage state, struggling to come of age and so tending to be vulnerable and cranky at best, downright dangerous at worst. So what is my point? Well teenagers need boundaries, they need adults to cope with their outbursts and rebellion and then to ease them into independence. The carrot for them is the respect and power of being a grown up. If we are as a society still in this vulnerable phase, what is our carrot for growing up and becoming independent of God? No more ever lasting life, no clear rationale for morality. Everything is up for grabs, the void of atheism is at best unappealing, and at worst terrifying! In this country at least, Christianity is largely ebbing away it seems, but atheism offers no comfort. It is after all just a lack of belief.

Rationality seems so cold and empty compared to everlasting love! This is ‘our’ problem. If religion dwindles, partly as a result of our rational argument, then we might just need to expect some knocks and rebellion from those leaving the flock. And if this is the case then we may need to stick together without of course closing in on ourselves for protection. Is it merely our disbelief we have in common or can we do better than this? Science is not a religion, and can never hope to replace one. It is simply a tool. The ultimate tool perhaps, but nonetheless just a tool. Should we be trying to ‘replace’ religion anyway? Is that the whole point, that there is no replacement on offer? And yet we are naive if we fail to comprehend the fear our ‘void’ (and it is a void to them, in comparison) may generate. And we all know that fear begets hatred and violence. What I’m saying is that history tells some salutary lessons. Alongside creating programmes like yours we have a responsibility to have at least thought through carefully the consequences of the untenable position in which we may leave our religious audience. To emphasise my main point once again we need to be at the very least aware that, at present, what we can offer as a ‘consolation prize’ in return for their dismissal of faith is, in their eyes, pitiful or even horrifying (the Muslim you spoke to was clear how much he hated the atheist position).

It’s not that we shouldn’t challenge religion, more that perhaps in doing so we should be dishing out or at least working hard on why we should ALL be celebrating this coming of age. The question is what do we celebrate?! We can wax lyrical about the wonders of the universe but we have to engage with the feeling of futility atheism often arouses and our own deeply held fear of our own nature. If God isn’t in charge then we are, and if we are then ….oh my God help us! What, after all, will stop us just acting totally savagely if we loose God? This for me is the crux. Not much will really move until we confront this state of mind. The selfish gene, and our selfish nature leaves our audience wondering what’s in it for me to loose my faith? How do we make our point of view more appealing, but more importantly, less threatening? Our belief about our own nature needs some serious defending, and our lives without God need to be explored with hope and optimism.

Yours sincerely

Judy Williams
26-02-2006
07:05

Call me a simpleton, but do you think Dawkins has friends or ever laughs? He seems to be so DAMN serious! Besides being deaf..

forestflyer
26-02-2006
09:30

What a breath of fresh air to find reasonable people of all persuasions arguing calmly about religion and its alternatives, a rarity today in the US, anyway. I'm amazing myself at how passionate I'm getting about the way we're backtracking in this country into the kind of organized religion which reflects fear and superstition. Who would have thought we'd be in this place now after all the progress made as science has informed our ways of looking at reality.

I agree that the void is very often filled by other, just-as-useless creeds around personality or dogma, and that atheism can be unappealing and nihilistic. And also that a relationship with God is a worthy pursuit. But if we can assume a deity, personal or not, isn't it better to imagine the day when humans can jettison all the forms of organized religious b.s. and step into the freedom of a more truly personal, spiritual relationship with "God", independent of the exclusive nature of the Western religious traditions and their sub-groups? Each has its Books and traditions and ways, each claims a more-or-less exclusive channel to God, and they are all poor substitutes for direct and personal encounter with the spirit.

Perhaps religion is needed now, but it will be a good day, I believe, when we can walk away from it. This won't happen for a long, long time, but all progress in history took a long time. State religion is a massive danger but not inevitable, I think Dawkins would say. You can't look at the human situation and think we'll never evolve out of our dependencies. In today's world we've substantially got rid of overt slavery, and mass killings and rapes, and class systems and divine monarchies are much less acceptable now than in centuries past. The good old days of course weren't, unless you buy the vitriolic nonsense of fundamentalist preachers. Yes, the world is still a very horrible place, but the bar generally has been raised, and I hope will continue to be raised. And the way you raise it is to speak the truth, often the hard truth, and start to imagine that better future without religious ideologies claiming ultimately to be the only Way.

I hope economic exploitation will become unacceptable in the next century, and that a child starving in Darfur will be exactly as unacceptable as a starving child in Peoria. I know it seems like a long shot now, and the preachers in the Dawkins program would say it's impossible because humans are essentially full of original sin, and tend naturally toward "evil", and without their guiding hand are nothing but big children. This is essentially what Chris Jenord writes in the comment preceding this one. I know it often looks that way, and the mega-churches really would make you think that way, but I'm one of those who has more faith, though it is qualified by the experience of the 20th century.

I believe the third option to religion and atheism is a personal spirituality, and that if we survive into the future children can be encouraged with love to find their own unique relationship with the Divine, with or without community, perhaps borrowing from the beauty of the old traditions if so inspired, but without being forced to swallow the dogmas and superstitions of their ancestors.
Please see also my first-ever post at my blog.

Mr D Larson
30-03-2006
08:36

Dear Sir Richard Dawkins

The king of kings and the God of Gods
Invite you and the world to chalenge me
and my works. I have put inteligent
life and desing before you all. and
all fail by not supporting these,
but as g8 and presedents have to
deal with immedeate issues. And
will it to be there owen invetions.
ya only for the lack of funding and
support, all have not.
The power of creation is given
from the first part of the platform.
to G8 ect...

Should you like to be a top partisipant
advisor and supporter, for books and
courses new sciences and developments
Please feel free to support your owen
eternity.

Sincerly Mr D Larson
acesbrandy@msn.com

Richard
30-03-2006
09:30
[TypeKey Profile Page]

Wow! Normally I wouldn't publish such poorly written words as this, but it's just so incoherent I had to.

Susan Eynon-Williams
02-04-2006
10:41

I was absolutely horrified at the comments made on 'Root of all Evil.' How dare this supposedly intelligent man make such damaging comments about religion. Using words like 'virus,' and saying our children could be damaged by religion is outragious!! If he were to view statistics he would see that the vast majority of crimes are committed by Atheists. God preaches love not hate. Why does every solitary thing/event/happening have to be proven?! Its' one thing to disagree with the existence of God but another to insult those who display their love for their Heavenly Father.
I strongly suggest that Professor Dawkins stick to his science projects and leave the Theologians, who are highly intelligent beings, to what they know best!

jt
12-04-2006
08:15

Here's some statistic for Susan.

In the article "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look" by Gregory S. Paul, publish in the Journal of Religion and Society, 2005,

Paul compared census data against measures of societal health and conclulded, "In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies."

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

V
03-05-2006
05:12

I have just read Alister McGrath's book 'Dawkin's God' and was interested to read some of it's reviews. Other than the expected hysterical religious praise(about what exactly?), this was the most balanced and accurate:

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-04-19.html

Anyone who has read the book will find nothing to persuade them that McGrath's beliefs are actually anything more than Dawkins alledges - blind faith. It is impossible for anyone to escape this conclusion since no evidence to the contrary is provided. All that remains is a deconstruction of Dawkins' 'techniques' of argument. All very hollow.

Incidently Dawkin's has responded to the book, albeit briefly:

http://www.stnews.org/News-201.htm

Not sure if further refutation has been issued. I don't suppose it is neccessary.

donn coppens
17-05-2006
06:18

Fabulous and frightening.
As a recovering agnostic and newbie blogger I am always so delighted to discover fellow empiricists.

My mantra is that If you are too DIAGNOSTIC about Life You will DIE AGNOSTIC. As I researched the biblical underpinnings of faith I dug too deep and too far down, right through to the other side and back into the light of day.

I still struggle with guilt even ten years after being freed from the instant/ready made answers of the PenteTesticle world.

I know that it's ridiculous but the power of believing that you are connected to the Prime Mover of the Universe IS the single greatest weapon on Earth. I completely understand how the Security Van incident could have been orchestrated. History has proven time and time again that we manimals aren't that hard to manipulate.

Thank You so much for this avenue of enlightenment. I will mulch it over thoroughly and put it to good use over at homo escapeons.
The TRUTH shall make you free..isn't that ironic.

Crusader
01-10-2006
05:18
[TypeKey Profile Page]

After reading through some of the articles and messages on this site I cannot help getting the sense of having entered the territory of some (non)religious sect. Richard Dawkins is of course the self-appointed high-priest. As you open his books, a smell of moth-balls hangs in the air: the mothballs stuffed into the pockets of the dreary old post "enlightenment" arguments waiting in the closet for someone like Dawkins to come along and drag them out again.

It so happens that there are some very strong (not new of course) counter-arguments to Dawkins' tired old thesis that "Religion is the root of all evil". I know that I would be lynched if I dared to mention the evil done in the past under the sway of atheism. One or two evil atheists do not invalidate educated atheism as a source of right thinking and civilised behaviour any more than a few evil "Christians" invalidate the Christian faith as a foundation for civilised behaviour. (Although Dawkins himself appears to espouse the latter of these two propositions). Nevertheless it is pertinent to ask: which century in human cilvilisation has been the bloodiest? Most people would agree that it was the 20th century. The next question is: How much of the bloodshed and violence in the 20th century can actually be attributed, directly or indirectly, to the Christian faith? The answer is obvious, unless we argue that Stalin's massacres were actually the result of his having been at seminary to train for the priesthood rather than the result of his making himself the absolute arbiter of human life. Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung will maybe turn out to have been closet worshippers of God!

Let's now look at Britain and America in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries. It is of course true that "christian" tradespeople in both nations somehow found Biblical sanction for the slave trade. It was in their "interests" to read Scripture in that way, because DESPITE their religious rhetoric they were actually serving the same "god" as their unbelieving counterparts: Mammon (or even Moloch). But it is worth noting (and my sources are not Christian) as one reads about the abolition movement that virtually all the abolitionists (with some worthy exceptions) were energised and inspired by their unshakeable belief that all men and women were created equal, in the image of God, and therefore have equal dignity. Christians may not always have been very good at applying that creed but the principle of human dignity emphatically does not come into the creed proclaimed, unabashedly, by Richard Dawkins. "There is no moral purpose" in the universe, he claims. All there is rather is the “blind, pitiless indifference” of DNA sequences. Frankly I fail to see how that creed is likely to lead to anything but anarchy and despair. How can we then even see any difference between what is morally right and morally wrong let alone actually apply the former in preference to the latter? What is ironic is that Dawkins (to his credit) is actually quite moralistic, even "crusading" in his earnest denunciation of right-wing American politics and (less creditably) the "evil" inflicted by Christian parents who try to teach their children biblical principles. Isn't it obvious to everyone that he can't have his cake and eat it? If there is only a battle for prominence on the part of one DNA sequence over another how can he possibly denounce anyone? We don't condemn lions for savaging hyenas! Instinctual reflexes and behaviours, unless they can be held in check by something which is not itself an instinct, are not blameworthy, and nor are they praiseworthy. Those who destroy their fellow human beings in pursuit of some political (or indeed religious) end are no more to be denounced or praised than those who (like Wilberforce and Clarkson in the 19th century, or like Martin Luther King or Ghandi in the 20th) are prepared to sacrifice their reputation and their lives to defend the defenceless.

If atheism means espousing the materialistic reductionist creed that human beings are no more than a random assortment of DNA moleculles and of no greater worth than any other assortment (as Dawkins would have it), then surely it is "atheism" that must be denounced s "the root of all evil". Fortunately, however, many atheists (Dawkins included) are actually better than their philosophies!


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