Monday, January 16, 2006


The Root of All Evil? Professor Richard Dawkins presents the second of two programmes discussing why he believes religion to be the most dangerous concept in the world. He explains how faith schools can give children a fundamentally flawed education, and demonstrates how ethics can be traced to man's evolutionary past. He also talks to an American pastor who stages hard-hitting “Hell House” morality plays.

(From Guardian TV guide)

I only caught the end of this programme last week, but this time made sure I saw the whole thing. It was both hard-hitting and, at times, incredibly funny. Dawkins bashing out his typical atheistic scientific viewpoint, and interviewing religious believers who were never going to agree with him. Of course, it was totally one-sided, with numerous assertions that religious ideas were simply 'false' or 'disproven', not to mention his employing his own morally-loaded propoaganda-speak, when he spoke about how religious morality 'poisoned' children...

That said, he raises some serious points. A lot of the Old Testament stuff, and even some of the New, was pretty scary. (Though I think the real problem are religious conservatives who try to impose these views on others, the trouble is morality is essentially other-regarding, and can't be entirely private, as most religious faith can). He also raised good points about how children are brought up - practically brain-washed or indoctrinated - in certains religious cultures. I really think all religious people - and probably atheists too - should have a 'crisis of faith' at some point in their early adulthood, so they can reach genuine convictions of their own.

On the other hand, it's not clear whether Dawkins thinks religious education is bad because it deprives children of a choice what to believe, or because it leads them to believe the wrong thing. He obviously has a lot of faith in science, though I don't think anything has yet disproven religion. (Though it might have shown certain Bible stories have to be taken metaphorically. I think Dawkins was unduly dismissive of this 'cherry-picking' approach to the Bible, failing to realise that any understanding of such a rich text is necessarily an interpretation - probably even more so when it's in translation)

The real difficulty is I just don't see how children can really be given an 'agnostic' upbringing. It's the familiar problem of multi-culturalism, that to experience some ways of life fully, one needs to be brought up in them, and thus one can never have a rational, mature choice about them. Ultimately, I guess the question comes down to who does less harm if wrong. If Dawkins is wrong, then his recommendations could result in many more people sinning and going to hell. IF the Christians are wrong then, provided they don't impose their views on others, I don't see that anyone is really harmed. However, it seems, particularly in a post-9/11 world, that liberalism and religion are no longer easy bedfellows.


At 7:22 pm, Blogger Rob Jubb said...

I heard, whilst cooking, a little bit of the first one, and while Dawkins is basically on the right side of the debate and all that, he's just so relentless hectoring. You want to shout at him 'not everyone is obliged to agree with you about everything, and even if they were, you could approach them with deliberately trying to antagonise them'. Gah.

At 10:29 pm, Blogger Ben said...

First I was agreeing with you, now you're agreeing with me...

Though your comments on religion in your thesis were hardly conciliatory!


Post a Comment

<< Home