"T¡me to Stand 1p

By B¡chard Dawk¡ns
DistinguishcJ 8ritish scicntist, outhcr onJ othcist RichorJ Dowkins, whc wos schcJulcJ tc
occcpt on "Empcrcr Hos Nc Clcthcs AworJ" cn Scpt. 22 ot thc FrccJcm Frcm Rcligicn
FcunJoticn ccnvcnticn, conccllcJ his oppcoroncc in light cj trovcl Jijjicultics ojtcr thc Scpt. 11
tcrrcrist ottocks ogoinst thc UnitcJ Stotcs.
Hc supplicJ on cxclusivc orticlc, rcprintcJ bclcw, which wos rcoJ ot thc FcunJoticn
ccnvcnticn in his stcoJ by ]omcs Cccrs, o prcjcsscr cj Agrcncmy ot thc Univcrsity cj
Thc cssoy is o jcllcw-up tc Dowkins' pcwcrjul orticlc, "Rcligicn's MisguiJcJ Missilcs,"
oppcoring in Thc GuorJion cn Scptcmbcr 15, 2001. Scc cxccrpt jcllcwing thc orticlc.
Writtcn jcr thc FrccJcm Frcm Rcligicn FcunJoticn (http.//www.jjrj.crg), MoJiscn, Wisccnsin,
Scptcmbcr 2001.
"To bIame ¡sIam Ior what happened In Þew York Is IIke bIamIng ChrIstIanIty Ior the troubIes In
Þorthern ¡reIand!" Yes. IrecIseIy. ¡t Is tIme to stop pussyIootIng around. TIme to get angry.
And not onIy wIth ¡sIam.
Those oI us who have renounced one or another oI the three "great" monotheIstIc reIIgIons
have, untII now, moderated our Ianguage Ior reasons oI poIIteness. ChrIstIans, jews and
MusIIms are sIncere In theIr beIIeIs and In what they IInd hoIy. We have respected that, even
as we have dIsagreed wIth It. The Iate ÐougIas Adams put It wIth hIs customary good humor, In
an Impromptu speech In 1998 (sIIghtIy abrIdged).
Þow, the InventIon oI the scIentIIIc method Is, ¡'m sure we'II aII agree, the most powerIuI
InteIIectuaI Idea, the most powerIuI Iramework Ior thInkIng and InvestIgatIng and
understandIng and chaIIengIng the worId around us that there Is, and It rests on the premIse
that any Idea Is there to be attacked. ¡I It wIthstands the attack then It IIves to IIght another
day and II It doesn't wIthstand the attack then down It goes. IeIIgIon doesn't seem to work IIke
that. ¡t has certaIn Ideas at the heart oI It whIch we caII sacred or hoIy or whatever. What It
means Is, "Iere Is an Idea or a notIon that you're not aIIowed to say anythIng bad about, you're
just not. Why not?--because you're not!" ¡I somebody votes Ior a party that you don't agree
wIth, you're Iree to argue about It as much as you IIke, everybody wIII have an argument but
nobody IeeIs aggrIeved by It. ¡I somebody thInks taxes shouId go up or down you are Iree to
have an argument about It. Ðut on the other hand II somebody says '¡ mustn't move a IIght
swItch on a Saturday,' you say, "¡ rcspcct that."
The odd thIng Is, even as ¡ am sayIng that, ¡ am thInkIng "¡s there an Orthodox jew here who Is
goIng to be oIIended by the Iact that ¡ just saId that?" Ðut ¡ wouIdn't have thought "Maybe
there's somebody Irom the IeIt wIng or somebody Irom the rIght wIng or somebody who
subscrIbes to thIs vIew or the other In economIcs" when ¡ was makIng the other poInts. ¡ just
thInk "IIne, we have dIIIerent opInIons." Ðut, the moment ¡ say somethIng that has somethIng
to do wIth somebody's (¡'m goIng to stIck my neck out here and say IrratIonaI) beIIeIs, then we
aII become terrIbIy protectIve and terrIbIy deIensIve and say "Þo, we don't attack that, that's
an IrratIonaI beIIeI but no, we respect It."
Why shouId It be that It's perIectIy IegItImate to support the Iabor party or the ConservatIve
party, IepubIIcans or Ðemocrats, thIs modeI oI economIcs versus that, MacIntosh Instead oI
WIndows--but to have an opInIon about how the !nIverse began, about who created the
!nIverse . . . no, that's hoIy? What does that mean? Why do we rIng-Ience that Ior any other
reason other than that we've just got used to doIng so? There's no other reason at aII, It's just
one oI those thIngs that crept Into beIng and once that Ioop gets goIng It's very, very powerIuI.
So, we are used to not chaIIengIng reIIgIous Ideas but It's very InterestIng how much oI a Iuror
IIchard creates when he does It! £verybody gets absoIuteIy IrantIc about It because you're not
aIIowed to say these thIngs. Yet when you Iook at It ratIonaIIy there Is no reason why those
Ideas shouIdn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow
between us that they shouIdn't be.
ÐougIas Is dead, but ¡ thInk he wouId joIn me In askIng peopIe now to stand up and break thIs
absurd taboo. My respect Ior the AbrahamIc reIIgIons went up In the smoke and chokIng dust
oI September 11th. The Iast vestIge oI respect Ior the taboo dIsappeared as ¡ watched the "Ðay
oI Irayer" In WashIngton CathedraI, where peopIe oI mutuaIIy IncompatIbIe IaIths unIted In
homage to the very Iorce that caused the probIem In the IIrst pIace. reIIgIon. ¡t Is tIme Ior
peopIe oI InteIIect, as opposed to peopIe oI IaIth, to stand up and say "£nough!" Iet our trIbute
to the dead be a new resoIve. to respect pccplc Ior what they IndIvIduaIIy think, rather than
respect grcups Ior what they were coIIectIveIy brought up to bclicvc.
ÞotwIthstandIng bItter sectarIan hatreds over the centurIes (aII too obvIousIy stIII goIng
strong), judaIsm, ¡sIam and ChrIstIanIty have much In common. ÐespIte Þew Testament
waterIng down and other reIormIst tendencIes, aII three pay hIstorIc aIIegIance to the same
vIoIent and vIndIctIve God oI ÐattIes, memorabIy summed up by Gore VIdaI In 1998.
The great unmentIonabIe evII at the center oI our cuIture Is monotheIsm. Irom a barbarIc
Ðronze Age text known as the OId Testament, three antI-human reIIgIons have evoIved--
judaIsm, ChrIstIanIty, and ¡sIam. These are sky-god reIIgIons. They are, IIteraIIy, patrIarchaI--
God Is the OmnIpotent Iather--hence the IoathIng oI women Ior 2,000 years In those countrIes
aIIIIcted by the sky-god and hIs earthIy maIe deIegates. The sky-god Is a jeaIous god, oI course.
Ie requIres totaI obedIence Irom everyone on earth, as he Is not just In pIace Ior one trIbe, but
Ior aII creatIon. Those who wouId reject hIm must be converted or kIIIed Ior theIr own good.
¡n The GuardIan oI 15th September, ¡ named beIIeI In an aIterIIIe as the key weapon that made
the Þew York atrocIty possIbIe. OI prIor sIgnIIIcance Is reIIgIon's deep responsIbIIIty Ior the
underIyIng hatreds that motIvated peopIe to use that weapon In the IIrst pIace. To breathe such
a suggestIon, even wIth the most gentIemanIy restraInt, Is to InvIte an onsIaught oI patronIzIng
abuse, as ÐougIas Adams noted. Ðut the Insane crueIty oI the suIcIde attacks, and the equaIIy
vIcIous though numerIcaIIy Iess catastrophIc 'revenge' attacks on hapIess MusIIms IIvIng In
AmerIca and ÐrItaIn, push me beyond ordInary cautIon.
Iow can ¡ say that reIIgIon Is to bIame? Ðo ¡ reaIIy ImagIne that, when a terrorIst kIIIs, he Is
motIvated by a theoIogIcaI dIsagreement wIth hIs vIctIm? Ðo ¡ reaIIy thInk the Þorthern ¡reIand
pub bomber says to hImseII "Take that, TrIdentIne TransubstantIatIonIst bastards!" OI course ¡
don't thInk anythIng oI the kInd. TheoIogy Is the Iast thIng on the mInds oI such peopIe. They
are not kIIIIng because oI reIIgIon ItseII, but because oI poIItIcaI grIevances, oIten justIIIed.
They are kIIIIng because the other Iot kIIIed theIr Iathers. Or because the other Iot drove theIr
great grandIathers oII theIr Iand. Or because the other Iot oppressed our Iot economIcaIIy Ior
My poInt Is not that reIIgIon ItseII Is the motIvatIon Ior wars, murders and terrorIst attacks, but
that reIIgIon Is the prIncIpaI lobcl, and the most dangerous one, by whIch a "they" as opposed
to a "we" can be IdentIIIed at aII. ¡ am not even cIaImIng that reIIgIon Is the onIy IabeI by whIch
we IdentIIy the vIctIms oI our prejudIce. There's aIso skIn coIor, Ianguage, and socIaI cIass. Ðut
oIten, as In Þorthern ¡reIand, these don't appIy and reIIgIon Is the onIy dIvIsIve IabeI around.
£ven when It Is not aIone, reIIgIon Is nearIy aIways an IncendIary IngredIent In the mIx as weII.
¡t Is not an exaggeratIon to say that reIIgIon Is the most InIIammatory enemy-IabeIIIng devIce In
hIstory. Who kIIIed your Iather? Þot the IndIvIduaIs you are about to kIII In 'revenge.' The
cuIprIts themseIves have vanIshed over the border. The peopIe who stoIe your great
grandIather's Iand have dIed oI oId age. You aIm your vendetta at those who beIong to the
same rcligicn as the orIgInaI perpetrators. ¡t wasn't Seamus who kIIIed your brother, but It was
CathoIIcs, so Seamus deserves to dIe "In return." Þext, It was Irotestants who kIIIed Seamus so
Iet's go out and kIII some Irotestants "In revenge." ¡t was MusIIms who destroyed the WorId
Trade Center so Iet's set upon the turbaned drIver oI a Iondon taxI and Ieave hIm paraIyzed
Irom the neck down.
The bItter hatreds that now poIson MIddIe £astern poIItIcs are rooted In the reaI or perceIved
wrong oI the settIng up oI a jewIsh State In an ¡sIamIc regIon. ¡n vIew oI aII that the jews had
been through, It must have seemed a IaIr and humane soIutIon. IrobabIy deep IamIIIarIty wIth
the OId Testament had gIven the £uropean and AmerIcan decIsIon-makers some sort oI Idea
that thIs reaIIy was the 'hIstorIc homeIand' oI the jews (though the horrIIIc storIes oI how
joshua and others conquered theIr Lcbcnsroum mIght have made them wonder). £ven II It
wasn't justIIIabIe at the tIme, no doubt a good case can be made that, sInce ¡sraeI exIsts now,
to try to reverse the stotus quc wouId be a worse wrong.
¡ do not Intend to get Into that argument. Ðut II It had not been Ior reIIgIon, the very concept oI
a jewIsh state wouId have had no meanIng In the IIrst pIace. Þor wouId the very ccnccpt oI
¡sIamIc Iands, as somethIng to be Invaded and desecrated. ¡n a worId wIthout reIIgIon, there
wouId have been no Crusades, no ¡nquIsItIon, no antI-SemItIc pogroms (the peopIe oI the
dIaspora wouId Iong ago have IntermarrIed and become IndIstInguIshabIe Irom theIr host
popuIatIons), no Þorthern ¡reIand TroubIes (no IabeI by whIch to dIstInguIsh the two
'communItIes,' and no sectarIan schooIs to teach the chIIdren hIstorIc hatreds--they wouId
sImpIy be one communIty).
¡t Is a spade we have here, Iet's coll It a spade. The £mperor has no cIothes. ¡t Is tIme to stop
the meaIy-mouthed euphemIsms. 'ÞatIonaIIsts,' 'IoyaIIsts,' 'CommunItIes,' '£thnIc Groups.'
Rcligicns Is the word you need. Rcligicn Is the word you are struggIIng hypocrItIcaIIy to avoId.
IarenthetIcaIIy, reIIgIon Is unusuaI among dIvIsIve IabeIs In beIng spectacuIarIy unncccssory. ¡I
reIIgIous beIIeIs had any evIdence goIng Ior them, we mIght have to respect them In spIte oI
theIr concomItant unpIeasantness. Ðut there Is no such evIdence. To IabeI peopIe as death-
deservIng enemIes because oI dIsagreements about reaI worId poIItIcs Is bad enough. To do the
same Ior dIsagreements about a deIusIonaI worId InhabIted by archangeIs, demons and
ImagInary IrIends Is IudIcrousIy tragIc.
The resIIIence oI thIs Iorm oI heredItary deIusIon Is as astonIshIng as Its Iack oI reaIIsm. ¡t
seems that controI oI the pIane whIch crashed near IIttsburgh was probabIy wrestIed out oI
the hands oI the terrorIsts by a group oI brave passengers. The wIIe oI one oI these vaIIant and
heroIc men, aIter she took the teIephone caII In whIch he announced theIr IntentIon, saId that
God had pIaced her husband on the pIane as IIs Instrument to prevent the pIane crashIng on
the WhIte Iouse. ¡ have the greatest sympathy Ior thIs poor woman In her tragIc Ioss, but just
think about It! As my (aIso understandabIy overwrought) AmerIcan correspondent who sent me
thIs pIece oI news saId.
"CouIdn't God have just gIven the hIjackers a heart attack or somethIng Instead oI kIIIIng aII
those nIce peopIe on the pIane? ¡ guess he dIdn't gIve a IIyIng Iuck about the Trade Center,
dIdn't bother to come up wIth a pIan Ior them." (¡ apoIogIze Ior my IrIend's Intemperate
Ianguage but, In the cIrcumstances, who can bIame her?)
¡s there no catastrophe terrIbIe enough to shake the IaIth oI peopIe, on both sIdes, In God's
goodness and power? Þo gIImmerIng reaIIzatIon that he mIght not be there at aII. that we just
mIght be on our own, needIng to cope wIth the reaI worId IIke grown-ups?
ÐIIIy Graham, Mr. Ðush's spIrItuaI advIsor, saId In WashIngton CathedraI.
Ðut how do we understand somethIng IIke thIs? Why does God aIIow evII IIke thIs to take pIace?
Ierhaps that Is what you are askIng now. You may even be angry at God. ¡ want to assure you
that God understands those IeeIIngs that you may have.
WeII, that's bIg oI God, ¡ must say. ¡'m sure that makes the bereaved IeeI a whoIe Iot better
(the pathetIc thIng Is, It probabIy does!). Mr. Graham went on.
¡ have been asked hundreds oI tImes In my IIIe why God aIIows tragedy and suIIerIng. ¡ have to
conIess that ¡ reaIIy do not know the answer totaIIy, even to my own satIsIactIon. ¡ have to
accept, by IaIth, that God Is sovereIgn, and Ie Is a God oI Iove and mercy and compassIon In
the mIdst oI suIIerIng. The ÐIbIe says God Is not the author oI evII. ¡t speaks oI evII as a
Iess baIIIed by thIs deep theoIogIcaI mystery were two oI AmerIca's best-known teIevangeIIsts,
Iat Iobertson and jerry IaIweII. ¡n a conversatIon on Iobertson's IucratIve teIevIsIon show
(reIIgIon Is tax-exempt), they knew cxoctly where to put the bIame. The whoIe thIng was
obvIousIy caused by AmerIca's sin. IaIweII saId that God had protected AmerIca wonderIuIIy
Ior 225 years, but now, what wIth abortIon and gays and IesbIans and the ACI!, "aII oI them
who have trIed to secuIarIze AmerIca . . . ¡ poInt the IInger In theIr Iace and say you heIped thIs
happen." "WeII, ¡ totaIIy concur," responded Iobertson. Ðush, to hIs credIt, swIItIy dIsowned
thIs characterIstIc exampIe oI the reIIgIous mInd at work.
The !nIted States Is the most reIIgIose country In the Western worId, and Its born-agaIn
ChrIstIan Ieader Is eyebaII to eyebaII wIth the most reIIgIose peopIe on £arth. Ðoth sIdes
beIIeve that the Ðronze Age God oI ÐattIes Is on theIr sIde. Ðoth take rIsks wIth the worId's
Iuture In unshakeabIe, IundamentaIIst IaIth that Ie wIII grant them the vIctory. ¡ncIdentaIIy,
peopIe speak oI ¡sIamIc IundamentaIIsts, but the customary genteeI dIstInctIon between
IundamentaIIst and moderate ¡sIam has been convIncIngIy demoIIshed by ¡bn Warraq In hIs
weII-InIormed book, Why I Am Nct o Muslim.
The human psyche has two great sIcknesses. the urge to carry vendetta across generatIons,
and the tendency to Iasten group IabeIs on peopIe rather than see them as IndIvIduaIs.
AbrahamIc reIIgIon gIves strong sanctIon to both--and mIxes expIosIveIy wIth both. OnIy the
wIIIuIIy bIInd couId IaII to ImpIIcate the dIvIsIve Iorce oI reIIgIon In most, II not aII, oI the
vIoIent enmItIes In the worId today. WIthout a doubt It Is the prIme aggravator oI the MIddIe
£ast. Those oI us who have Ior years poIIteIy conceaIed our contempt Ior the dangerous
coIIectIve deIusIon oI reIIgIon need to stand up and speak out. ThIngs are dIIIerent now. "AII Is
changed, changed utterIy."
RichorJ Dowkins is prcjcsscr cj thc Public UnJcrstonJing cj Scicncc, Univcrsity cj OxjcrJ, onJ
outhcr cj Thc Scljish Gcnc, Thc 8linJ Wotchmokcr onJ Unwcoving thc Roinbcw.
"CouId we get some otherwIse normaI humans and somehow
persuade them that they are not goIng to dIe as a consequence oI
IIyIng a pIane smack Into a skyscraper? . . . OIIer them a Iast track
to a Great OasIs In the Sky, cooIed by everIastIng IountaIns. Iarps
and wIngs wouIdn't appeaI to the sort oI young men we need, so teII
them there's a specIaI martyr's reward oI 72 vIrgIn brIdes,
guaranteed eager and excIusIve.
"WouId they IaII Ior It? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too
unattractIve to get a woman In thIs worId mIght be desperate
enough to go Ior 72 prIvate vIrgIns In the next. . . .
"GIve them a hoIy book and make them Iearn It by heart. . . . As Iuck
wouId have It, we have just the thIng to hand. a ready-made system
oI mInd-controI whIch has been honed over centurIes, handed down
through generatIons. MIIIIons oI peopIe have been brought up In It.
¡t Is caIIed reIIgIon. . . Þow aII we need Is to round up a Iew oI these
IaIth-heads and gIve them IIyIng Iessons.
". . . ¡ am tryIng to caII attentIon to the eIephant In the room that
everybody Is too poIIte--or too devout--to notIce. reIIgIon, and
specIIIcaIIy the devaIuIng eIIect that reIIgIon has on human IIIe. . . .
IeIIgIon teaches the dangerous nonsense that death Is not the end.
. . .
"There Is no doubt that the aIterIIIe-obsessed suIcIdaI braIn reaIIy Is
a weapon oI Immense power and danger. . . .
"IeIIgIon Is aIso, oI course, the underIyIng source oI the
dIvIsIveness In the MIddIe £ast whIch motIvated the use oI thIs
deadIy weapon In the IIrst pIace. . . . To IIII a worId wIth reIIgIon, or
reIIgIons oI the AbrahamIc kInd, Is IIke IItterIng the streets wIth
Ioaded guns. Ðo not be surprIsed II they are used." --RichorJ
Dowkins, Thc GuorJion, Scpt. 15, 2001
© 1reedom 1rom BeI¡g¡on 1oundat¡on.