This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................. 2 RICHARD DAWKINS BACKGROUND................................................................... 2 KEY ARGUMENT ................................................................................................ 3 RESPONDING TO DAWKINS ............................................................................... 4 Religion discourages independent thought ................................................. 4 Religion is divisive ....................................................................................... 7 Religion is dangerous .................................................................................. 7 HOW TO APPROACH PEOPLE WITH THESE VIEWS .......................................... 11 CONCLUSION ................................................................................................... 12 BIBLIOGRAPHY ................................................................................................ 13
There appear to be two types of atheists: the quietly -independent non-religious types who may be passive, indifferent, or who place God in the same category as Santa Claus; and the zealous variety who are passionate about their cause, believing strongly in the harmfulness of God-belief. This second-type of New Atheists are aggressive advocates of atheism, they maintain that religious belief is not only false but also held in an irrational way by adherents and is morally pernicious. They feel no obligation to respect the religious beliefs of others; rather, their stated goal is to usher in the end of religious belief, especially belief in the existence of God. (Copan & Craig 2009: 26) Richard Dawkins is possibly the best-known preacher for New Atheism . He maintains that religious belief is not only irrational, but that it has been the bane o f history. Is there any credibility to this claim? What impact or legacy has Christianity left on our world, and would society be better off without it? And how should we respond to people with this mindset?
RICHARD DAWKINS BACKGROUND
Dawkins was born in Kenya to British parents, his dad an agriculturalist. Although his parents were heavily into natural sciences, he has what he calls a normal Anglican upbringing (Pollard 1995) but decided in his teens that evolution was a better explanation for the complexity of life. Moving to England he earned his Masters and Doctorate, and resided for thirteen years as a Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the world renowned Oxford University. Dawkins arguments hail predominantly from modernism a logic and reason oriented
worldview that developed out of the scientific and industrial revolutions of the 1900s. Modernism was superseded by post-modernism (and later, some suggest, by post-postmodernism) and yet his rational -sounding approach is still persuading many. Discover Magazine called him Darwin s Rottweiler (Hall 2005), yet he has a way of making his aggressive anti-God sentiments seem fair and sensible (perhaps its the British tendency to avoid the ardent hyperbole of the Americans). With the broadcast of his lectures and debates, several best-selling books and television documentaries, Dawkins influence is now international.
In the PBS documentary The Root of All Evil, Dawkins basically outlines everything he believes is wrong with religion. One statement in particular caught my attention. Religious faith discourages independent thought, it s divisive, and it s dangerous. ( The Root of All Evil 2006: 2m 30s). His three-pronged stab attacks religion s legacy more than its truthfulness. Perhaps he attempted to engage with post-modern audiences who care less about what is true than about what works. But he also stepped onto moral ground (foreign territory for an atheist) as soon as he charged that Christianity is worse than irrational (D Souza 2007:203). Is he right? Religion does have a lot to answer for. Sadly, there are clear documented cases where religion has been each of these three things. Cults are often accused of psychological manipulation and indoctrination of their followers. The division and animosity between Suni and Shiite muslims is perhaps more flammable than skin colour and race. And Dawkins is not alone in accusing God of being at the centre of wars and violent disputes . In The End of Faith, Sam Harris calls religion the most potent source of human conflict, past and present (quoted in D Souza 2007: Ch 18). Steven Pinker writes that religions have given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, fatwas, suicide b ombers, and abortion clinic gunmen (quoted in D Souza 2007: Ch 18). Humans have believed that God commanded them to massacre Midianites, stone prostitutes, execute homosexuals, slay heretics and infidels, throw Protestants out of windows, withhold medic ine from dying children, and crash airplanes into skyscrapers (D Souza 2007: Ch 18). Martin Buber said that Nothing so tends to mask the face of God as religion. It can be a substitute for God himself. (quoted in Blanchard 2000:211). Even Eugene Peterson, respected Christian theologian and author of The Message writes this in his introduction to the book of Amos: More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and power all take a back seat to religion as the source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either it is evil
ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. And it s not just the militant Islamists or Israeli Mossad Christians are guilty of similar acts.
The leaders and spokespeople for Christianity over the ages have not a lways been transparent or permitted honest questioning. Denominational divides still exist nearly everywhere that churches do, often separating believers over minute details. And churchmen have even held arms in violent battles. Columnist Robert Kuttner spells out the case against Christianity: The Crusades slaughtered millions in the name of Jesus. The Inquisition brought the torture and murder of millions more. After Martin Luther, Christians did bloody battle with other Christians for another three c enturies. (D Souza 2007: Ch 18). In a sense, he is right. Religion can be ugly. But it s worth remembering that those with a true knowledge of God are often on the front line of doing something about the hypocrisy, injustice and abuse of authority. A d ivide usually exists between state-controlled religion and authentic followers of Jesus. But let s examine both and the extent of harm they have inflicted on humanity.
RESPONDING TO DAWKINS Religion discourages independent thought
Dawkins argument is that independent thinkers are completely free from indoctrination and are free to think and believe what they prefer without harassment. (Paradoxically, he doesn t appear to see faith in God as a tolerable freedom.) But if independent thinking was taken to an extreme it could potentially create a society of selfish, isolated and insensitive citizens. The various reflections of indoctrination and free -will-violations lie along a continuum perhaps something like the diagram below:
Independent Thought Scale
Anarchy & Rebellion Brainwashing & Mental Reprogramming
Isolation & Insensitivity
Lazy acceptance Groupthink & Peer Pressure
Independent critical thought
Intelligent considering of options & advice
Indoctrination Persecution of opposing views
Google Dictionary defines indoctrination as t eaching (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically or in other words presenting a biased or one -sided set of ideas without opportunity to question their truth. Indoctrination implies an element of control over the subject, while education is generally presented in a way that encourages examination and questioning. Groupthink is more subtle version of indoctrination whereby members of a group can conform to a majority or established view to avoid conflict. Pockets of the Christian church have often violated this freedom throughout history. Astronomy was dominated by religion until the Copernican revolution, as was biology and geology until the Darwinian revolution. Disagreeing with Catholic Popes was worthy of arrest as demonstrated to courageous non-conformists like Martin Luther and William Tyndale1. Criticism is also aimed at present-day evangelical homeschool households who teach children to obey without critical analysis and questioning (Chris Hedges quoted in Rauser 2009: n.p.). Pride and intellectual arrogance such as this has had a crushing effe ct.
Martin Luther faced intense persecution after his 95 Theses which criticised unbiblical practices of the Pope and Catholic Church. William Tyndale faced threats upon his life after attempting to translate the bible into the English language an act forbidden by church authorities at the time.
People seek simple answers and absolute knowledge, but anyone or any religion that claims absolute knowledge or absolute and infallible religious sources and tells people what to think, is a clear carrier and manifestation of unhealthy religion. .. Literal, dogmatic religious postures of fundamental and evangelical groups are manifestations of close-minded authoritarianism. (Kania 2006: n.p.) But let s make a fair comparison. Governments and rulers from nearly every era of history imposed restrictions on independent thought. Tolstoy wrote that governments fear the expression of independent thought more than an army; they establish a censorship, they bribe the newspapers, they seize the control of religion in the schools; but the spiritual force which moves the world slips away from them. (Quoted in Clutton -Brock 1928: n.p.). The Babylonian dictator Nebuchadnezzar forbade any form of worship other than to him (Daniel 3:4-5); Roman emperors later gave similar demands. Stalin s interpretation of Marxis mLeninism became unquestionably obligatory on all. The general nervousness with regard to even the slightest suggestion of independent thought... is one which in almost all areas of Soviet thought... has not yet been outgrown. (Thrower 1983: n.p.). It suggests that perhaps this issue is more a symptom of insecure leadership than religion. Leaders hungry for status and control can take extreme lengths to squash any opposition. Even democracies exhibit a fear of independent thought. 2 Nothing you read about in the papers or see on the television is independent. Whatever we take in from the popular media is regurgitated conventional knowledge. There is nothing independent about most of the world. (O Leary 2007) Modern churches and Christian communities ha ve begun to learn from the mistakes of the past. The church and bible college I ve been exposed to encourage research and intelligently questioning ideas. Genuine questioning is healthy, it carries the potential for a deeper, more resilient faith and can spark new ideas and progress. Creativity and individual expression are now proving to enhance faith experiences rather than oppose them.
Clutton-Brock suggests that this democratically imbued censorship may be even more invasive than despotism because of its subtlety and veneer of consensus opinion (Clutton-Brock 1928: n.p.)
Religion is divisive
Dawkins second accusation was that religion divides and separates people. The fact is, truth naturally creates division especially when truth makes people uncomfortable. A line
is drawn between people who accept it and those who reject it. Progress creates division between the forerunners and those who like things the way they were. Almost any choice creates some division. Perhaps it s not the diversity that Dawkins is taking aim at, but the potential for conflict, sometimes taken to violent extremes. Religion naturally arouses people s passions because of the subject matter. While people could debate whether blue cars or red cars are better, the ongoing ramifications of the answer are probably not severe. But because religion and spirituality extend to every corner of our personal experience, the consequences of that worldview can colour everything else. Whether a Christian, Muslim or atheist is elected as a Prime Minister may be controversial and create mass division not because of the practices
they perform in private, but because that worldview and set of values is likely to impact every other single decision they make. Division, at its core is not related to religion at all but rather to world view and therefore afflicts atheists as well as religious people. ...For example an atheist and a Christian disagree about important questions , and so each will feel a strong temptation to suppress the influence of the other precisely because they see the path charted by the other as disastrous. Further more, because of the gravity of the disagreement, they are tempted to seize any weapon they can to prevent the perceived disaster. (Kazmaier n.d.:n.p.) The only way forward is to balance the search for truth with humility that admits that nobody knows all there is to know.
Religion is dangerous
Dawkins final accusation reveals how deeply he hates religion. It s not merely frustrating or inconvenient, it s outright dangerous. While fanaticism from any religion is reprehensible,
he leaves no ambiguity about the part Christianity has played on bloody stains of human history. He s right and he s wrong. Religion can be very dangerous. It s the kind of blind faith and fanaticism that produces extremists the type that will obliterate a hotel full of civi lian
tourists on a suicidal mission. Fanatics believe only they have the truth and that others are underserving. (Wiesel 1992). Authentic Christianity the kind that follows Jesus example both in spirit and message
possesses an element of danger . It upsets the status quo, agitates our lives of comfort, challenges established ideas, and even shakes core foundations of our society. But violence and territorial conflict bears little similarity to the peaceful and non -violent leadership Jesus modelled (quite different to Muhammad s ambitious subjugation of the Arabian Peninsula his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached [Pope Benedict XVI 2006 quoted in Criticism of Muhammad ]). But even if we must accept some responsibility for the mistakes of past Christian leaders, researchers such as Dinesh D Souza argue that most bloodshed attributed to Christendom (by the likes of Dawkins and contemporaries) has been greatly exaggerated and overemphasized (D Souza 2007: Ch 18). The crusades of the medieval eras are a haunting memory. Rough estimates place the death toll between 1 and 2 million lives, spread over a 200 year period. Although each life lost is a grievous tragedy, D Souza suggests that the crusades were perhaps a n ecessary part of preventing Islamic forces from overtaking the entire western world (ie. Europe), and despite some immoral rampages, these do not define the crusades as a whole (D Souza 2007: Ch 18). Many battles fought by Christians could be considered defensives as they were protecting or attempting to recapture territory they once occupied. Also, the wars and unrest in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sri Lanka, and Muslim states that are often blamed upon religion are perhaps more accurately motivated by land or racial issues. Putting all the statistics in perspective, it appears that far more violence and human rights violations have been performed by atheists than Christians. The killings under Joseph Stalin
and Mao Zedong (unlike the crusades or the Thirty Years War) were done in peacetime and were targeted at fellow countrymen, not invaders. Taking just Stalin, Hitler and Mao, these atheist regimes murdered more than 100 million people in just a few decades. Religion inspired killing simply cannot compete. Ordinary atheist functionaries carry out behavior that would make a church inquisitor quake (D Souza 2007: Ch 19). The indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in three thousand years not managed to kill anywhe re near the number of people killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades. It s time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the main source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the worst mass murders of history. (D Souza 2007: Ch 19). Why is atheism so much more dangerous? What fundamental differences could be blamed for such magnitudal genocide? Human worth tends to be cheapened without God Kindness, compassion and philanthr opy have no moral basis or value without a perceived benefit y Evolutionary concepts like natural selection ( survival of the fittest ) promotes superiority and elitism (such as Nazism 3 and white supremacy) y Atheists view themselves as acting on behalf of incontrovertible forces like science, reason, and progress y The moral restraints of religion that may have held back bloodthirsty tyrants in the past have been disregarded y Naturalism leads to a mechanistic life that has little meaning beyond survival (Blanchard 2000: 120-124). We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else s home and therefore feel obliged to make our behaviour conform with a set of pre -existing cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality ... We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Jeremy Rifkin, US economist and political advisor (quoted in Blanchard 2000:121)
The law of nature must take its course in the survival of the fittest. Heinrich Himmler, head of Secret Police, the ruthless Nazi Gestapo (quoted in Blanchard 2000: 118)
Man has always done a bad job of steering his own destiny. Dostoevsky put it quite simply: If God is not, everything is permitted (quoted in D Souza 2007: Ch 19). Studies of evolution have produced certain scientific advances. But how would these developments be put towards humanitarian benefit without the Chr istians who built the first hospitals 4, the Vincent de Pauls and Mother Teresas who sacrificed much for the sake of others. Perhaps human slavery would still be widespread without the efforts of Christians like William Wilberforce in Britain, and the Quak ers and Evangelicals in America (D Souza 2007: Ch 6). The freedoms experienced by most western nations today are a result of Christians who passionately believed in the worth of people, irrespective of race, gender or background. Heavily influenced by hi s Christian headmaster, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms that should be the rights of every human being 5. These later influenced the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 6. The Christian just war principles are today contained in the United Nations Charter ( Nabulsi n.d.:n.p.). Christianity has in fact made abundant contributions to countless local cultures in diverse areas such as linguistics, anthropology, history, philosophy and religious thought, literature, music and songs, dance, the plastic arts, architecture, and even economics and politics (Phan 2008: 193). The amazing contribution and legacy of Christianity does not deny the colonialism and imperialism that has at times left guilty stains on western Christendom, but with the colossal horrors of atheism and the rich cultural contributions of Christian missions viewed in correct perspective, no argument that Christianity is dangerous can realistically survive.
In the West, the Christians built the first hospitals. At first they were just for Christians, but e ventually they were open to everyone, even Muslims who had entered Christian lands with the aim of conquest. Today many hospitals have Christian names St. John's Hospital, St. Luke's Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Lutheran Hospital, and so on. (D Souza 2007: Ch 6) Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear and freedom from want (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Freedoms) D Souza suggests that both the legal and moral doctrines contained are products of Christianity (2007: Ch 6)
HOW TO APPROACH PEOPLE WITH THESE VIEWS
People who adopt these arguments may originate from two camps: those with a genuine compassion for human rights who suspect Christianity of cruelty, and those who for other reasons (perhaps more personal) choose to reject God and look for fodder to intellectually support their view. Any attempt to reach either of these groups should be done with a compassionate understanding of their viewpoint and the underlying reasons. Is their view about the harmfulness of Christianity really their primary stumbling block, or merel y a facade for a deeper, more personal reason? In either case, approaching the issues should be done using the same measures and values that they themselves use: rational and logical points of view with credible historic sources. If people express a disli ke for intolerance or arrogance, ensure they themselves are held to the same standards (strangely, some atheists appear highly intolerant of intolerance). Discussions should be balanced (not lectures), raising issues with their current worldview confidently and securely without being arrogant or appearing superior . One possible angle is to discuss the limits of science (and the fact that it is not the only field interested in truth). Perhaps question whether it s legitimate to use science to justify science at its most basic level science is also a philosophy. From which foundation does
someone build their views of the world? Science also struggles to explain morality. Copan & Craig suggest a situation where a mother risks her life to save her child presumably explained by the fact that her offspring protection instincts were stronger than her self -preservation ones. Another father may stand fearfully on dry ground while a child drowns his instincts of self-preservation were
stronger. Why is it that the second example illicits such strong negative moral emotions? Is the second worthy of blame, and if so, why? And why may he later experience guilt or remorse? Naturalism offers little explanations. (Copan & Craig 2009: 64). Behind all our questions and arguments, Duncan reminds us that we exist in a spiritual warzone, with spiritual forces at work to deceive, blind and stir up passions of self protection. We need to get right and stay right with God during these times, praying that he
would uncover their eyes to see the truth and break down the walls of opposition that have been constructed.
Richard Dawkins is an atheist with an agenda to rid the world of religion which supposedly
stands in the way of progress and scientific discovery. But his philosophy translates to a religion with even more disastrous consequences than he blames on Christianity. While history tells of events the church would rather the world forgot, it needs to acknowledge and learn from its mistakes. There is no denying that violent wrongs have been done in the name of religion, and even sometimes in the name of Jesus possibly the world s best-
known non-violent revolutionary. But when viewed side -by-side with the tyrannical escapades of atheistic warlords, the contribution of Jesus -followers to the state of humanity remains incredibly positive. His argument that religious faith discourages independent thought, is divisive and it s dangerous cannot be substantiated under its thin veneer of pompous spite.
Blanchard, J. (2000) Does God believe in Atheists?. Darlington England: Evangelical Press. Clutton-Brock, A. (1928). More essays on religion. n.p.: Ayer Publishing. Copan, P. & Craig, W.L. (2009) Contending with Christianity s Critics . Nashville Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group. Criticism of Muhammed . Wikipedia. Available internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Muhammad (22 December 2010) D Souza, D. (2007) What s so great about Christianity? Washington: Regnery Publishing. Dawkins, R. (2006) The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press. Duncan, H. (1979) Secular Humanism. Lubbock, Texas: Missionary Crusader. Hall, S. (2005) Darwin s Rottweiler . Discover Magazine. Available internet: http://discovermagazine.com/2005/sep/darwins-rottweiler (3rd January 2011) Indoctrination . Google Dictionary. Available internet: http://www.google.com/dictionary?langpair=en|en&q=indoctrination&hl=en&aq=f (22 December 2010) Kania, W. (2006) Healthy Religion: A Psychological Guide to a Mature Faith . AuthorHouse. Available internet: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=EHlMAhPMXycC Kazmaier, P. Is Religion divisive? Available internet: http://peterkazmaier.com/?p=62 (17 December 2010) Moreland, J.P. (1987) Scaling the Secular City. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Nabulsi (n.d.) Just vs Unjust War . Available internet: http://www.crimesofwar.org/thebook/just-unjust-war.html O Leary, T. (2007). 5 Ways to Develop Independent Thought . Pick the Brain. Available internet: http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/5-ways-to-develop-independentthought/ (17 December 2010) Phan, P.C. (2008). World Christianity and Christian Mission: Are They Compatible? Insights from the Asian Churches. International Bulletin of Missionary Research . New Haven: Vol. 32, Iss. 4; pg. 193 . Available Proquest. Pollard, Nick (1995 -04). "High Profile". Third Way. Harrow, England. 18 (3): 15. Available internet: http://goo.gl/rwQXT (3rd January 2011)
Rauser, R. (2009) Learning in a Time of (Cultural) War: Indoctrination in Focus on the Family's The Truth Project Christian Scholar's Review. Available Proquest. Richard Dawkins . Wikipedia. Available internet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins (3rd January 2011) Rosenblatt, G. (1992) Wiesel Warns About Fanatacism Baltimore Jewish Times. Baltimore: Apr 17, 1992. Vol. 204, Iss. 8 . Available Proquest. The Root of All Evil. 2006. Channel 4 Television Documentary. Thrower, J. (1983). Marxist-Leninist "scientific atheism" and the study of religion and atheism in the USSR. n.p.: Walter de Gruyter.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.