Why so green and lonely? Everything's going to be alright, just you wait and see.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Richard Dawkins on BBC Radio

BBC Radio recently interviewed Professor Richard Dawkins regarding religion and his new documentary The Root of All Evil? It's always been clear to me that faith, in and of itself, is not a virtue, so I found myself nodding in agreement with this incisive comment by Dawkins:
What I think is special about religion is not that it's sometimes good and sometimes bad in what it does (which is certainly true, I mean there are good religious people and bad religious people), but it's the evil effects of, specifically, faith, which does not have to be defended, by evidence, by substantiation; faith by its very nature—and you're actually praised for this—you believe something just because you believe it and you don't have to provide a justification and you actually win brownie points if you do believe something without there being any justification. That I think is what's peculiarly dangerous about religion.
I think charity is much more worthy of the title virtue (since charity implies action), and the bible seems to agree:

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" [1 Corinthians 13:13]

Not long ago I managed to really offend a friend of mine by suggesting that his beliefs might be different had he not been indoctrinated into Catholicism at such an early age. I didn't expect him to be offended, though, because it never occurred to me that this was even debatable—children are impressionable, and will absorb just about any belief you choose to reinforce. For example I suspect that, if a community repeatedly tought their children that dreams and nightmares are actually real and take place in an alternate universe, the children would be very inclined to continue believing this nonsense even as an adult—after all, I doubt you could explain dreams to their satisfaction otherwise, and how can you prove them wrong? White supremacy is real-life example (ever heard of Prussian Blue?). A relevant excerpt from the Dawkins interview:
I think that children should be taught religion at any age you like; the more religions the merrier. What they should not be taught is that you belong to this religion—you are a Catholic child, you are a Protestant child. Instead they should be taught religion in the sort of way that an anthropologist might look at religion: as a phenomenon of human belief. That is absolutely fine and it would have the advantage that they would pick up—because they're not stupid—they would pick up the contradictions between the different religions. I'm all for teaching religion. What I'm passionately against is labelling children: that child is a Catholic child, that child is a Muslim child, that child is a Protestant child; that I think is actually quite wicked.
Given the uproar and death threats incited by the recent Mohammed cartoons (Stop, stop! we ran out of virgins!), I thought this point was rather appropriate:
I think we've been respectful [of religion] for an awful long time. I think that religion does lay claim to a very large measure of respect which no other kind of opinion does. I think perhaps it's time to be a bit less respectful because, really, why should religious opinion be any more off-limits to critics than any other opinion? We don't back off from criticising someone else's political opinions or their economic opinions; why should we be expected to back off from criticising their religious opinions?
You can listen to the entire interview online (20 min).

Update: Panopticist has posted the Pastor Ted Haggard video segment from The Root of All Evil? that happens to correspond to the audio used in the BBC interview. The video is available right here (7 min, QT).


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