The Sadness of Professor Richard Dawkins
Though tempting, it is difficult not to ignore attacks on religious faith. Such attacks have lately been made in this country by the well-known champion of atheism, the Oxford rationalist, Professor Richard Dawkins. Recently, he has been able to publicise his views to a larger than usual audience, through the offices of the British Channel Four, famous for its hostility to traditional belief.
Professor Dawkins' anti-religious views are based on two subjective opinions. The first is that religious faith is irrational, the second is that religion causes wars and hatred, or as he puts it, 'Religion makes good people bad' and 'Religion is the root of all evil'.
It is easy for academics to make fun of popular religion, whether it is the simple pietism of Roman Catholics, amid the plastic holy water bottles in the shape of the Virgin at Lourdes, poorly-educated happy-clappy Evangelicals of the American Mid-West, or the simple Muslim masses on pilgrimage to their holy places. But why mock other people's sincerity? Suppose their religious faith helps them and prevents from being as bad as they would otherwise be? An unbiased academic would talk on his own subtle level, to subtle Christian academics, if he really wanted to debate religious belief. In any case, he would certainly respect the views of others and would not set out by mocking simple, but perhaps very good, folk. Such acts, frankly, seem arrogant.
Religion is Irrational?
Professor Dawkins' first opinion is that religion is irrational, whereas science is rational. The first problem with this argument is that although science may be rational, scientific theory (such as the Theory of Evolution) is not necessarily rational at all - it is, after all, merely a theory. For instance, as regards the question of how the Universe began and developed, there are a great many ever-changing scientific theories and a great deal of disagreement among scientists. Among scientists, it almost seems as if today's certainty often becomes tomorrow's ridicule. So what can be said of the value of mere theories, reflecting ever-changing human knowledge?
It also seems irrational to say that God does not exist, when you cannot prove it, - as irrational as to suggest that the Universe made itself. How rational is it to say that the fact that every snowflake is different from every other snowflake proves that the Universe came into being by itself? How rational is it to say that something so tiny and yet so complex as the human eyeball came into being through an unproven series of mysterious and unknowable developments? How rational is it to use the Hubble telescope to observe galaxies billions of light years away and still deny the possible existence of a Creator? How rational is it to claim definitively that God does not exist, when there are thousands of highly-qualified, 'rational' scientists all around the world who believe the opposite? Why jump to dogmatic conclusions about the Universe ('there is no God'), when we know so infinitely little about it? Such claims, frankly, seem arrogant.
Professor Dawkins claims that rationalism, the use of reason, is all-important. But why does he have this prejudice? Does he not know that there are ways of apprehending reality which are not dependent on reason? For instance, there are people who are poorly educated or who have never developed reasoning skills (for instance, children), and yet who are very good judges of other people's characters. On the other hand, there are very intellectual and very rationalistic people who are very poor judges of character. Has the Professor never heard of intuition, instinct, inspiration, 'emotional' knowledge? Why this limiting worship of reason, rationalism to the exclusion of intuition?
And what can be said of experience? Surely, for example, experience of life is also a great source of ability to understand reality? Such a mass of accumulated experience is generally called 'wisdom'. Although I know of no University in the world where wisdom is either taught or learnt, yet it existed long before Universities and proves its worth as a method of living life every single day all around the world, including many who have a University education. Why this limiting worship of reason, rationalism to the exclusion of wisdom?
And although Professor Dawkins would not accept it, religious people also believe that there is yet another way of understanding reality - through the eyes of faith, through the heart, the soul, the 'nous', the doors of perception, as various religions and philosophies express it. Is it not possible that there is a faculty of understanding in human-beings which is neither rational, nor irrational, but rather 'supra-rational', beyond the reason, higher than the reason? Now, although the Professor denies the existence of this faculty, why is it that billions of people today, and tens of billions more in the past, have always believed in it? Can so many people from so many different cultures and religions, from so many different centuries and millennia, be so wrong? Claims that only now are a few people clever enough to know this, and billions of others too stupid to know this, frankly, seem arrogant.
Religion Causes Wars And Hatred?
Any atheist whose task it is to discredit religion can do no better than visit the Holy Land. It is there where for centuries, people who call themselves Christians, Muslims and Jews have fought one another. However, although nobody denies the existence of Muslim jihads, 'holy wars' and invasions, Roman Catholic Crusades, Inquisitions and Conquests of Latin America, 'Wars of Religion' in Western Europe, Puritan witch-hunts, Hindu-Muslim massacres, or, more recently, Muslim suicide-bombers, what has this to do with religious faith?
Surely, even schoolchildren know that, throughout history, religion has been used as an excuse by all sorts of rogues to justify their greed? Politicians of all hues, nationalists of all ilks, pathological sufferers of all categories, have always exploited religious faith as a crutch, to support, camouflage and mask their evil. All sorts of horrors have happened, happen and will always happen all over the world, in the Name of God.
This does not in any way prove that God is the root of all evil. It proves rather that religion is so vitally important to human-beings that all manner of scoundrels are prepared to abuse the Name of God, in order to give themselves an imaginary clear conscience. They do not use anything else to try and morally clear themselves - they use God and religion. Their misuse of God and religion says nothing about the objective truths of God and religion, merely about the importance of religion and their own pathological conditions.
In reality, for example, very few practising Muslims believe that suicide-bombers are justified or that as religious martyrs they will go to Paradise. In the same way, there are very few practising Roman Catholics who justify the barbarities of Crusaders, Inquisitors and Conquistadors. And again, there are very few practising Protestants who would justify the witch-hunts of the past. In other words, if Professor Dawkins wants to speak about religion, let him speak to practising religious people. He should not speak to those who act in the name of those who have so often used and use religion to justify land grabs and resource grabs throughout history. To speak to people who are pathologically ill, who use religion as a self-justifying crutch with which to accuse others, and to put them forward as religious models, hardly seems fair. Why not speak to normal, psychologically-balanced people?
Therefore, as regards the greed for territory and power of barbarian Crusaders, Conquistadors and Cowboys from Western Europe and their massacre of indigenous peoples in the Middle East, Latin America and North America, I do not see that this has anything to do with religion. And as regards the land grab of Palestine by Israelis (less than 10% of whom are even vaguely religious: religious Jews do not live in Israel and refuse to recognize the Israeli State) and the fanatical nationalist resistance of non-practising Muslim Palestinians, I do not see that this has anything to do with religion either.
Let us therefore be fair. The twentieth century, by far the bloodiest century in human history, was marked by two World Wars, neither of which was marked by religious belief, but by fanatically anti-religious secularism. The two bloodiest ideologies concerned, Fascism and Communism, were both filled with hatred of religion. Thus, the ideology behind Communism claimed to be secular, rational and scientific - not far removed from Professor Dawkins' own ideology, it would seem. Like him, it too believed that religion is 'the opium of the people'. Fascism also cruelly persecuted all religious belief. Never in any other century was religion more persecuted than in the bloodiest and most anti-religious century so far, the twentieth century. Concentration camps and weapons of mass destruction are the fruit of secularism, not of religion. Perhaps, Professor Dawkins, if religion had not been persecuted in the twentieth century, the evil which happened then would not have occurred or, at least, it would have been greatly moderated. Given the facts of recent history, claims to the contrary, frankly, seem arrogant.
A number of questions must now be asked. Firstly, does Professor Dawkins, like all humanists, actually have a falsely optimistic view of the human-being, in which view 'sin' does not exist? Does he imagine that, without religion, all human-beings would be pleasant and reasonable? Does he think that religion is not a moderating force on human-beings, who have a 'natural' tendency to 'sin', 'to fall', to be unpleasant, indeed evil?
Secondly, does the Professor confuse religion with institutionalised systems of political, international or national ideologies, instead of understanding it as religious faith (which is quite another matter)? Has he understood that the supreme value which Religion introduced into the world is Love? And that what is not Love is actually not genuine religious faith? And although all religious people fail to live up to this faith in one way or another, if religious values were removed, then would the world not have ended in a suicidal holocaust a long, long time ago?
Thirdly, I have other, more personal questions to put to the Professor. Where are your near and dear who are dead? Where are your parents, grandparents? What if your brothers and sisters, dear friends, wife, children, whoever is dear to you, were to die tomorrow? (God forbid). Would you seriously say: 'That's it, they're dead. It's finished. They no longer exist?'
If that is your answer, then the title of this essay written in reply to you is justified.