By Douglas Anele
Dawkins admits, for example, that Jesus’ doctrine of “turning the other cheek was” way ahead of his time, and anticipated Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years. Yet the family values Jesus exhibited sometimes were not worthy of emulation: his brusqueness to his mother and prescription that his disciples must abandon their families and everything else and follow him are exemplary in this regard (p. 284).
The author highlights and correctly criticised absurdities in the doctrine of original sin, and described the Christian notion of atonement as “vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent” (p. 287). Dawkins reiterates the point, often deliberately ignored by Christian apologists, that much of the moral consideration for others advocated in The Holy Bible was originally intended to apply only to a narrowly defined group. He acknowledges that there is some improvement in moral values globally, but attributes it not to a single factor such as religion but to the complex interplay of disparate forces.
Chapter 7 ended with the observation that religion has motivated so many brutal wars, whereas atheism, or absence of belief, hasn’t, because a more plausible motive for waging war “is unshakeable faith that one’s own religion is the only true one, reinforced by a holy book that explicitly condemns all heretics and followers of rival religions to death, and explicitly promises that the soldiers of God will go straight to a martyrs’ heaven” (p. 316).
Chapter 8 has the interesting title “What’s wrong with religion? Why be so hostile?” In it, Dawkins defends his anti-religious atheistic stance. He distinguishes between fundamentalism and passion. A genuine fundamentalist believes a proposition not on the basis of evidence but because the proposition in question is contained in a purported holy book. Dawkins attributes his passionate defence of evolution to the fact that religious fundamentalists are missing the impressive, awesome, evidence in favour of the theory because of blind adherence to antiquated ancient literature.
Moreover, anyone who accepts a proposition on the basis of scientific evidence knows what it would take to make him change his mind, and would readily do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming. But a genuine believer can never do that. Hard core fundamentalist religion is antithetical to scientific education of the youth, by teaching children right from the beginning that unquestioning faith is a virtue (p. 323). On the dark side of religious absolutism, Dawkins points out that in Muslim countries conversion to another religion or making statements which religious authorities consider “blasphemous” is punishable by death. He cites the case of Sadiq Abdul Karim Malallah who, in September 3, 1992, was publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia “after being lawfully convicted of apostasy and blasphemy” (p. 325).
Dawkins also acknowledges the existence of fundamentalist “Taliban mentality” in Christian countries, particularly the United States. He also refers to the fallacious arguments religious bigots marshal against homosexuality and abortion. One of such bad reasoning is the anti-abortionist argument (or Great Beethoven Fallacy) that abortion is wrong because it deprives a baby of the opportunity of a full human life in the future (p. 337).
According to Dawkins, Peter and Jean Medawar have blown the argument out of the water by arguing that, if taken to its logical conclusion, it means that we deprive a human soul of the gift of existence anytime we fail to seize an opportunity for sexual intercourse (p. 339). Dawkins condemned the so-called “moderates” in religion, on the ground that they see nothing wrong in teaching children the dangerous notion that believing certain propositions without question or justification but based solely on faith is good. He maintains, and I agree completely, that inculcating in children unquestioned faith primes them to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads, crusades and suicide bombers.
Having argued trenchantly in chapter 8 that indoctrination and brainwashing of children with dogmatic religious doctrines is a grievous wrong, Dawkins followed it up in chapter 9 with a dissection of religion-motivated child abuse and how the dangers associated with faith can be avoided. He tells the sad story of how, in 1858, a six-year old child of Jewish parents living in Bologna, Italy, named Edgardo Mortara was legally abducted by the papal police in accordance with orders from the Inquisition. The little boy was brutally taken away from his weeping mother and distraught father to the Catechumens in Rome and reared as a Catholic. Apart from occasional brief visits under close watch by priests he was never seen again by his parents (p. 349).
Dawkins highlights the physical and mental abuses children are subjected to in the name of religion, and decries the nonchalant attitude towards, and ignoble defence, by the clergy and some highly-placed individuals of those who committed atrocities against children in the name or religion (pp. 350-379). He criticises the hypocrisy of accommodating extremist religious absurdities and deadly practices such as human sacrifices in the name of “cultural and religious diversity”; he laments the wastage of human and material resources for religious purposes.
Dawkins highlights the dangers inherent in deliberately twisting ideas culled from science to suit preconceived religious beliefs. However, although he was highly critical of the complacency and mis-education of children in scientific knowledge by faith-based educational institutions, he acknowledges the educational benefits of studying comparative religion as a part of literary culture. On pp. 383-385, he lists some useful and handy phrases, idioms and clichés from the King James Authorised Version of The Holy Bible.
Surely, he says, “ignorance of the Bible is bound to impoverish one’s appreciation of English literature.” Thus, he concludes that an atheistic world-view does not justify abolition of The Holy Bible and other sacred books from the educational system. According to Dawkins, “we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage” (p. 387).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pyramidion’s editorial policy.