Agreeing and disagreeing with Dawkins
A chill swept through me as I read Charles Moore’s recent article on the Beijing games (1). Media images of hard, cruel-faced bodyguards accompanying the Olympic torch around the world now slotted into place. ‘As the choice of Berlin for the Olympic Games in 1936 marked Hitler’s success and international acceptance so the choice of Beijing for 2008 marks China’s’. In other words the global community is being treated to a massive con exercise. An emblem of peace masks a system of despotism.
The juxtaposition – Berlin and Beijing – is uncomfortable to say the least. And recent reports of secret nuclear submarine bases in south China, not to mention America’s unprecedented financial indebtedness to the Asian giant, make it the more so. It will be dismissed out of hand by some as ill-timed and uncharitable scare-mongering from an envious and declining West. But what struck me most about Moore’s comment is his historical and comparative analysis for, as well as being true, it provides a helpful introduction to what I want to say about Richard Dawkins. ‘We have spent much time in recent years complaining about America’s abuse of power. Sometimes the criticism is justified, but we have hardly begun to consider the alternative and how appalling it would be. Whenever we attack America we do so in the knowledge that it has a visible system of self-correction that might listen to us. It has a constitutional structure which is built to accommodate differing views. China has nothing of the sort, and never has had.’
I emphasise the last four words deliberately: ‘and never has had’. At no point has China had anything remotely like the degree of social freedom and overall prosperity enjoyed for centuries in the West. In the more distant past its wealth and inventiveness surpassed anything comparable at the time. Similarly its social cohesion fostered by Confucian ethics was impressive. But none of these achievements ever existed alongside the enjoyment of individual freedom within the state. John Roberts, author of ‘The Triumph of the West’ (1984), expands on this. ‘At the deepest level it is in its Christian nature that the explanation of medieval society in shaping the future must lie…(for) at the heart of Christianity…lay always the concept of the supreme, infinite value of the individual soul. This was the taproot of respect for the individual in the here and now…(and) its importance can easily be sensed by considering the absence in other great cultures – Islam, Hindu India and China – of such an emphasis…In none of them was the safeguarding of individual rights to be given much attention until the coming of Western ideas’. And if this is true of what Roberts calls ‘the great cultures’, certainly it is more so of ‘the lesser cultures’, the indigenous and principally animistic societies of pre-Christian Europe, Africa, North and South America and the rest of Asia.
The relevance of all this for Dawkins is the attention it draws to Christianity’s uniqueness. Moore and Roberts seem to be in little doubt that one factor above all others distinguishes western civilization from cultures before and after. Through no inherent virtue of race or cultural heritage and with unreserved admissions of crimes and misdemeanours like the crusades and slavery committed en route, it still remains true that this civilization, uniquely in history, ordered its affairs according to the ‘supreme, infinite value of the human soul’. Whatever constitutional procedures, freedom of speech, relatively high standards of living etc it enjoyed, it enjoyed because of the Christian faith. That it became the envy and model of the world simply reinforces the fact that it was unknown elsewhere.
So, as was pointed out in Part I of this brief comment on ‘The God Delusion’, we readily accept Dawkins’ strictures about ‘religion’ in general. The Bible itself endorses them – that false religion lies at the root of human misery. But Christianity refuses to be aligned like this and interposes along with its other powerful evidences the empirical reality of ‘Christian heritage’ which refuses to let Dawkins off the hook. For if his assertions are correct it would seem to follow that atheism’s displacement of religion should usher in a more humane society. But the opposite is in fact the case for nothing in all history surpasses the brutality of the social systems most consistently modelled upon his own atheistic world-view – Nazism and Communism. He is of course unhappy with this juxtaposition and tries to avoid it, but his reasoning makes it hard to conclude otherwise.
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference…”(2)
‘No evil and no good’. It is the chilling logic of an atheistic worldview whether Chinese or British. And if the latter, because western, feels less threatening right now we should recall Berlin 1936.
(1) Daily Telegraph12/04/08
(2) The Blind Watchmaker
Ranald Macaulay, 20/05/2008
Hugh Manning (Guest)
I am saddened by your disgusting alignment of atheism with Nazism and no doubt other foul beliefs. It seems to show to what depths you will resort to to blacken the name of atheists. Most thinking atheists I know of including Dawkins call themselves Humanists, who have strong moral and ethical views on life - you have only to go to the BHA website to see this. PLease go there and educate yourself before repeating your slanderous accusations. I might just as well cite the Inquisition as an example of what happens when religion takes over control. For a present day example just consider what the Israeli Govt is doing to the Palestinians in the name of the Bible (God's chosen people!!).
Humanism offers the possibility of a rational approach to living a "Good" life through respect for all other human beings based on our inter-dependency rather then on what some old book says.
Thanks for your patience. I have done some checking and see that your feedback is in relation to an article posted by Ranald on 20/05/2008, which provides a somewhat broader focus but does, as you rightly comment, highlight the practical outworking of atheism into specific ideologies such as Nazism and Communism.
I appreciate that you may not like the idea that either atheism, or Darwinism, in terms of their practical outworking into ideologies, might result in the kind of mistreatment of human-beings that history provides a poignant narrative on. However, that does not make Ranald's brief reference "disgusting" or an attempt to "blacken the name of atheists". Indeed, there is a perfectly respectable line of academic enquiry which has explored to a significant degree the way in which Darwin's ideas (and particularly those enumerated in 'The Descent of Man') found their way through to a logical conclusion in Hitler's eugenics policies. Furthermore, you don't even need to look at Hitler to spot the connection between the atheism implicit in Darwin's theories, and the immediate outworking - a very large proportion of the early, mainstream proponents of his theory were all enthusiastic endorsers of eugenics, and there have been plenty of examples of (for example) enforced sterilisation of sub-groups of the population which were motivated by those principles.
Now, I accept that you would recoil from that kind of direct articulation of the implications of atheism, but doesn't mean that the linkage isn't there. Indeed, it is almost laughable how some atheists such as Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) attempt to get around the problem. The manifest evils of proponents of atheistic ideologies (such as Stalin) were not motivated by their atheism (so goes this line of thought), they were simply bonkers. The hundreds of thousands of Christians who were wiped out by Stalin's, Mao's and other atheistic regimes would not have been slow to spot that their persecution was motivated by, and governed by, a consistent adherence to an atheistic worldview.
Which does, kind of, bring us back to our consideration of human nature, doesn't it? You have reacted with some anger to one, somewhat throwaway, sentence in Ranald's highly coherent and thoughtful article. It was a typically mild comment. Compare that with the hundreds of vitriole-fuelled attacks on 'ordinary' Christians and their beliefs in the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens. Ranald is careful, in the article that you have responded to, to show that he agrees with Dawkins strictures about religion in general - and as Christians we would all be wholly in agreement on that issue: religion is not the solution. Indeed, evils may be done in the name of religion - as they have clearly been done in the name of atheism. Thus, if neither 'religion', nor 'atheism' are the answer, what is?
Christianity has always argued that the only solution is a real, living relationship with Jesus Christ.
If I may re-rephrase your final sentence: "...Christianity offers the real experience of a rational approach to living a "Good" life through the grace of God, resulting in a new community transformed by His love.."
Hugh Manning (Guest)
Thanks for this carefully thought out reply. However you seem to have missed (deliberately?) the point that I was making. And at the end you seem to grudingly accept that "evils may be done in the name of religion - as they have clearly been done in the name of atheism." ie implicit that evils not proven to be done in the name of relgion but proven for atheism !! ha ha - but so wrong !!
The point you seem to have avoided and the answer to your last question is that Humanism (the old warhorseses you reel out were not Humanists as you well know) is the answer, freeing man from the strictures of an old book/belief and encouraging man to take responsibility for himself and his actions and working for the benefit of his/her fellow being . For gods sake (to use a useful expletive from religion !) look at th BHA website. What I object to in Ronaldl's article is his apparent apparent refusal to acknowledge the Humanist approach. David Robertson, in his Borders talk (discusion in response to a quetion from me ) did his best to belittle Humanists (as wishy-washy liberals!) and then had to admit that he was wrong after I took him to task - there are lots of Cambridge Humanists who have strong ethical and moral views. Ronald seems to be trying to do the same thing. Most thinking atheists are actually Humanists.
What we do not need is the approach to living the "Good life" through the grace (not sure what you mean by this - we thank him for what you say he has given us ie including all the terrible suffering on this earth) of an evil god who apprently created life but then left it to rot on earth - ha- ha - big joke!!.
It seems to me after much investigation over the last few years that the epitomy of evil is the god concept. No one seems to be able to answer the problem of suffering except to give anectodal evidence that for some this brings them closer to their idea of their god. This seems pretty pathetic to me. Christians do seem to have a rather arogant attitude that they know they are right (and all other religions are wrong ofcourse or at least mis-informed!1) . This is why I appear angry with CI and the rest of believers just as I am angry with the Israelt Govt's treatment of the Palestinians. If someone gave a public lecture promoting social Darwinism or eugenics I would be the first to be up there putting hard questions - just as I am to your own lectures. This does not mean that I really want to believe (as is the usual response to an active atheist).
I find it incredible that an organisation like CH can have such an apparent indifference to the plight of Christians in Pelestine, where Christianity apparently started, whereas other churches such as the Methodists are coming out to publically oppose the actions of the Israeli govt. This is where my Humanist feelings lead me. Why can't you do the same? We might disagree about the supernatural but we could fight the same good cause.
Hugh Manning (Guest)
Still no response. What is the point of a blog website if no one replies?
Jenn R. (Guest)
I'm really wondering if anyone answered Hugh's argument. I feel like aligning secular humanists with the ethnic cleansing of Naziism is an injustice to their values, in the same way that Christ-followers today take offense at being associated with the Inquisition or Crusades, as the actions of particular groups clearly contradict the teachings of Christ. One could argue that they simply took an idea and perverted it to their own advantage in both Christian and Secular brutality.
I think the author was arguing that:
a) according to Humanism, displacing religion should create a more "humane society"
b) conversely, atheistic societies have been just as brutal (he argues, "more so") than religious societies.
On the other hand, in response to Hugh, you say that Christ-followers are arrogant about "knowing" they are right; but really, anyone who believes in something strongly responds the same way, don't they? You yourself said that someone's belief in a god that explains suffering via dramatic dialogue rather than empirical evidence is "pathetic". Your response is highly personal, the same way that my response to conflicting views is highly personal. I respect your response, and I don't think of your worldview as being pathetic, I simply disagree with it. I run the risk of being arrogant for saying so.
You make some causes for justice that I agree with- however I do not know CHs stance on the Palestinian affair- it is very likely that they are dealing with the issue in real time classes rather than posting on their hardly-up-to-date-website. Technological inclination and all that. Hence why I felt it worthwhile to make a statement, as someone who quite honestly doesn't know what they believe. I wonder that if something like "faith" is so significantly important as to be a catalyst to wars and atrocities, then the catalyst that social Darwinism created shouldn't be treated much differently.
Also, I thought "Death" was a tenet of naturalism. If you think of the world as "rotting", than maybe there is another standard?
Thank you for your honest questions, though. Lastly, humanists and christ-followers have very similar goals, so I don't understand why so much time is spent arguing online. Somewhat hypocritical, I suppose, I typed this up very thoughtfully over the past hour and sincerely hoped I didn't say anything bigoted or straw-manning (read: please like me!). While I feel that there is an immense philosophical gap between the groups, the practice is the same, and I really wish more of "universal love" was displayed via internet discussions. Or better yet, if all this energy was converted to actually alleviating suffering. Mind you, those are my values and others would argue that suffering is psychological as well as physical. Forgive me, I am one of those easily-lampooned discussion contributors who doesn't actually know their mind.
Hugh Manning (Guest)
Thanks for your quietly judged response. I agree that " I really wish more of "universal love" was displayed via internet discussions. " This does seem to be a problem with online blogs and it appears to work both ways.
What I wrote was "No one seems to be able to answer the problem of suffering except to give anectodal evidence that for some this brings them closer to their idea of their god. This seems pretty pathetic to me."
My response is based on the issue of independently verifiable evidence. "Dramatic dialogue", whatever that might mean, does not sound like that. It's just a question of belief. And that ofcourse leads to lots of bigoted views on subjects such as homosexualty(homophobia as appear to have been expressed in the lecture from Sharon James, that children appear to do better in heterosexual mariages than in same sex marriages - without considering , if this is really true, why this might be ie perhaps because of the homophobic attitude promoted by speakers such as Sharon James,and the effect of this prevailing view on those families . She claimed her position was not homophobic or based on her religious belief, but another god believer inthe audience doubted this), and assisted suicide ie it was a sin to commit suicide.
I can't decide on CH's attitude to Palestine but I am not aware of any position, such as compared with the Methodists view that the West Bank settlementds are illegal and we should not be trading with them, from their publically available conference proceedings. I have tried in my responses to elluciadate a posituin from them but have failed to receive any response.
I beg to differ on your suggestiont that "humanists and christ-followers have very similar goals,"
This is clearly not true.Humanists want a life devoid of religious beliefs and of positions arising from an old collection of "stories of old!!!!!". It should be based on the golden rule (you will know it) and the basis that humanity is to be respected , not beliefs
No, you have not said anything bigoted but there is an immence gap, the practice is really not the same. Same sex marriage/ assisted suicide to mention just two
Thank you for your time in replying - I know it does take some time!
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