Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Richard Dawkins: Fundamentalism

In previous posts, Woolly Days has looked at Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and followed his arguments on the phenomenon of Lourdes and the arguments around creationism and evolution. Dawkins then goes on to meet some American evolutionists who live in Haggart’s shadow.

Dawkins describes them as browbeaten rationalists who have organised themselves into what they called a “freethinkers group” who meet furtively. One of their number, biology teacher John Spangler, said he has received letters from parents who say he is Satan’s incarnation. Another, Gary Betchan admitted atheists are likely to suffer career damage or lose their jobs. A third man Rick Baker likened the current oppressive atmosphere to the McCarthy era.

Dawkins argues that fundamentalist Christianity is attacking science and offers in its stead a mirror image of Islamic extremism, an American Taliban state. The religious terrorism inspired by Osama is the logical outcome of deeply held faith. Even moderate believers encourage ‘unreason’. Religious warriors think what they are doing is the ultimate good. Dawkins describes the religious struggle between good and evil merely as a battle between two evils.

Dawkins goes to Jerusalem, which he describes as a microcosm of the religious conflict that threatens rational values. Politics and extreme faith have combined to cause the deaths of four thousand people in attacks and reprisals over the last five years. Tourists still flock to Jerusalem to revere their particular brand of religion. Christians come to Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion; Muslims come to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, Jews to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy ruin. On the surface it looks like a place of harmless myth. But it is a source of barely repressed religious hatred.

Different religions live cheek by jowl in the Old City, all under strict security. But one area above all is under heavy guard: the Temple Mount. Here lies the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque; together Islam’s third holiest shrine after Mecca and Medina. They believe the prophet Mohammed flew up to heaven from here. But next door is the site of the long destroyed first and second temple and the Western Wall. Jews are not allowed to worship inside the compound. Their prayers are confined to the Wall. The Dome of the Rock was situated on the site of the altar of the old temple.

Neither religion is inclined to share the Temple Mount with the other. Dawkins goes to meet someone whom he says “in my naiveté, would see both sides of the story”. Yusuf Al-Kattah was brought up as a secular New York Jew, came to Gaza as a Jewish settler where he was converted to Islam. Dawkins admits to Al-Kattah he is an atheist who hears nothing but hate from all sides in this religious conflict. Al-Kattah immediately goes on the attack “I hate atheists,” he says. “They don’t care if someone fornicates on the middle of the street….They don’t believe in a set of rules, they can amend the rules as they go along. They don’t believe in God’s rules. ..That’s all you have, man-made laws”.

Dawkins asks Al-Kattah what he thinks about 9/11. Al-Kattah ignores the question and continues the attack on Dawkins “you like to talk about evolution. I’d like to start by saying what do you think of the Jews that have destroyed over 417 Arab villages…what are you saying we should sit back…let us sit down and drink tea and talk about what to do”. Al-Kattah says that if there were no state of Israel there would be no 9/11. Dawkins worries that there is someone out there with faith as strong as Al-Kattah but with an opposite view. Al–Kattah counters “the problem with you, Richard, is that you have fear”. Al-Kattah advises Dawkins to “take your soldiers off our lands and fix your women”.

Historic injustice to the Palestinians breeds hatred and anger. In creating a suicide bomber culture, a level of conviction in your own righteous faith is the key. If preachers then tell the faithful that paradise awaits them if they make the ultimate sacrifice, it is hardly surprising that some crazed followers will act out the deed; leading to a vendetta, war and suffering. This will continue as long as people are brought up from the cradle to believe that there is something good in faith, about believing because you’ve been told to believe. Dawkins says killing for God is not only hideous murder but also utterly ridiculous. Unlike religion, science doesn’t pretend to know everything. But just because science cannot answer those questions right now doesn’t mean faith can. Science cannot disprove the existence of God; but that does not mean God exists.

Dawkins says we cannot disprove the existence of fairies, unicorns and hobgoblins. But we don’t believe in any of them nor do we believe in Thor, Amon-Ra or Aphrodite. We are all atheists about most of the Gods that society has ever believed in. But some of us go one God further.

1 comment:

Michael Krahn said...


I'm a Christian who is working on a series on Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" at my blog at:


Join me there for some discussion.