Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dawkins - religion is "the root of all evil"

In the new year, Richard Dawkins, Professor of Atheism - sorry, that should be Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science - at Oxford University, will be airing a "provocative" two part documentary addressing this subject. In particular, he apparently wishes to point out the destructive force that the three monotheistic religions - Christianity, Muslim and Judaism - have been in Western civilisation.

Surprising? Hardly. His views on religion are well-known - he considers bringing children up within a religious tradition to be a form of child-abuse - see here for commentary - and he considers anybody who doubts darwinism (which "allows one to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist") to be either mad, stupid, ignorant or evil. And the mainstream media in the UK are slanted against the expression of orthodox religious belief. So it was overwhelmingly likely that Dawkins would get the opportunity to continue what he started in the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures some years ago.

Neither is the theme likely to be surprising to most Christians who seek to present their beliefs in a public forum. "Look at all the suffering caused by religion" is probably in the top three intellectual objections to Christianity.

However, at risk of stealing his thunder, I have a couple of wonders. Firstly, is he going to address the fact that the twentieth century - the most bloody in human history (so far) - was so bloody because of anti-religious regimes? Stalin's Russia; Mao's China; Hitler's Germany; Pol Pot's Kampuchea. Of course, organised religion has wickedness to answer for - yes, there were the Crusades; yes, there has been sectarian violence in Northern Ireland for many decades; yes, there was the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials and the Counter Reformation. But do any of these compare with the systematic extermination of millions of Jews in Hitler's final solution? Or the Killing Fields?

Secondly, since I have no doubt that his focus will be on Christianity (being branded as anti-semitic is not what he would want, and it is always dangerous to publically condemn Islam), will he draw a distinction between the powerful organised religion represented by institutions such as the Catholic Church and the message of Jesus, which was the antithesis of power? Or will his research be as lazy as Robert Winston's was when he was preparing his "insightful, provocative" book on religion?