Friday, January 13, 2006

Guardian Unlimited: Supposing ... we could inoculate against religion

Guardian Unlimited: Supposing ... we could inoculate against religion:
So the other day I'm flopping about in my pants watching The Root of All Evil, Richard Dawkins' new Channel 4 series about religion, and it's alternating between terrifying and hilarious. Terrifying because it feels like a report detailing the final seconds before the world slides into an all-out holy fistfight, and hilarious because every time Dawkins meets a religious spokesman, which he does at regular intervals throughout the programme, he quickly becomes far too angry to conduct a civil conversation with them - visibly fumes, in fact, and adopts the expression of an outraged Victorian gentleman who's just been mooned by a cackling street urchin while escorting a lady across Bloomsbury Square. It doesn't exactly move the debate forward.

British humor is not for everyone, but this piece about Richard Dawkins' recent television series tickled me.

Richard Dawkins is a highly respected scientist, but he is stepping way out of his role as a scientist in his attempt to convince people of the inherent evil found in religion. This idea is becoming a meme in the various debates about religion. (Ironically, it was Richard Dawkins who coined the term "meme", which describes the cultural transmission of ideas from one person to another).

The problem with many memes is that they are uncritically accepted, especially in this era of unprecedented access to information and ability to disseminate information (like this blog, for example...) In my original posting on this blog, I mentioned the need for responsibility with this quote from Mark Twain: "A lie will travel halfway around the world before truth has put its boots on". Memes seem to follow the same principle.

One meme that I find particularly egregious is that religions are evil because they have adherents who do evil things. Islam must not be defined by Osama bin Laden or those with similar beliefs. Christianity cannot be defined by the excesses of the Crusades or by the ill-conceived public statements of individuals that seem to find their way into the media on a depressingly regular basis.

Following Jesus, and doing all He has taught us to do, could only leave the world a better place. The Scriptures teach us to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, welcome the stranger -- as if they were Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul, in his letter to the Galations says "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is no law requiring such things, either -- but those who follow the Lord will make an effort to be all those things and more -- even if we are imperfect in our response to what the Lord requires of us.


Gruntled said...

Gregory Paul made a similar attempt to show the correlation of religion and social evil, which was also credulously reported in the Guardian. George Gallup, bless him, takes Paul on at

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks for the George Gallup reference. His article seems to answer the charges that such people as Paul and Dawkins make.

Gallup would be pretty authoritative when it comes to data interpretation.

I especially appreciate Gallup's pointing out the correlation between those scoring high on the "Love of God" scale and the likelihood that they will be involved in ministries to the poor and suffering and demonstrate God's love in other ways.

I know a retired professor of engineering who described statistics as "the art of drawing a mathematically precise line between an unwarranted assumption and a foregone conclusion."

I suspect that is what Dawkins, Paul, et al. are doing.