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Tony Grist

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The Root Of All Evil [Jan. 10th, 2006|01:42 pm]
Tony Grist
It's refreshing that militant Darwinist Richard Dawkins has been given the opportunity to attack religion- all religion- in his new TV series The Root Of All Evil.

On the other hand there's something a bit stringy and gristly about his case.

While it's quite true that the worldwide revival of fundamentalist religion- Islamic, Christian, Hindu- is one of the scariest developments of recent years, it's quite false to argue that religion has been behind all that is bad in human history.

The greatest atrocities of the 20th century were committed by atheist or areligious regimes- Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Communist China, Communist Cambodia. The First World War had little to do with religion and everything to do with nationalism.

Human beings like to believe. They like to believe en masse. It keeps them warm. But they don't particularly need to believe in God. Any ideology will do.

And Dawkins igonores the good that religion can accomplish. It was evangelical Christians, as I wrote the other day, who broke the slave trade. And- on a different tack- recent research has shown that, as a matter of statistics, believers are more likely to be happy and fulfilled than unbelievers.

Religion is a stalk, a branch, a tendril- not a root.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2006-01-10 06:22 am (UTC)
The greatest atrocities of the 20th century were committed by atheist or areligious regimes- Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Communist China, Communist Cambodia. The First World War had little to do with religion and everything to do with nationalism.

okay, you have a lot of good points here. But, put simply, religion has been responsible for more deaths and murders than anything else in the history of man. The Jews were put to death for being Jews in WW2. Further back than that, there were the Crusades.

Now - even now - people can't agree about who 'owns' the Holy Land.

A stalk, a branch, a tendril? More like a weed...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-10 07:01 am (UTC)
The holocaust was partly about religion but also, primarily, about the 19th century ideology of race. (And other things too, I'm sure.)
Hitler was a Catholic by upbringing but an atheist by conviction.

Has religion really killed more people than any other ideology? I imagine the casualties caused by the Crusades were small by the standards of modern warfare.

Stalin is credited with something like 30,000,000 deaths and Mao with even more. Those are pretty high figures.
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[User Picture]From: pickwick
2006-01-10 06:32 am (UTC)
And- on a different tack- recent research has shown that, as a matter of statistics, believers are more likely to be happy and fulfilled than unbelievers.


We were talking about this the other night, and I thought that religion is like the Matrix. If you're in it, everything's good and you're looked after and content, but it's not real. Can you be truly happy in a construct? If you're outside, life might not be as straightforward, but it's real. It's just a case of choosing a pill :o)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-10 07:04 am (UTC)
That's a very good point.

I'm an unbeliever and happier as an unbeliever than I was as a believer. But how do you measure such things?
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[User Picture]From: pickwick
2006-01-10 08:20 am (UTC)
Yeah - the only way you can measure happiness is by asking people, and I tend to think that (some) religious people will say they're happy all the time, because to do otherwise would be offensive to their god.

Another thing I think makes statistics of happiness in general a bit pointless is (and this is a huge generalisation) that asked by a researcher or something, "Are you happy?", an intelligent person will think about it, and think about the world and things that are important to them, and answer in regard to a lot of things, whereas a less intelligent person will maybe just think about the moment and go "Yeah, Man U won the match, I'm totally chuffed" or whatever.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-10 07:09 am (UTC)

Disagree

You may want to rethink your assumption that religious people are better off than non-religious. This may enlighten you.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html

Also, while I am not going to take the time to read your blog to discover this, I am assuming that you are a creationist since you refer to Dawkins as a 'militant Darwanist'. Darwanist? This term does more to stereotype an individual as an ignorant fundamentalist than any other, so if that is the impression you are wishing to leave with the reader, you are doing a good job of it.

And, by the way, Hitler was not an atheist and atheism had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by the regimes that you mention. Unlike most religions, atheism (not a religion) does not condone the torture, rape and brutality that permeates religious texts.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-10 07:24 am (UTC)

Re: Disagree

Oh no, you've got me all wrong.

I'm an agnostic. And certaily not a Creationist. My description of Dawkins as "a militant Darwinist" is without perjorative overtones. It's simply a description of what he is. He's a Darwinian biologist and he's militant about it. And more power to his elbow!

Perhaps none of us knows what Hitler really believed. I think he believed in The German Race and his own Manifest Destiny, but I doubt if he believed in God. I could be wrong.

I'm not saying atheism is murderous. I'm saying that human beings are murderous and neither believers nor unbelievers have a monopoly on atrocity.

I'm with Dawkins about 80%, perhaps 90%, of the way. I just think he makes religion out to be more basic than it really is.

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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-01-10 07:17 am (UTC)
I forget the individual who posited that religion has the capacity to inspire both the angelic and the demonic in man. All too true. As you and your commenters have pointed out, religion is responsible for both atrocity and benificence throughout history - any attempt to ignore either aspect is to cling to a naive perspective. I appreciate your nuance here. People like to throw out examples like the Inquisition and the Crusades because they're bloody and dramatic, and require little thought to convey an emotional impact. It's often little more than a justification for self-serving rage.

You failed to mention, however, another system of belief that is as responsible for causing just as much misery to humanity, all the more so because it is less direct and more devious: capitalist consumerism. Think of third world poverty and the destruction of the environment, both of which are largely perpetuated by the drive for corporate profit and, more individually, by our individual desires for cheap consumer goods. Those nasty, evil corporations we like to condemn would cease to exist, or would at least be forced to radically transform their MO, if en masse we simply refused to buy. But we don't. Much easier to impotently shake our fists at business suits and clergy while driving the SUV to Starbucks for our morning latte.

I would argue that many who rail against organized religion fail to recognize that it is often a mere smokescreen and puppet for capitalist interests. Does anyone out there truly believe that the lunacy of Pat Robertson is inspired entirely by religion? The man is as much a worshipper of cash as Christ, and the former is just as responsible for his behavior as Christianity, if not more so. We are all heavily invested in the capitalist system, whether we realize it or not. The truly devious aspect of it is I'm not sure there is a better option out there, and my own consumerist tendencies might not want it even if were.

*steps off soapbox*
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-10 07:48 am (UTC)
Yes, Capitalism.

And the insidious thing about Capitalism is that its victims are so hard to quantify. They don't get stood up against the wall and shot (at least most of them don't); they fall victim to circumstances that the markets have engineered- and which we are encouraged to regard as unavoidable and natural.

Many ideologies have used religion as a smokescreen. 19th century nationalism for example.
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2006-01-11 06:43 am (UTC)
Indeed, I think what is forgotten is that human beings have an innate need to draw boundaries, a discomfort with amibiguity and it is this that causes terror and religion being one of the biggest boundaries of them all is an extreme manifestation. I feel nationalism to be a far worse ideology which is why I'm an anarchist.
I am also somewhat Durkheimian in that I agree with the glib statement 'religion is society worshipping itself'. Tolstoy was excommunicated by actually living according the the precepts of Jesus and saying the Russian church did not!

Fear is no doubt a sensible evolutionary device to protect the species but it is the real cause of all the world's ills IMHO. Religion might be a manifestation of it but it is as you say not the root.
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[User Picture]From: zoe_1418
2006-01-10 08:31 am (UTC)
I really appreciate this post, and your point that "human beings are murderous and neither believers nor unbelievers have a monopoly on atrocity."

And, as someone else has already put it, I appreciate your nuance here.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-11 10:08 am (UTC)
I think nuance is terribly, terribly important.

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[User Picture]From: methodius
2006-01-10 06:18 pm (UTC)

That fool Dawkins

One of the best comments on this came from frsimon.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-01-11 01:33 am (UTC)

Re: That fool Dawkins

Yes, that puts it in a nutshell. I couldn't quite work out what it is that grates about Dawkins and frsimon
nailed it for me. The man's an amateur.

Thanks for introducing me to this ljer. I'm immediately befriending him. I could do with some good, lefty Anglo-catholicism in my life. :)
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2006-01-11 09:21 am (UTC)

Re: That fool Dawkins

It's not just that he's an amateur, though.

I agree with G.K. Chesterton that some things are best left to amateurs -- politics, for example (which is one of the fundamental presuppositions of democracy). Noam Chomsky is not a political scientist, but I believe that many of his political utterances deserve to be taken seriously.

And even in fields like history, amateurs who take the trouble to familiarise themselves with basic historical method can make a useful contribution.

But Dawkins appears to go beyond this, and to all acounts seems to cross over into pure bigotry.
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