Dawkins on good form at Al Jazeera
Monday December 24, 2012 1:44 am 2 Comments
Can’t embed the video but that link will take you there. Mehdi Hasan puts up a good fight trying to expose weakness or prejudice in Dawkins argument. He fails of course, because what weakness exists in Dawkins argument is not one a religious believer is inclined to perceive or accept.
Hasan’s arguments, by contrast, were excellent illustrations of the weakness of religious argument, though far more coherently delivered than is usual. For instance, he challenges Dawkins objection to teaching children that their recently deceased friends, being of the wrong religion, will inevitably go to hell, where they will suffer in agony for the rest of time – a terrifying image which Dawkins argues is a serious form of Child abuse; arguably more serious even than ad hoc priestly sexual molestation.
Hasan’s attempt to undermine this “radical” position is to ask: “To teach children that there is one god, or that god created the world in 6 days That IS Child Abuse?”
If you want to understand the religious mindset, you need to understand why even intelligent believers – like Hasan obviously is – do not understand why his question is so badly off target.
But Dawkins, perhaps being uncharacteristically restrained, didn’t take the opportunity to expose the stupidity of the question. So let me try.
Dawkins actual argument is based on the anecdotal evidence of a 40+year-old woman who was both sexually and religiously abused as a 7-year-old, probably by the same catholic priest. He sexually molested her and, on learning that her 7-year-old (protestant) friend had died, he told her that the friend was condemned, by her protestant status, to roast in hell for the rest of time. She obviously didn’t consent to or enjoy the sexual attack but she got over it fairly soon after the event. But it took years for her to recover from the psychological damage caused by nightmarish visions of her friend burning in hell, planted in her vulnerable psyche by an evil priest.
Hasan’s first challenge to that tale was on the basis that, as an empiricist, Dawkins shouldn’t be relying on one-off anecdotes; which suggests that Hasan believes that the example IS a one-off, which would itself be an extraordinary belief. But then Hasan does profess a literal belief in the story that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse and challenged Dawkins to prove that it didn’t happen, so his grasp of empiricism isn’t quite complete.
In any case Dawkins’ real objection, shared, I would hope, by ANY humane human, religious or not, is that putting nightmarish images into the minds of children who are not able to defend themselves against such literal psychological Terrorism, is a clear, unambiguous grossly indefensible attack and abuse of a young child. In contrast, telling them that Father Christmas is going to leave presents for them under the Christmas tree, though it might be as equally factually implausible as the visions of eternal hellfire and damnation, doesn’t do any HARM.
It could, of course. If the Santa Claus doctrine was applied with the same fanatical rigour as the hellfire and damnation meme, and, for example, children were made to learn the names of the reindeer by rote, punished for getting them wrong, and warned that anything less than total compliance with parental or religious instructions would result in Santa not just leaving them out of the annual distribution jamboree but possibly even sending nasty goblins in the night to take away some of their existing toys, then the Santa Claus fairy story could start to become as damaging as some of the classic religious fables.
Dawkins is making the charitable assumption that Hasan’s teaching of stories from the Quran is closer in spirit and effect to the Father Christmas end of the meme market than to the eternal hellfire end. I’m not sure I’d have been that charitable but it was an entertaining debate. I was particularly encouraged by the audience reaction. Two thirds agreed that just being taught catholic doctrine, as a child, was as bad or worse than being sexually abused by a priest. That’s a step in the right direction…