Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Cristina Odone on Richard Dawkins

In last Sunday's Observer there was a short article in the Comment section by Cristina Odone. Called "Let us pray for the soul of Richard Dawkins", it discusses the conversation she had with Dawkins whilst in the country. He started off by proposing a hypothetical dilemma,

"You are on a deserted beach with a rifle, an elephant and a baby. This is the last elephant on earth and it is charging the baby. Do you shoot the elephant, knowing the species would become extinct?".

She replied that she would shoot the elephant, at which:

"He was outraged by my answer: man, beast, they were all the same to him and the priority must be to protect the endangered species. He berated me for my foolish belief in the specialness of humanity for its soul".

To be honest I disagree with Dawkins here merely for the fact if the elephant is the last of its species then it is extinct anyway, but I feel he was merely trying to make a point about the human centric view many people take.

However later on in the article things take a turn. She admonishes Dawkins, as well as Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for their "secularist extremism". First, what the hell is "secularist extremism", no special treatment; to the extreme? Obviously she is merely trying to use word with obvious religious overtones, a technique which seems endemic among those who criticise the critical. She continues to do this in the article for example: "the tenets of Dawkins dogma", "Dawkins is not the only world-famous apologist of secularist extremism" and "The rabid attacks by Dawkins and his camp-followers".

However I find this particular part extremely telling so I will quote it in full. I apologise for the repeats.

"Dawkins is not the only world-famous apologist of secularist extremism. Christopher Hitchens is similarly critical of religion; so is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch MP who received death threats for her criticism of Islam. But Hitchens and Ali now operate primarily in America, a nation where 95 per cent of citizens believe in God and church attendance is growing, not dwindling. They can jab God and his followers, but theirs is only a faint note of discord, overwhelmed by the church choir." (My emphasis)

Evidently it seems anybody who criticises religion is a secularist extremist! And yet there is no such condemnation of the death threats Ayaan Hirsi Ali received. Does this not seem backwards? Why is criticism of religion seen as such an extreme action, comparable with acts of mass murder (*2)? This is even more irritating as after having recently watched the second episode of 'A rough history of disbelief', which I thoroughly recommend, I learnt that three or four hundreds years ago, I would have been executed for 'Atheism and disbelief'. Is this not insane, that these old portents of horrific intolerance are forgotten so quick, in the rush to brand any person who has a differing opinion on religion as a bigot?

Odone then goes on about how this 'faith-bashing' is extremely damaging in Britain as belief is a minority practice and believers a persecuted lot. Because the religious are so downtrodden that they have to scuttle around in fear of persecution. What rubbish. A case could be made for an increase discrimination against Muslims in Britain, but that is a complex issue I will no doubt address in a later post. No what this really is about is religious people like Odone not getting the respect they crave. Any differing view is just bigotry disguised in logical arguments.

Finally she states that if it wasn't for religious "persecutors" like Dawkins, the religious:

"would see no need for hard-line posturing. They would once again feel like ordinary citizens rather than a hunted species that must bare its fangs to survive."

I have no idea in what way believers are a hunted species. This is hardly Nazi Germany, where believers are made to wear their religious icons sewn into their clothes (though many choose to wear identifiers by choice). Maybe she is confusing the lessening of belief in this country to an actual attempt at extermination of belief. And the idea that without Dawkins suddenly every believer would become a religious moderate is just laughable. Where was the Afghani Dawkins to force the Taliban to "bare its fangs to survive"?

Really, the unwilling nature of religion to actually deal with criticism is beyond belief. If believers want to float their exotic ideas about how life should be run and the wills and powers of god(s), they should be prepared with some well thought out rational arguments to respond. As well as some evidence. Just labelling criticism as intolerance is asking for special treatment, which is one thing this "secularist extremist" is wholeheartedly against, for any idea.


* 1 - Original Article
* 2 - See third paragraph


nullifidian said...

I do appreciate a good deconstruction of wingnuttery: excellent job Xander.

Max said...

Of course Christians are going to use all the rhetoric in their power to label outspoken athiests as "crazy" in the same way Dawkins, Harris, et al label Christians as irrational or fundamentalist. It's all about trying to take away the other side's credibility.

Tom Woodman said...

Pardon me, 'secular extremism' (where did you get the idea 'extremism' was a word associated with religion? A revealing preconception in itself) is where all religious belief is attacked as irrational, compared to belief in fairies (a reductionist analogy that passes as an argument), said to be the source of all evil, violent, to have no evidence for it (see website neitherdawkinsnorfundamentalism.com), etc. Dawkins says all this and more, and Hitchens is even more personally abusive. As the times said of Dawkins, 'such an angry man: get over it! Huge generalisations, not based on evidence, this is the mark of extremism, Tom Woodman