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← What's the Place of Faith in Schools?

Paula Kirby's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by Paula Kirby

Mark Jones: It's astonishing how widespread is the belief that Richard wants to ban parents teaching their kids how to live. Don't these people ever have the gumption to read what he actually thinks?

It doesn't astonish me. There's a reason why the publication of The God Delusion was immediately followed by a spate of books by Christian apologists, arming believers with arguments - albeit mostly spurious ones - against it. They didn't want to take the risk of believers reading it for themselves, so they rushed in to give them their version of what it said. And, unsurprisingly, they all (or at least, all the ones I read, which was several), misrepresented Richard's views. The claim that he was trying to ban religion and make it a criminal offence for parents to teach their children about the parents' religion was made or implied in all of them.

Our old friend Wee Flea was quite explicit in advising his readers not to read The God Delusion:

[From the reading list:] The books below are the books I have interacted with – there is only one book I would regard to be absolutely trustworthy, the Bible! Obviously The God Delusion is the book I am interacting with. If you already have the book then you will know what I am referring to. If you don’t, I cannot honestly recommend that you should get it. It really is as bad as I have tried to demonstrate and I would be reluctant to put any more money into it!”

As I wrote in Fleabytes:

You’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of this man. After all, in his introductory letter to the reader, he states his aim as being that the reader “may think and consider these things for yourself”. How on earth the reader is meant to think and consider the strengths and weaknesses of TGD without actually reading it is beyond me – but of course, that isn’t Robertson’s aim at all: rather, his intention has been to enable his readers to denounce TGD using HIS arguments. If they were to actually read TGD for themselves, they’d a) see how distorted his representation of the book had been and b) quite possibly begin to question the very basis of their beliefs. And we wouldn’t want thinking for themselves to go that far, would we?

And of course, the media have also been consistent in misrepresenting Richard, as numerous other recent threads on this site attest. Right from the start, they have portrayed him as being the purveyor of rabid, hate-filled, intolerant views, despite the fact that nothing he has either written or said could possibly be understood in that way by any objective person. I have told the story of my first encounter with TGD several times before, but it still makes me laugh, so I shall tell it again. I was already an atheist, but the topic wasn't a particularly big deal for me at the time. I'd never heard of Richard Dawkins before then, so I had no reason to side either with or against him. In fact, all I knew of him came from the newspaper reviews of this dreadful, aggressive, militant, fundamentalist, strident, shrill, nasty, rude book called The God Delusion. And I decided I should read it, since it was on a subject of mild interest to me and was clearly causing a stir, but I fully expected to dislike it, since I actively dislike rudeness and aggression and deliberate nastiness.

Well, I got about 40% of the way through ... and quite literally went back to one of the original book reviews to make sure I'd bought the right book. Since I'd only found clear, straightforward, calm arguments along with a few smatterings of humour - but no sign of the rampant abuse I'd been led to expect - I quite seriously thought I must have bought a different one by mistake.

Why the repeated, constant, endless misrepresentation of both Richard and his views? I am in no doubt that it is all part of a deliberate attempt to deflect people from actually engaging with his arguments.

The good news is that, despite the best attempts of media and church, the tactics have only been partially successful. More and more people are understanding that religious claims simply do not stand up to scrutiny, and are also coming to share the view that special influence for religion in public life is therefore unjustified. That's happening in the teeth of the most astonishing opposition. But it IS happening.

But of course there will still be many people out there whose only knowledge of either Richard or TGD comes from the media or (to a far smaller extent) the pulpit. Since those sources have consistently painted Richard as a loony extremist, I'm really not at all surprised that so many people still fall for the propaganda.

Fri, 24 Feb 2012 17:42:48 UTC | #921570