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← In Defense of Dawkins’s Reason Rally Speech

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Zeuglodon

While the media has largely ignored The Reason Rally, the one most popular bit of news that seems to be traveling around and getting criticized is Richard Dawkins’s recommendation...

Says it all, doesn't it? Ten thousand people gathering to celebrate a cause in the country capital are ignored by most of the media in favour of a chance to heap scorn on one person. Sigh.

Aren't those assumptions he lists highly hypocritical? How many religionists have "considered one’s opponent’s best arguments rather than attacked either strawman or ‘weak man’ arguments"? Who is "evading serious rational discussion of the question of God’s existence"? is it the writer of the God Delusion, or the reviewers who charged it with ignoring sophisticated theology? Incidentally, note that those reviewers either failed to explain why or provided examples of people who assumed one specific deity existed - the very point the book makes.

This article shows who's missing the point, and does it admirably. The Ipsos MORI poll should have been a wake-up call to many people who, by self-identifying as religious, don't understand how politicians abuse this misunderstanding to push a pro-religious agenda. An agenda, moreover, that those people don't actually want realized.

Besides, if the excuses behind the eucharist don't make people think "that's ridiculous", then what will? If we can't mock that, then what can we mock? What justifications are there for not pointing out why those beliefs shouldn't be taken seriously?

This is a good bit:

While Dawkins explicitly calls for ridicule and contempt for patently absurd beliefs, he is equally explicitly not recommending a simplistic, dismissive “point and laugh” strategy aimed at (impossibly) marginalizing believing people as citizens. He is, rather, recommending something that true believing Catholics should not be threatened by or insist on exemptions from; namely, that they be demanded to affirm their Church’s beliefs or stop calling themselves Catholics.

And, in fact, if Catholics had the slightest confidence in their more absurd teachings, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of atheists routinely asking them (or their brethren) if they actually believed what Catholicism teaches. The response in all the Catholic articles about Dawkins should have read, “Professor Dawkins, I’ll answer your question: Yes! I believe in the true transsubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, and here’s why it’s more rational than not believing in it.” And they should have followed that up with triumphalist exhortations to fellow believers to proudly affirm their belief in it. And the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” should have joined Dawkins in raising the bar on their fellow Catholics and said, “Either start accepting Church teachings or admit you’re an atheist like Professor Dawkins calls you to!”

I suspect though that they doubt, as much as Dawkins doubts, that many believers would find those appeals as inspiring as an appeal to their sense of persecution and grievance.

It makes psychological sense, though, that things people take seriously are things they're highly reluctant to examine too closely. By playing the victim, they get to bypass rational thought and appeal to the emotions of onlookers.

Daniel Fincke does not leave a stone unturned, as far as I can tell, though the writing veers a little close to the rant style for my liking. Those people critiquing the idea should answer to the points he raises near the end, about what exactly they mean when they rush to defend people's "beliefs". I don't want to marginalize people either, but that doesn't mean I have to take their unsubstantiated beliefs seriously when they've been examined and tested, and found severely wanting.

And the best bit? Fincke provides evidence of Dawkins' own words to back up his points. I wish more online reporters did things like this.

For the objective record, below the fold is the relevant transcript from Dawkins’s speech in full context, followed by an embed of the video of the full speech. The quoted sections come from 7:36-8:23 and 12:40-15:41 of the video.

I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don’t despise religious people, I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you, that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”

[W]hat I want to suggest you do when you meet somebody who claims to be religious, ask them what they really believe. If you meet somebody who says he’s Catholic, for example, say, “What do you mean? Do you mean you were just baptized Catholic? Because I’m not impressed by that.” We just ran a poll by my Foundation in Britain, just ran a poll in Britain, in which we took those people who had ticked the Christian box in the census (and, by the way, that figure has come down dramatically)…and we asked them, “Why did you tick the Christian box?” And the most popular answer to that question was, “Oh, well, I like to think of myself as a good person.” Well, we all like to think of ourselves as good people. Atheists do, Jews do, Muslims do. So, when you meet somebody who claims to be Christian, ask her, ask him, “What do you really believe?” And I think you’ll find that in many cases, that they give you an answer that is no more convincing than that “I like to be a good person.”

By the way, when we went on to ask a specific question of these, over 54%, “What do you do when you’re faced with a moral dilemma? Where do you turn? Only 10% turned to their religion when they want to solve their moral question. Only 10%! The majority of them said, “I turn to my innate sense of goodness.” The next most popular answer was, “I turn for advice to relatives and friends.” So, when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is, “I don’t believe you.” I don’t believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, “Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafter, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that?!” Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood? Mock them. Ridicule them. In public. Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe that need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

EDIT: Changed "transubstantiation" to "eucharist" based on Cartomancer's comment. Thanks for the correction.

Mon, 02 Apr 2012 13:15:40 UTC | #931891