Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

(Parte 4 de 6)

If the advocates of apartheid had their wits about them they would claim - for all I know truthfully - that allowing mixed races is against their religion. A good part of

A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS NON-BELIEVER 23 the opposition would respectfully tiptoe away. And it is no use claiming that this is an unfair parallel because apartheid has no rational justification. The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe 'religious liberty'.

Little did I know that something pretty similar would come to pass in the twenty-first century. The Los Angeles Times (10 April 2006) reported that numerous Christian groups on campuses around the United States were suing their universities for enforcing anti-discrimination rules, including prohibitions against harassing or abusing homosexuals. As a typical example, in 2004 James Nixon, a twelve-year-old boy in Ohio, won the right in court to wear a T-shirt to school bearing the words 'Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white!'10 The school told him not to wear the T-shirt - and the boy's parents sued the school. The parents might have had a conscionable case if they had based it on the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. But they didn't: indeed, they couldn't, because free speech is deemed not to include 'hate speech'. But hate only has to prove it is religious, and it no longer counts as hate. So, instead of freedom of speech, the Nixons' lawyers appealed to the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Their victorious lawsuit was supported by the Alliance Defense Fund of Arizona, whose business it is to 'press the legal battle for religious freedom'.

The Reverend Rick Scarborough, supporting the wave of similar

Christian lawsuits brought to establish religion as a legal justification for discrimination against homosexuals and other groups, has named it the civil rights struggle of the twenty-first century: 'Christians are going to have to take a stand for the right to be Christian.'1 Once again, if such people took their stand on the right to free speech, one might reluctantly sympathize. But that isn't what it is about. The legal case in favour of discrimination against homosexuals is being mounted as a counter-suit against alleged religious discrimination! And the law seems to respect this. You

24 T H E GOD DELUS1O N can't get away with saying, 'If you try to stop me from insulting homosexuals it violates my freedom of prejudice.' But you can get away with saying, 'It violates my freedom of religion.' What, when you think about it, is the difference? Yet again, religion trumps all.

all three connectionswith predictable results.

I'l end the chapter with a particular case study, which telingly illuminates society's exaggerated respect for religion, over and above ordinary human respect. The case flared up in February 2006 - a ludicrous episode, which veered wildly between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. The previous September, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Over the next three months, indignation was carefully and systematically nurtured throughout the Islamic world by a small group of Muslims living in Denmark, led by two imams who had been granted sanctuary there.12 In late 2005 these malevolent exiles travelled from Denmark to Egypt bearing a dossier, which was copied and circulated from there to the whole Islamic world, including, importantly, Indonesia. The dossier contained falsehoods about alleged maltreatment of Muslims in Denmark, and the tendentious lie that Jyllands-Posten was a government-run newspaper. It also contained the twelve cartoons which, crucially, the imams had supplemented with three additional images whose origin was mysterious but which certainly had no connection with Denmark. Unlike the original twelve, these three add-ons were genuinely offensive - or would have been if they had, as the zealous propagandists alleged, depicted Muhammad. A particularly damaging one of these three was not a cartoon at all but a faxed photograph of a bearded man wearing a fake pig's snout held on with elastic. It has subsequently turned out that this was an Associated Press photograph of a Frenchman entered for a pigsquealing contest at a country fair in France.13 The photograph had no connection whatsoever with the prophet Muhammad, no connection with Islam, and no connection with Denmark. But the Muslim activists, on their mischief-stirring hike to Cairo, implied

The carefully cultivated 'hurt' and 'offence' was brought to an explosive head five months after the twelve cartoons were originally published. Demonstrators in Pakistan and Indonesia burned Danish flags (where did they get them from?) and hysterical

A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS NON-BELIEVER 25 demands were made for the Danish government to apologize. (Apologize for what? They didn't draw the cartoons, or publish them. Danes just live in a country with a free press, something that people in many Islamic countries might have a hard time understanding.) Newspapers in Norway, Germany, France and even the United States (but, conspicuously, not Britain) reprinted the cartoons in gestures of solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, which added fuel to the flames. Embassies and consulates were trashed, Danish goods were boycotted, Danish citizens and, indeed, Westerners generally, were physically threatened; Christian churches in Pakistan, with no Danish or European connections at all, were burned. Nine people were killed when Libyan rioters attacked and burned the Italian consulate in Benghazi. As Germaine Greer wrote, what these people really love and do best is pandemonium.14

A bounty of $1 million was placed on the head of 'the Danish cartoonist' by a Pakistani imam - who was apparently unaware that there were twelve different Danish cartoonists, and almost certainly unaware that the three most offensive pictures had never appeared in Denmark at all (and, by the way, where was that million going to come from?). In Nigeria, Muslim protesters against the Danish cartoons burned down several Christian churches, and used machetes to attack and kill (black Nigerian) Christians in the streets. One Christian was put inside a rubber tyre, doused with petrol and set alight. Demonstrators were photographed in Britain bearing banners saying 'Slay those who insult Islam', 'Butcher those who mock Islam', 'Europe you will pay: Demolition is on its way' and, apparently without irony, 'Behead those who say Islam is a violent religion'.

In the aftermath of all this, the journalist Andrew Mueller interviewed Britain's leading 'moderate' Muslim, Sir Iqbal Sacranie.15 Moderate he may be by today's Islamic standards, but in Andrew Mueller's account he still stands by the remark he made when Salman Rushdie was condemned to death for writing a novel: 'Death is perhaps too easy for him' - a remark that sets him in ignominious contrast to his courageous predecessor as Britain's most influential Muslim, the late Dr Zaki Badawi, who offered Salman Rushdie sanctuary in his own home. Sacranie told Mueller how

26 THE GOD D E I. U S I O N

obscure Scandinavian newspaper may confirm thatIslam and the

concerned he was about the Danish cartoons. Mueller was concerned too, but for a different reason: 'I am concerned that the ridiculous, disproportionate reaction to some unfunny sketches in an west are fundamentally irreconcilable.' Sacranie, on the other hand, praised British newspapers for not reprinting the cartoons, to which Mueller voiced the suspicion of most of the nation that 'the restraint of British newspapers derived less from sensitivity to Muslim discontent than it did from a desire not to have their windows broken'.

Sacranie explained that 'The person of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is revered so profoundly in the Muslim world, with a love and affection that cannot be explained in words. It goes beyond your parents, your loved ones, your children. That is part of the faith. There is also an Islamic teaching that one does not depict the Prophet.' This rather assumes, as Mueller observed,

but nobody else is obliged to take it seriously

that the values of Islam trump anyone else's - which is what any follower of Islam does assume, just as any follower of any religion believes that theirs is the sole way, truth and light. If people wish to love a 7th century preacher more than their own families, that's up to them,

Except that if you don't take it seriously and accord it proper respect you are physically threatened, on a scale that no other religion has aspired to since the Middle Ages. One can't help wondering why such violence is necessary, given that, as Mueller notes: 'If any of you clowns are right about anything, the cartoonists are going to hell anyway - won't that do? In the meantime, if you want to get excited about affronts to Muslims, read the Amnesty International reports on Syria and Saudi Arabia.'

Many people have noted the contrast between the hysterical 'hurt' professed by Muslims and the readiness with which Arab media publish stereotypical anti-Jewish cartoons. At a demonstration in Pakistan against the Danish cartoons, a woman in a black burka was photographed carrying a banner reading 'God Bless Hitler'.

In response to all this frenzied pandemonium, decent liberal

A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS NON-BELIEVER 27 newspapers deplored the violence and made token noises about free speech. But at the same time they expressed 'respect' and 'sympathy' for the deep 'offence' and 'hurt' that Muslims had

'suffered'. The 'hurt' and 'suffering' consisted, remember, not in any person enduring violence or real pain of any kind: nothing more than a few daubs of printing ink in a newspaper that nobody outside Denmark would ever have heard of but for a deliberate campaign of incitement to mayhem.

I am not in favour of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies. All politicians must get used to disrespectful cartoons of their faces, and nobody riots in their defence. What is so special about religion that we grant it such uniquely privileged respect? As H. L. Mencken said: 'We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.'

It is in the light of the unparalleled presumption of respect for religion that I make my own disclaimer for this book. I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.

CHAPTER 2

The God Hypothesis

The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next. RALPH WALDO EMERSON

THE GOD HYPOTHESIS 31

Bible" or merely slapping his side & chortling "God, isn't God

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror. A naif blessed with the perspective of innocence has a clearer perception. Winston Churchill's son Randolph somehow contrived to remain ignorant of scripture until Evelyn Waugh and a brother officer, in a vain attempt to keep Churchill quiet when they were posted together during the war, bet him he couldn't read the entire Bible in a fortnight: 'Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud "I say I bet you didn't know this came in the a shit!"'16 Thomas Jefferson - better read - was of a similar opinion: 'The Christian God is a being of terrific character - cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.'

It is unfair to attack such an easy target. The God Hypothesis should not stand or fall with its most unlovely instantiation, Yahweh, nor his insipidly opposite Christian face, 'Gentle Jesus meek and mild'. (To be fair, this milksop persona owes more to his Victorian followers than to Jesus himself. Could anything be more mawkishly nauseating than Mrs C. F. Alexander's 'Christian children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he'?) I am not attacking the particular qualities of Yahweh, or Jesus, or Allah, or any other specific god such as Baal, Zeus or Wotan. Instead I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. This book will advocate an alternative view: any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion; and, as later chapters will show, a pernicious delusion.

32 T H E G O D D E L U S1ON

Not surprisingly, since it is founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence, the God Hypothesis comes in many versions. Historians of religion recognize a progression from primitive tribal animisms, through polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.

It is not clear why the change from polytheism to monotheism should be assumed to be a self-evidently progressive improvement. But it widely is - an assumption that provoked Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not a Muslim) wittily to conjecture that monotheism is in its turn doomed to subtract one more god and become atheism. The Catholic Encyclopedia dismisses polytheism and atheism in the same insouciant breath: 'Formal dogmatic atheism is self-refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men. Nor can polytheism, however easily it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher.'17

Monotheistic chauvinism was until recently written into the charity law of both England and Scotland, discriminating against polytheistic religions in granting tax-exempt status, while allowing an easy ride to charities whose object was to promote monotheistic religion, sparing them the rigorous vetting quite properly required of secular charities. It was my ambition to persuade a member of Britain's respected Hindu community to come forward and bring a civil action to test this snobbish discrimination against polytheism.

Far better, of course, would be to abandon the promotion of religion altogether as grounds for charitable status. The benefits of this to society would be great, especially in the United States, where the sums of tax-free money sucked in by churches, and polishing the heels of already well-heeled televangelists, reach levels that could fairly be described as obscene. The aptly named Oral Roberts once told his television audience that God would kill him unless they gave him $8 million. Almost unbelievably, it worked.

(Parte 4 de 6)

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