TGD – Chapter 8

Chapter 8 was both every bit as bad as I feared and entirely more reasonable in certain sections that I hoped. It’s titled “What’s Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?” Perhaps merely because the chapter title was sufficiently long it didn’t included the deserved extension “A case study in strawmen”.

After a quick introduction suggesting he’s not a confrontational person by nature (a laughable idea if there ever was one), he continues to his first section titled “Fundamentalism and the subversion of science”. Of all of the sections in the chapter this is the one I found most credible, particularly with an appropriately narrow definition of fundamentalist (one that I suspect Dawkins doesn’t subscribe to, but nevertheless an overly broad assertion is better than pure fallacy).

His point is that there are religious out there that are so steadfast in their beliefs that no amount of evidence can sway them from any part of it. He specifically references the creationists who believe the world to be on the order of 6,000 years old (Dawkins uses the over-used term “creationists”, which really means something more broad). I’m friends with people who hold these beliefs and I do occasionally challenge them on it. It does surprise me how steadfastly they hold to an idea that there’s no need for them as a Christian to hold on to and is so overwhelmingly disproven by science. While there are most definitely aspects of certain scientific conclusions that are worth questioning, that the earth is on the order of millions of years old instead of a few thousand, is beyond the pale. Dawkins is right to criticize them.

Here’s the thing: Many religious are not fundamentalist, myself included. Dawkins pretends to make the concession that not all religious are fundamentalists, but based on the reasoning he uses as the chapter continues, it’s clear that he views all religious as fundamentalists. If he’s going to hang his hat on the strawman of all religious think like the people who think the world is only 6,000 years old, he’s relying on something that is observably false. Many of us are open to evidence and do adjust our thoughts accordingly. What Dawkins is blind to is that his evidence/proofs of a lack of a God, as I’ve shown in my reviews to date, are not nearly as convincing as he thinks they are. That our conclusions based on the evidence are different from his does not indicate that our conclusions are not evidence based.

He shifts gears to a new group of extremists who he’s going to type-cast all religious into in his next section titled “The dark side of absolutism”. He speaks of the Muslim extremists who have committed numerous atrocities in the last 20 years, from 9-11 to the London bombings and beyond. No one will doubt how their extremist absolutism is trouble. But where he stretches too far, and he caries this idea into future sections, is that this is representative of all religions and Christianity in particular. He references the term “American Taliban” one of the most ridiculous ideas advanced by people like Dawkins. For the “American Taliban” all Dawkins can dig up is some over the top quotes from a few whack jobs who in no way properly reflect Christianity as a whole. More to the point, even these extremists are in practice non-violent. There is no example of a 9-11 that can be attributed to the “American Taliban”.

He continues building his case against the “American Taliban” in his next section titled “Faith and homosexuality”, again completely overlooking the difference between condemning an act as immoral and taking the law into ones own hands and rising to violence. He quotes some more fringe characters like Fred Phelps (and again I submit that when someone is referencing people that are uniformly ostracized by Christians as an example of what the religion teaches, it shows how desperate they are to make an unjustified connection).

But all of this is just a lead up to what he clearly sees as the linchpin of his “proof” that extremist Muslims and mainstream Christians come from the same fiber. The next section is titled “Faith and the sanctity of human life”. After a couple pages of trying to create a moral framework for why abortion should be permitted (which basically boils down to as long as a fetus has a less developed nervous system than a cow, it’s OK to kill them), he gets down to the real reason he delves into abortion: abortion clinic bombings.

See, for him, this is the proof that the “American Taliban” is every bit as bad as the Muslim Taliban. It’s his one example (and remember my thoughts earlier about Galileo and only having one example) that proves his point. In fact, when one looks at Christianity as a whole, it proves just the opposite, as I’ll demonstrate.

There were admittedly a string of Christian sourced violence in the late 80’s and early 90’s against abortion clinics and they resulted in a handful of deaths. It’s a tragic episode and one that doesn’t reflect well on Christians. However, here’s the key point: it stopped. The Christian leaders throughout America put the pressure on anti-abortion groups to stop the violence and it worked. Until George Tiller was murdered last year, an event that was again roundly criticized by Christian leaders, there had been a full decade without a single notable event and that was after another half decade where violence was on the decline. Not that the protests had stopped, far from it. But the resorting to violence had been effectively stopped.

So I ask you, what speaks more of us Christians? That there was a short period where over-passionate individuals went beyond their Christian calling and resorted to violence, or that Christians as a whole, despite finding abortion abhorrent, refused to allow the violence to continue? Compare that to what is happening with the complete lack of condemnation found in the Muslim community for the Islamic Extremists. There’s just no comparison. There is no “American Taliban”.

After a short section titled “The Great Beethoven Fallacy” which is about a false Internet rumor about Beethoven’s family and why by today’s standards he would have been aborted (OMG! A false Internet rumor! It must be the only one!), he wraps up the chapter with one final topic regarding absolutism/fundamentalism. The last section is titled “How ‘moderation’ in faith fosters fanaticism”. I had hoped that the section might give some good guidance as to ways more moderate religions unwittingly endorse fanaticism. As someone who’d prefer to not see my religious name pulled down in the mud by fundamentalists it would be valuable for me to know how to prevent that association from happening and additionally prevent myself from encouraging any fundamentalist activities. Instead the section was mostly about Muslim extremists and how fellow Muslims aren’t doing anything to stop it. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t claim to have a defense for Muslims.

Overall the chapter was a failed attempt to show how extremists/fundamentalists are really par for the course in religion. He fails entirely to make his point. As a Catholic, I can say with confidence we are not fundamentalists and we never endorse violence. To give Dawkins some credit, he has occasionally specifically pointed our how some charge he is going to make (for example the inconsistency of the death penalty/abortion) doesn’t apply to Catholics. Nevertheless, despite making these occasional concessions, he never seems to appreciate the consequence of those concessions. It means that not all religious are fundamentalists. If fundamentalists were all he had a problem with, I’d concede the point. But it’s not. He takes his points that come from extremist and fundamentalist examples and applies it to all religions and all religious people.

I will give Dawkins this. While philosophically against Christian fundamentalists, I’ve perhaps not frequently enough condemned their falsehoods. I’m a naturally confrontational person and so a strive to force myself to limit my confrontations. Unlike the Muslim situation where actual violence results from insufficient condemnation, it didn’t seem as necessary to condemn those who take a fundamentalist view of the Bible, particularly in a public setting. However, if Dawkins and others are going to try and put that millstone around my neck, I think it’s important that all Catholics be stronger about distancing themselves from that sort of viewpoint.

On to Chapter 9…

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