Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The root of all evil?

I watched today the Richard Dawkins documentary on religion - The root of all evil? First thing I have to say is that he is right not to like the title that the documentary got saddled with. It is a faux clever faux intellectual title in so far as the phrase comes from the Bible itself. The reason why it is faux intellectual is because it does not actually fit with that the original quoted is about, i.e. the love of money. This is almost as annoying as one Star Trek movie being called The Undiscovered Country and those involved insisting that the undiscovered country is meant to be the future whereas Shakespeare, or should I say Hamlet, was talking about the afterlife. Of course, one could say that people are free to use phrases as they wish – and so they are – but if the use has nothing to do with the original being quoted, the use of the quote just suggests facile intellectual pretensions lacking in any substance. So, the title is bad. But that’s not very important.

Much more important is what Dawkins says, which is that religion is an evil and an unnecessary evil. In reference to his memetic theory (interesting how it comes up just after I happen to have responded to an internet meme) Dawkins says that religion should be thought of as a virus that infests our minds. And that’s just the start of it. Dawkins makes all of the strongest criticisms of religion that have been made by atheists for years and does quite well. I particularly like how he brings out the immoral nature of the claim that morality ought to be based upon the fear of judgement after death. Watching him talk with a range of religious figures I found myself amazed by two things. It is clear that Dawkins is a fairly easy-going man, with the manner you would expect of an English intellectual, so it was surprising to see him say quite confrontational things to religious fanatics. On the other hand, it was also striking how he managed to control his feelings and keep speaking in a fairly normal tone when those he spoke to turned around and accused him of all manner of profoundly immoral things or simply said things that were breath-takingly dumb or cruel.

The most interesting point that Dawkins made was to do with religious education. Although he did not say so straight out, I think that he would probably argue that many of the problems with religion could be resolved if only children were not educated in some particular set of religious beliefs and were, instead, given a secular education. Certainly, he made his opposition to the current increase in the number of religious schools in the UK quite plain. This is, of course, very relevant to my own individual situation as my daughter will in a few years reach school age. Thankfully, around here religious schools are rare and my wife would be as opposed to sending our daughter to one as I am. Still, all kids have to attend either religion classes, i.e. Catholicism classes, or ethics classes while in school. The norm is for them to go to religion classes. Of course, the classes, both religion and ethics, are badly taught and the children treat them as the joke that they are. Still, I suspect that the question of whether my daughter is to attend religion or ethics classes will come up in a few years and I just hope that it will be possible to resolve it relatively easily.

Like I wrote in a post a while ago, religion ought to be treated like smoking. And yes, if I see people smoking inside my house I ask them to stand on the porch.


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