Posted by: Gabriel | February 10, 2009

In Memory of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

For the most part, I was very disappointed with The God Delusion. I had heard (mostly from Dawkins himself) how funny and entertaining the book was supposed to be and I was really hoping for a good laugh at religion’s expense. But after reading through ¾ of the book without even a snicker, I was about to give up on Dawkins’ “wit”. Little did I realise that he was actually just building up the suspense for one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard:

 

I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca – or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan. (p. 283)

 

I’m not being facetious at all when I say that I laughed – quite a lot – when I read this line. After my fun, I went back and reread the page: Dawkins has made some less-than-solid accusations, but it was hard for me to accept that he would make such an absurd claim in his book. Even treating this line as graciously as I can, however, I can’t think that Dawkins was being anything but serious when he wrote this. Since it didn’t come up in class today, I thought I might as well make a short comment on the history which Dawkins tries to revise away here.

 

I’m mostly limited to my experience with European history, but the French Revolution of 1792, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were all thoroughly anti-Christian in the tone they adopted & the Russian Revolution in particular was vehemently atheistic & anti-religious. In addition to directing violence at Christians, the Russian Communists had little reservation at destroying the churches of Russia, many of which were a marvellous testament to the beauty humanity can create. From the little I know, antireligious revolutions in the Americas, Africa, & Asia, as well as the spreading of Communism in Europe followed much the same pattern of destroying religious artwork and architecture for the sake of destruction and intolerance.

 

I feel this quote was a continuation of one of the major problems with Dawkins’ thought: he misconstrues not only what it is to be religious, but also what it is to be irreligious. He chooses what he wants to see of religion – the worst – and also what he wants to see of irreligion – the best. But even moreso, Dawkins wants to treat religion as a united and monolithic force while denying that atheists must take responsibility for each other’s actions. If religious moderation & tolerance is to be accused for fostering and environment for jihadists, shouldn’t moderate atheism (of which Dawkins is probably not the best representative) be responsible for allowing Cults of Reason, the Reign of Terror, the Mexican Revolution, and the Russian Terror?

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Responses

  1. Thanks for bringing this quote to our attention. Along these lines, I am pretty sure that Sam Harris would destroy Mecca, as we discussed the militant side of the New Atheism in class. It is obvious to me that the New Atheism can be just as militant and oppressive as religion has been in the past. If The God Delusion were to be printed in a new edition, would Dawkins include the excerpt that you presented, given the militant comments made by Harris and other atheists since its first printing?

    Also, I was interested in your comments regarding religion/atheism and their place within the recent history of the West. Some of my recent research has involved tracing the roots of modern atheism in history, about which you may be interested in reading more. Specifically, I found Alister McGrath’s book, The Twilight of Atheism, to be interesting. Summarizing as best as I can in as few words as possible, McGrath seeks to discuss atheism’s rise in association with the fall of the Bastille/French Revolution and twilight as indicated by the fall of the Soviet Union/Berlin Wall. Between these major events in history, McGrath discusses major thinkers and ideas that contributed to the thoughts of atheists and believers. The book is well-written and easy to read. In short, I highly recommend it. Finally, McGrath’s work was even more fascinating for me, because he is an atheist who turned Christian. I wonder how Dawkins and company would respond to such a highly educated and respected scientist turning from atheism to belief.

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation, Garrett. I’ll definitely look it up, though maybe not this semester (I should really start doing research for this paper at some point!).


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