Monday, January 09, 2006

Religion - cause of all the world's ills?

Two part on Channel 4, starting tonight, I will be recording it.

Episode 1: The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is astounded that religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth based on hard evidence. Julia Bard reports

In this two-part Channel 4 series, Professor Richard Dawkins challenges what he describes as 'a process of non-thinking called faith'. Dawkins is well known for bringing to a wide audience the complex scientific concepts that underpin evolution. His first book, The Selfish Gene was an international bestseller.

Truth lies and faith

He describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on scepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science.

In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

At the extremes

He explores the state of the three Abrahamic religions in the world today, from the political influence of rich and powerful Christian fundamentalist institutions in America to the deadly clash of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Middle East. He describes the Holy Land as the least enlightened place in the world, a microcosm of the threat to rational values and civilisation posed by religion, whose irrational roots, he says, are nourishing intolerance and murder.

There are plenty of characters to illustrate his thesis. There are fanatics, like the former West Bank settler who has taken the small step of converting from Jewish fundamentalist to Muslim fundamentalist, transferring his hatred from one side of the looking glass to the other. And the frighteningly charismatic leader of America's National Association of Evangelicals, who believes he has been chosen by God to convert Americans through religious gatherings that resemble rock concerts – though to Dawkins they feel more reminiscent of Nuremberg rallies.

Then there are the desperate, like those carrying burdens of disability or disease, who are among the 80,000 people a year who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Dawkins does the maths: out of the millions who, over a century, have placed their faith in a miracle restoring them to good health, there have been only 66 authenticated cures. This is hardly a strong record, he says, arguing that it is better for us to embrace truth than false hope.

A sense of belonging

Drawing on such examples, it is not difficult to demolish the claims of religion as fairytales, and dangerous ones at that. But there is more to religion than ancient stories and articles of faith. Dawkins touches on the sense of belonging promised by religious groups but dismisses this as 'seductive group solidarity', which he describes as a 'shared delusion'. In doing so, he glances off the more subtle dilemmas of how religions and religious traditions are woven through people's notions of 'community', 'history' and 'identity'.

Having a sense of one's place in the world is important to everyone but has particular significance for minorities and peoples under political, economic or military pressure. Individuals may even accept Dawkins' atheistic and scientific deconstruction of the myths they have grown up with but still defend and nurture the matrix of institutions, practices and relationships which make them who they are.

Next week: The Virus of Faith

3 comments:

Gillian said...

We have to get together to discuss last nights episode. Mixed feelings about it. Ali and i were glued to it and can't wait for next week.

Ally said...

I should watch next week, it seems really interesting. Thanks for the tip.
Ally.

Dave said...

It was good and showed extremism on all sides, though the guy (self confessed athiest)set up a few straw man arguments and the whole thing enede up a debate over creationism vs evolution (that debate is tires me I am afraid). Lookin forward to next week though.

 

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