Odious beliefs

Oh yes – this sounds familiar.

Richard Dawkins once took part in a debate with the distinguished theologian and philosopher Richard Swinburne. The Holocaust, Swinburne suggested, had a positive element because it gave Jews an opportunity to be noble and courageous. Swinburne’s ‘grotesque piece of reasoning’, Dawkins writes in his new book, is ‘damningly typical of the theological mind’, and an attitude that reveals not just the redundancy of religion but also its immorality.

We’ve had a look at Swinburne’s grotesque reasoning before, more than once. Stuff like that gives philosophy of religion a bad name, I should think. David Attenborough is a useful counter to that kind of thing.

People sometimes say to me, “Why don’t you admit that the humming bird, the butterfly, the bird of Paradise are proof of the wonderful things produced by Creation?” And I always say, well, when you say that, you’ve also got to think of a little boy sitting on a river bank, like here, in West Africa, that’s got a little worm, a living organism, in his eye and boring through the eyeball and is slowly turning him blind. The Creator God that you believe in, presumably, also made that little worm.

It’s the devil’s chaplain. Darwin to Hooker: ‘What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of Nature!’

Kenan disagrees with Dawkins about religion as abusive to children though. But I in turn disagree with Kenan.

Parents indoctrinate their children with all manner of odious beliefs. That is the nature of parenting. And the nature of growing up is that young people decide for themselves, often rejecting the views of their parents. Dawkins’s argument seems to reveal less about the nature of religion than about his own pessimistic view of the human capacity for change and independent thought.

Well, no, not all parents, not necessarily, and to the extent that they do, that’s not desirable. One could make a similar sort of generalizing reply – parents beat their children, parents abuse their children, parents deny their children education, parents neglect their children. Some do, but when they do the state sometimes intervenes, and that’s a good thing. That’s not to say the state ought to intervene when parents pass on their odious beliefs, it’s just to say that it’s not necessarily desirable or okay or tolerable simply because it happens. Some children reject the views of their parents, but some don’t; the world is full of people who have odious beliefs, and the rest of us have to live with them. That’s not to say we should all zoom around indoctrinating one another and creeping into one another’s basement windows in order to murmur into the ears of one another’s children – it’s just to say the problem is not so easily dismissed.

Kenan’s amusing though.

Dawkins steamrollers over such complexities. The result, ironically, is that he ends up sounding as naive and unworldly as any happy clappy believer. ‘Imagine with John Lennon a world with no religion,’ he writes.

Hmmm I think I’ll start smaller. A world with no SUVs. That will do for a beginning.

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