Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dawkins, Falwell, and Ideology

OK, let's take stock. About the worst thing people have come up with about Falwell is that he said that AIDS was God's punishment on gay people, and that opposing it was wrong. Now, that's pretty insane. He has no basis for knowing this. Even on the assumption that homosexuality is a sin, and that homosexuality is one of a long list of offenses against God that Sodom was guilty of, (that's the most conservative reading that can plausibly be given for the Sodom and Gomorrah passage), the idea that AIDS is punishment for homosexuality is still irrational. It's certainly cringe-worthy. Of course, not all AIDS victims, even back when Falwell said what he did, were gay. What makes it worse is that it seems to be grounds for opposing anti-AIDS efforts. If this ever became public policy, it would cause terrible harm. 

But what about Dawkins, or Harris. Dawkins says that bringing a child up as part of a religious community is abusive, comparing it unfavorably with sexual abuse. Yes, he does say that, and he doesn't limit it to people who preach hell-fire to their kids as a means of controlling their conduct. His claims fly in the face of considerable scientific evidence about the effects of religion on children. Since we all agree that the state has an interest in stopping child abuse, and has the right to remove children from abusive parents, this means that he is committed, at least implicitly, to the idea of preventing parents from raising children within their own faith. As I see it, if implemented at the level of public policy, that would bring down the curtain on religious freedom, and on the separation of church and state. In the Soviet Union, they attempted to eliminate religion not by stopping adults from practicing it, but by stopping parents from transmitting it to their children. If this were implemented at the level of public policy it would be disastrous, and sensible atheists should, well, cringe when they hear such a thing. 

Which is worse? Does it matter? They're both pretty awful. 

My point is that whether you are a theist or an atheist, ideology can get control of your thinking and wipe out your common sense, if you let it. The fact that you are saying it in the name of "reason" or "science" doesn't immunize you from this possibility. If you care about a cause enough, you can die for it, and you can also kill for it. The idea that "religion" is somehow liable to this, while anti-religion is somehow immune, strikes me as preposterous.

24 comments:

Quick Joe Smith said...

"Since we all agree that the state has an interest in stopping child abuse, and has the right to remove children from abusive parents, this means that he is committed, at least implicitly, to the idea of preventing parents from raising children within their own faith."

That's a pretty long bow to draw, Victor. That's the sort of thing you'd really want to hold off claiming until he actually says so more explicitly, rather than just infering it on his behalf based on other assumptions.

Not everybody is quite so keen to legislate their beliefs.

That claim spoiled an otherwise decent post.

Crude said...

Not everybody is quite so keen to legislate their beliefs.

The number of people who want to legislate to stop child abuse is tremendous.

What, exactly, do you think Dawkins is saying otherwise? Something like, "A religious upbringing is as bad or worse than child abuse. But, hey, some kinds of child abuse are totally okay."?

B.L.T. said...

couldn't have said it better myself, any ideology comes with the danger of extremism. To peg all extremism as religious as guys like Bill Maher do is simply absurd. If that were the case then every political party, social movement and philosophy of which there is an extremist group would have to be considered a religion.

Quick Joe Smith said...

That, at the very least, the topic of when and how the state should intervene is a whole other (complex) topic, so we should strive to avoid making baseless assumptions in the meantime.

"The number of people who want to legislate to stop child abuse is tremendous."

Yes, that's true. Not sure how it helps us here where the discussion is more about what constitutes abuse in the first place. But sticking to the topic is an advanced maneouvre, I'm sure. Keep trying and one day you might get there!

Crude said...

Yes, that's true. Not sure how it helps us here where the discussion is more about what constitutes abuse in the first place.

You don't understand how, when someone claims that a religious upbringing is as bad as or worse than child abuse (sexual child abuse no less), a legislative line is either drawn or strongly implied?

Not sure how it helps us here where the discussion is more about what constitutes abuse in the first place.

I thought you'd be quick. My apologies - apparently that means you type before thinking, not that you're, you know. Swift. ;)

So, my question again: What, exactly, do you think Dawkins is saying otherwise? Something like, "A religious upbringing is as bad or worse than child abuse. But, hey, some kinds of child abuse are totally okay."?

Victor Reppert said...

In order for Dawkins to back out of the position that people who teach a religion to children should be prosecuted, he has to either deny that child molesters should be prosecuted (not a very appetizing position, and one that would be problematic also). If child molesters should be prosecuted, but people who give their children a religious education should not, even though the latter is doing something worse than the former, we need an explanation as to why, and I don't know what that explanation would be.

The following argument seems pretty forceful.

1) Child sex abusers should be prosecuted.

2) Religious education harms children more than does child sex abuse.

3) Therefore, those who educate their children in their own religion should be prosecuted.

Most people think that the law should stop child abuse, that if there is going to be a law against anything, there should be a law against that.

BenYachov said...

I really don't know why certain Atheists can't just say "Yes there is no God. Dawkins is wrong and Dawkins being wrong on this nonsense doesn't mean he is wrong to disbelief in gods".

It's not hard.

Try it.

You will feel better and you can still disbelieve in God.

Seriously!

Quick Joe Smith said...

@Victor:

Well, thankfully there is the internet to sort out this disagreement. Over to Mr Dawkins himself (posting in the comment section of an article refering to his retraction of support from a petition aiming at doing exactly what you imply he must support):

"Thanks to P Z Myers for authenticating my identity.

Russell wrote: “I cry when I see what some parents to do their children, but I am not willing to have the law intervene.”

There are extremes where everybody agrees the law has the right to intervene (no parent has the right to torture their children). But the law sometimes intervenes in less clear cut cases. It’s not about children, but Austria jailed the historian David Irving for Holocaust-denial: an infringement which, in other countries, would be defended as a matter of academic freedom. A case could be made that children should be protected by law against verbal abuse (such as hell-fire scaring) as well as physical abuse. I agree with Russell that the disadvantages of such an interfering law outweigh the advantages.

But the campaign I have been running against labelling children has never been about legal coercion, anyway. It has been about CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING, a phrase that we have learned from feminists. No feminist (or none that I would wish to know) ever advocated a legal ban on masculine pronouns. Instead, the feminists raised our consciousness. They made us aware, made us feel uncomfortable when we used a phrase like “One man one vote”. In the same way, I want us to feel uncomfortable when we hear somebody speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child. But I do not want any kind of legal coercion or sanctions against the use of such language. I am not in favour of legal coercion in such matters. I am strongly in favour of consciousness raising."
- Dawkins and the religious petition

BenYachov said...

Quick Joe Smith,

Dawkins is full of shit and backpedaling.

I have no problem telling you up front I want you to freely choose become a Catholic because I think it is true & thus better for your soul and the souls of any potential children you might have.

I have no problem with telling you I don't think it is objectively good for you not to be Catholic or to not raise your kids Catholic.

I also believe if I say the above to you, as written, you would not be offended by me. Though you would likely turn down my request. Agree to disagree and all that.

But I do think saying something to you to the effect of "You are a godless evil slave of Satan who is abusing his kids by not telling them about God! That is worse than raping them!" would not fill you with the idea I was merely trying to do some CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING with ya!

Dawkins is full of shit. If I stop believing in God tomorrow I would still think this & go all Mary Migley on his arse.

BenYachov said...

Some making fun at Dawkins expense:

>phrase that we have learned from feminists. No feminist (or none that I would wish to know) ever advocated a legal ban on masculine pronouns. Instead, the feminists raised our consciousness. They made us aware, made us feel uncomfortable when we used a phrase like “One man one vote”.

Oh where is Camille Paglia(she is an Atheist BTW) when we need her? It seems to me women with Self-esteme don't give a shit if someone says "One man one vote".


>In the same way, I want us to feel uncomfortable when we hear somebody speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child. But I do not want any kind of legal coercion or sanctions against the use of such language. I am not in favour of legal coercion in such matters. I am strongly in favour of consciousness raising."

I would tell Dawkins in Nietzsche fashion the Universe doesn't give a shit if you live or die so spare me the touchie feelie crap!

If I want to lable my son or daughter "whatever" you still labels me by telling me I shouldn't label them. You in effect label me the "kid" labeler and you still label yourself "one who does not label their kids".

Also you still label your kids as "un-labeled".


Cut too School yard:

Kid 1 & friends: "My daddy doesn't label me!"

Kid 2: "Well my Daddy says I'm Catholic."

Kid 1 "Oh my Science he's got a label!"

Kid 3 "Dirty Label Kid!"

Kid 4 "Sorry but we only play with unlabed kids here"

Kid 5 "Yeh get lost! You labeled kid you!"

Dawkins what is the point to him?

Crude said...

Over to Mr Dawkins himself (posting in the comment section of an article refering to his retraction of support from a petition aiming at doing exactly what you imply he must support):

Must support?

Actually, there's another option:

Dawkins believes the mere fact that something is (for a child) as bad as or worse than child sexual abuse doesn't mean it should be outlawed.

Or...

Dawkins thinks that some acts with children, which he believes to be as bad as or worse than child sexual abuse, should be remain legal.

Here's what's really going on: Dawkins doesn't think a religious upbringing, in and of itself, is really abuse, much less as bad as or worse than sexual abuse. He just hates religion and religious upbringing, so he decided to throw out an accusation that had in essence no scientific support. When times comes to put up or shut up, he squirms out of it and compares the acts (remember - equal to or worse than straight-up child abuse) to pronouns that some feminists were bothered at, and pusses out. Because he knows he'd look like a complete sap to do this, and be rightly accused of advocating some monstrous acts. And he hopes he won't be pressed on this in the future.

So he punts. He basically puts himself in the position of saying - one more time - "Yeah, this act is on par with or worse than straight-up abuse of a child. But, uh... it should be legal. Because hey, no one I know of (or at least no one I would respect) called for outlawing the use of 'he'."

Now, his idiot cultists let him get away with this, because he's very important to them as a figurehead, and some of them are just that slow. Politically and socially understandable. The rest of us are under no such constraints.

Dawkins was an idiot for saying what he did. The proper response would be for him to say 'I was wrong. I may disagree greatly, but no, there's really no comparison between the typical Sunday School and raping/beating/emotionally tormenting a child.'

A million attempts at spin will not change this. It will, however, make the Cultist of Gnu look bad whenever they try.

So, keep on truckin. ;)

physphilmusic said...

That's a pretty long bow to draw, Victor. That's the sort of thing you'd really want to hold off claiming until he actually says so more explicitly, rather than just infering it on his behalf based on other assumptions.

We all know that Dawkins, along with the majority of Gnu atheists (except maybe Hitchens), tend to lean very strongly to the left. Especially PZ Myers. They are statists. In fact as shown by the gradual feminist hijacking of the movement, many of their supporters are more left-liberal than just "atheist". This is not surprising considering that most academics in the Western world tend to be leftists. Dawkins knows that openly advocating for state control on what parents can or cannot teach to their children would be disastrous to their movement. Hence this idea of "consciousness raising". Everyone knows that it's just a dishonest facade, and has always been. Every time a feminist sees an opening to LEGALLY ENFORCE their beliefs on the population, they will do so and will not stop. For example, Title IX in the US. All this consciousness-raising is just a preliminary to the actual enforcement of beliefs.

Leftists in general also care a lot about what goes into public education. So it is not surprising at all that Dawkins would want to take a step further, with the state controlling what the parents can tell their children even outside of school. Why does he care? Perhaps because he knows that religious people are reproducing at far higher rates than left-liberal-statist-atheists like himself. Without this kind of state-sponsored atheism, his movement will die away due to sheer demographics.

Victor Reppert said...

Bottom line: Dawkins can't spin this into a morally coherent position. Was I initially posted about was the logical implications of his positions. The fact that he is unable or unwilling to embrace the logical implications of his view is neither here nor there, or else it is evidence that he lacks intellectual honesty.

Mr Veale said...

I don't think that Dawkins believes the "abuse" claim for a moment, and is simply using rhetoric to achieve an effect. He is prepared to use mockery as a strategy to browbeat the undecided... ( See the links provided here-
http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/the-mgonz-test/ )

He seems to think that Christians like Vic and I are irremediably religious (under the spell of our memes, perhaps?) so he is targeting the "fence-sitters". Now if fence-sitters are deterred by mockery, presumably they will not want to be associated with behavior that has connotations of abuse!


Graham

Mr Veale said...

An excellent critique of Dawkins 747 gambit can be found here - http://www.infj.ulst.ac.uk/~dvglass/DawkinsDilemma.pdf

It goes into Bayesian territory, so Vic might be interested.

A summary of that article here -

http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/theres-probably-no-god-a-response-to-richard-dawkins/

Johnny Boy said...

How Quick Joe Smith hoped the conversation would go:

Theists: "Dawkins says religious labeling is child abuse, what an arse."

QJS: "Aha! But Dawkins says it shouldn't be illegal because of yakity shmakity, blah-blah-blah. Here is link from ze internetz! Checkmate, theists!"

Theists: "Erp.. ah.. eh.. er.. we're sorry Dawkins.."

(Sorry QJS. This ain't stupid street.)

Arizona Atheist said...

This post argues, “But what about Dawkins, or Harris. Dawkins says that bringing a child up as part of a religious community is abusive, comparing it unfavorably with sexual abuse. Yes, he does say that, and he doesn't limit it to people who preach hell-fire to their kids as a means of controlling their conduct.”

Is that so? No. Let's look at what Dawkins wrote in context: “ Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience. […] But I was reminded of the incident later when I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents' church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst.” (emphasis mine)

This was an “off the cuff remark” that Dawkins blurted out during a lecture and simply used this personal story as a segue to his actual point, which was the psychological harm of scaring young children with threats of hell and punishment. It's not that raising children in a religious environment in and of itself can be equated with the harm of sexual abuse.

In an interview Dawkins gave The Guardian in 2003 he said, in response to a question about his views about religion and “child abuse.” Hattenstone, the interviewer wrote, “I tell him I've been thinking about his point that children should not be defined by religion, and that I have a solution. Why not ban religion till you're 18? I expect him to be delighted by my initiative, but he looks horrified.”

Dawkins responded with, “Oh no. I don't want to lay down a law that says when you get a driving licence, you can call yourself anything you like. It's a consciousness-raising issue.” Later Dawkins said, “Well, I wouldn't want to have the thought police going to people's homes, dictating what they teach their children. I don't want to be Big Brotherish. I would hate that.”

Cont.

Arizona Atheist said...

Dawkins has even responded to these charges himself on ScienceBlogs: “According to decrepitoldfool, I assert that 'teaching religion to children is child abuse'. That is false. I have never asserted anything of the kind. I have said that LABELLING children with the religion of their parents is child abuse. That is very different from teaching religion to children. As I said in The God Delusion, and as I repeated in my post above, I am IN FAVOUR of teaching comparative religion, and teaching the Bible as literature. What I am against is labelling a child a Catholic child, Muslim child etc. I am, of course, equally opposed to labelling a child an 'atheist child'.”

Throughout The God Delusion these same views are expressed. Two examples: “...[I]sn't it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about? Yet the practice continues to this day, almost entirely unquestioned.”

Another example of Dawkins expressing this view is when he relates the story about a find by archaeologists of a young Inca girl who was a victim of a child sacrifice,

“Humphrey's point - and mine - is that, regardless of whether she was a willing victim or not, there is strong reason to suppose that she would not have been willing if she had been in full possession of the facts. For example, suppose she had known that the sun is really a ball of hydrogen, hotter than a million degrees Kelvin, converting itself into helium by nuclear fusion, and that it originally formed from a disk of gas out of which the rest of the solar system, including Earth, also condensed...Presumably, then, she would not have worshiped it as a god, and this would have altered her perspective on being sacrificed to propitiate it.”
There is no evidence for this absurd accusation about Dawkins' views. Everything Dawkins says on the subject is consistent with his stated view that labeling children with the religion of their parents is “abusive.”

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Victor,

You're conflating two different points Dawkins has made:

1) Comparison of threatening children with hellfire with sexual abuse
2) Criticism of labeling of children with religious labels.

Here is what Dawkins said about (2). From context, it seems unlikely Dawkins means we should ban the teaching of religion, any more than we should ban raising them to be communists (even though we'd find communist catchecism classes creepy and wouldn't freak out over one person calling them child abuse.)

And it doesn't even follow from Dawkins' views that we should try to stop parents from threatening their children with hellfire. The claim that threatening children with hellfire is very harmful is compatible with the claim that trying to stop parents from doing that would be hopelessly impractical (perhaps, as you say, disastrous).

Kathen said...

“The claim that threatening children with hellfire is very harmful is compatible with the claim that trying to stop parents from doing that would be hopelessly impractical (perhaps, as you say, disastrous).”

Indeed. It is also compatible with the view that it would be wrong to interfere with the parents even if it were not impractical. It is possible to think that A causes much more harm than B but that B is a proper subject for the law and A is not. For example, I think that adultery is much worse and causes more suffering than a bit of minor supermarket shoplifting. But shoplifting, even if minor, is subject to the law and adultery is not and should not be. I don’t think I am being inconsistent in thinking that.

I would also question whether Dawkins agrees that “Child sex abusers should be prosecuted”, at least if that means all child sex abusers, even those guilty of “relatively mild” abuse. Dawkins himself was abused at school but, AFAIK, he has not called for the abuser to be prosecuted, or asked for compensation or even told us the man’s name. He describes the experience as “embarrassing but otherwise harmless”. In fact that part of ‘The God Delusion’ can be seen as some sort of defence of the Catholic Church, as least as far as the accusations of sexual abuse are concerned. Dawkins says “For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more”.

That is not to say that I agree with everything Dawkins said. If the “American woman in her forties” was told that Protestants go to Hell simply because they are Protestants then she was really unlucky in her teachers. That has not been the official teaching of the Catholic Church for a very long time.

I would also like to ask Dawkins what he expects Catholic parents to do. Once a child has reached the age of reason, traditionally supposed to be around the age of seven, they are capable of committing a mortal sin and are therefore at risk of endless torture. If you really believe that, you must warn children of the danger, even if sometimes it frightens them.

Victor Reppert said...

If the complaint is about labeling the child, then I don't really know what Dawkins is complaining about. Christian religious education is not about labeling, it is about presenting the Christian theology that the parents believe as true to the children as true (and what else would you expect believing parents to do, given the fact that they, well, believe), and making the child part of the Christian community.

Does he really expect parents to tell their children, in teaching religious beliefs, that this is completely irrational, and therefore they should think critically and believe whatever they think reasonable?

Christians communicate their beliefs to children as true, since they believe them to be true. They also induct them into the Christian community, either through Christian infant baptism, or "baby dedication" for churches who believe in beleiver's baptism. They also communicate their beliefs to the child as true, since they believe that theology as true. This is in the hope that the child will come to know God. If the doctrine of everlasting punishment is among the doctrines they believe, the communicate that doctrine to their children. The evidence suggests that this process doesn't do psychological harm.

BenYachov said...

This shit is too surreal!

>“According to decrepitoldfool, I assert that 'teaching religion to children is child abuse'. That is false. I have never asserted anything of the kind.

>I have said that LABELLING children with the religion of their parents is child abuse.

The above has the virtue of being both an example of Weasel Words and the proverbial distinction without a difference.

>I am IN FAVOUR of teaching comparative religion, and teaching the Bible as literature.

So Prof Obtuse thinks religious people are upset with him because we think he thinks it is wrong to teach comparative religion? Right! Sure pal!

>What I am against is labelling a child a Catholic child, Muslim child etc. I am, of course, equally opposed to labelling a child an 'atheist child'.”

Except then he still "labels" the child of some not too bright couple who take his "wisdom" to heart except their label is called "unlabeled".

What is the point of Dawkins?

BTW my kids are CATHOLIC!!!!!

If anyone doesn't like that too bad. Here is a quarter. Go by a piece of tissue paper & have a good cry about it.

Myself, I can't stop laughing at this man's stupidity & the lame defense of him!

BenYachov said...

BTW I don't buy that letter crap.

It sounds too fishy.

How do I know he didn't make it up? In fact if he didn't how does he know the letter writer is truthful?

Let him prove these things to the rest of us scientifically!

>I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant.

I might have believed the above tall tale if it allegedly came from a Northern Irish Catholic woman.

Those people are obsessed with hating each other over there.

Here in American we don't really care.

I'm middle aged & I have never heard of such a thing growing up Catholic. Where are these American Catholics who say dead Protestant Girls are in Hell? I have never met them & I have been around Catholic Society.

IlĂ­on said...

So, it sounds like what you (VR) have agaist Fallwell is that other "liberals", specifically the explicitly anti-Christian ones, hate(d) him, with a passion ... and, therefore, you're embarrassed to be associated with him, even metaphysically.