Last year I went and saw Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss speak at a public seminar. I have to admit, at the time, whilst I had of course heard of Dawkins, and read some of his work (I haven’t read the God Delusion), I had not closely followed him, or any of the controversies around him. Going in with that knowledge base, what surprised me the most about Dawkins and Krauss was the visceral hatred by the two of pretty much anyone with religious beliefs. People who were religious and got up to question or challenge the two were treated as if they were morons – people who simply didn’t deserve the time and respect of such intelligent thinkers.Of course this is not new knowledge about Dawkins and Krauss, nor of the so called ‘political atheist’ movement. It is a movement that has become about hatred of anything to do with religion.
My memories of last year were sparked with another example of Dawkin’s treatment of people just recently. On Sunday Dawkins took to Twitter to have a go at Mehdi Hasan, a journalist at the New Statesman:
“Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed [sic] flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.”
Apparently, according to Dawkins, Muslims cannot make good journalists as they are inherently irrational. This is part of an ongoing trend of islamophobia within the political atheist movement. As Andrew Brown points out, Dawkins was once quoted to say; “I have often said that Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today”. Go to any atheism conference or event and Islamophobia is rife. It is for this reason alone (along with the similar sorts of hatred directed at people of other religions), that I think political atheism should be rejected. It is in many ways a more hateful form of belief than the very institutions it criticises.
But I think there is also a debate about political atheism that hasn’t been addressed, one which deserves very real attention. Because, whilst one must think that the hatred of people of religion, and particular the islamophobia is awful, another question arises, why is political atheism even a thing?
Now, I’m not saying that there is no use for science, and that there is not use in criticising many religious practices. There is obviously many great things about science that is worth campaigning on, and there are many parts of religion that I think we need to fight against. I will, for example be the first to fight for the teaching of evolution in schools over creationism.
Yet, the hatred of religion by political atheists has gone well beyond this. It has moved beyond a debate about issues and religious influence (i.e. the treatment of women and queers, teaching religion in school, the separation of church and state), to become a battle about the very existence of religion itself. In other words, people like Dawkins have taken direct aim at those who have a religion even if they were to agree on every aspect of public policy. The mere belief in a religion is evil in itself.
And this represents a growing in much of what we could call a ‘science movement’. I am not saying that all people who engage with science in a political manner hate religion – in fact as someone studying science communication nothing could be further from the truth. But there is a growing trend within the ‘science movement’ to move beyond political debates, and engage in debates in what I can only call ‘truthism’. Our debates have become about demanding that everybody accept the ‘truth’, in doing so glorifying the ‘rational’ aspect of science, and demonises anything that is considered to be ‘irrational’ or ’emotional’.
You can see this in the political atheism movement. It’s not enough for the movement to get religion out of schools and the state (something which I agree with), but we also have to get it out of people’s minds. Screw the idea that it could provide comfort, hope and meaning to people – it has to be banished because it isn’t ‘rational’.
I could go into detail into the many many negatives impacts I think such an approach has. But I’m not going to do that today. Instead, I am just going to ask one question, what is the point?
When I sit back and look at things rationally, all I can ask is, at its heart, what is wrong with people having religious beliefs? Yes, there are parts of the church I think needs to change – there is influence churches have that I thinks needs to go. But if someone wants to have a belief, then I have no problem with it. It is not doing me, or the world, any harm. So whilst I understand that we will fight when religious organisations want the teaching of creationism in schools, I don’t understand why this fight continues when our real difference is that one believes in a god of some form and another doesn’t. In the end, if we have the same values and political beliefs, aren’t there bigger and more important things to be fighting about?