Posted on Dec 20, 2011 by Tom Gilson
Two Recent Headlines:
Maybe Richard Dawkins would say that destroying Christianity is not like killing off a nation, morally speaking. If so, then he is blind to historical and geopolitical realities.
Here’s what the Rev. George Pitcher said about it. You’ll find it in the second source article:
But one of these interjections [in Dawkins' interview with Christopher Hitchens] is most revealing. About half-way through, the Prof gets this in edgeways: ‘Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?’
So, ‘if we win…and destroy Christianity’. True, there’s a ‘so to speak’ in there, but it doesn’t do much. Try ‘If we win and, so to speak, kill all the Jews’ as an alternative. Doesn’t really work, does it?
If Dawkins isn’t raising a voice in favor of cultural genocide, then he owes it to us to explain what else he might mean by “destroy Christianity.” (Maybe he could tell us what he really meant by “so to speak.”) Note that “Christianity” is not just a belief system (a set of interrelated belief systems, actually) but also a globally distributed interlocking set of institutions, practices, relationships, values, concerns, and associated cultural products including art, caring outreaches, economic connections, and much more.
A call for the destruction of Christianity is a call for cultural genocide. The Carnegie Council* (“The Voice for Ethics in International Affairs”) proposes this definition for the term:
Cultural genocide extends beyond attacks upon the physical and/or biological elements of a group and seeks to eliminate its wider institutions. This is done in a variety of ways, and often includes the abolition of a group’s language, restrictions upon its traditional practices and ways, the destruction of religious institutions and objects, the persecution of clergy members, and attacks on academics and intellectuals. Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when artistic, literary, and cultural activities are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artifacts, and art galleries are destroyed or confiscated.
For political, legal, and practical reasons the UN voted to exclude cultural genocide from its definition of genocide in 1948. The Carnegie Council document goes on to say, however,
Human rights jurisprudence lacks sufficient flexibility to properly redress cultural genocide, which differs from other infringements upon cultural rights in both scope and substance. The existing human rights scheme redresses the intentional and systematic eradication of a group’s cultural existence (for example, destroying original historical texts or prohibiting all use of a language) with the same mechanisms as it would consider the redaction of an art textbook. But cultural genocide is far more sinister. In such cases, fundamental aspects of a group’s unique cultural existence are attacked with the aim of destroying the group, thereby rendering the group itself (apart from its members) an equal object and victim of the attack. The existing rubric of human rights law fails to recognize and account for these important differences.
Maybe Dawkins can explain how he would destroy Christianity with a pure and noble heart, free from blame. Maybe he can explain how he holds moral high ground on genocide. I’d like to hear him try.
Update Wednesday morning: see comment 4 on the change I made in the title and first sentence of this post. I’ve also strengthened my wording in the paragraph beginning, “If Dawkins isn’t raising a voice …”
Update Wednesday evening: a correction concerning the source of the article I attributed to the Carnegie Council article is in order. See comments 18 and 20. The author was David Nersessian, an expert in international law especially as it relates to genocide. The Carnegie Council did not author, but did publish his article, as part of a major emphasis on cultural rights. Accuracy is important. It does not seem to me that this materially affects the force the argument, however.