Thinking Christian

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Dawkins: Not Always Wrong About Religion

Posted on Mar 26, 2012 by Tom Gilson

Robert Wright complains in The Atlantic about Dawkins’s unreasonableness. Strangely, where Wright finds him most unreasonable I find Dawkins most reasonable. Dawkins wants to erase the distinction between private and public belief. I say bravo!

Religious belief has been relegated to a private sphere as if it were not a matter of knowledge or of public interest. I am quite sure that much knowledge considered “religious,” which is set off in a corner just because it is “religious,” is actually knowledge and therefore admissible into public policy. I wouldn’t put all religion into that category, simply because its public policy implications are nil. In that category I would include transubstantiation or the Protestant beliefs of what happens with the communion elements; the proper mode of baptism; even the manner in which one enters into eternal salvation. But there is religious knowledge that does impinge on public policy, from the environment to questions of compassion, women’s rights, how to help the poor, the family, and so on.

So when Dawkins says religious beliefs are relevant in the public sphere, I applaud him for a change. I just wouldn’t want to take that agreement too far, for as he told us at the Reason Rally two days ago, the reason to bring up religious beliefs is so that we can hold them in ridicule and contempt. I still can’t get over him saying that at a Reason rally, of all places!

(The video in that linked page may change. If you don’t see Richard Dawkins there, try here instead.)

6 Responses to “ Dawkins: Not Always Wrong About Religion ”

  1. Tom Gilson says:

    Question for discussion: who holds the lower view of religion–Dawkins who holds it in ridicule and contempt, or the others on the panel (see the linked discussion and video) who patronize it and regard it as irrelevant?

    I would say the latter. They may not be as impolite about it, but they take religion less seriously than Richard Dawkins does.

  2. SteveK says:

    Didn’t view the video, but the latter group seems to be contradicting Dawkins. If religion is not relevant to a person or to the world in general then ridiculing it and holding it in contempt with the goal of snuffing it out demonstrates that you think it is relevant. I think they need to schedule a meeting to iron this out.

  3. NickMatzke says:

    Tom’s comment at #1 is yet another example of how the Gnu Atheists and the fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals agree on a number of things. They kind of like culture wars over religion, for example.

    The panel doesn’t necessarily have a “lower” view of religion, rather they represent a deep and crucial tradition — religious tolerance, freedom of religion, separation of church and state.

    I suppose everyone in the discussion, from Dawkins to fundamentalists, respects these principles in a minimal, legal sense, but there is a more expansive sense of these principles which the panel was defending.

    In the more expansive version of tolerance, not only is the government legally restricted in what it does about religion, but in addition, citizens voluntarily “hold their fire” on religious issues that are primarily outside of public (by this I mean basically governmental) concern.

    This is done voluntarily as a matter of good manners, constructive attitude, and public interest, (and partially in avoidance of the long, bad history of sectarian divisiveness and violence) and is adopted by many citizens, intellectuals, scientists, the media, etc., even in the “secular left”. These folks push back against Dawkins et al. quite persistently — even Dawkins mentioned that he fights this battle a lot.

    This more expansive view of tolerance goes back at least to the explicit views of the Founding Fathers, and probably before. It’s demeaning and misleading to dismiss it as just an even more nefarious way to diss religion.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick,

    When you wrote this:

    In the more expansive version of tolerance, not only is the government legally restricted in what it does about religion, but in addition, citizens voluntarily “hold their fire” on religious issues that are primarily outside of public (by this I mean basically governmental) concern.

    were you aware I had written this?

    Religious belief has been relegated to a private sphere as if it were not a matter of knowledge or of public interest. I am quite sure that much knowledge considered “religious,” which is set off in a corner just because it is “religious,” is actually knowledge and therefore admissible into public policy. I wouldn’t put all religion into that category, simply because its public policy implications are nil. In that category I would include transubstantiation or the Protestant beliefs of what happens with the communion elements; the proper mode of baptism; even the manner in which one enters into eternal salvation. But there is religious knowledge that does impinge on public policy, from the environment to questions of compassion, women’s rights, how to help the poor, the family, and so on.

    Or did you think that when I wrote comment 1, I had no intention of paying attention to what I had written?

  5. NickMatzke says:

    I don’t see your point in #4. My point in #3 was to provide an alternative explanation of why the panelists resisted Dawkins. You suggested it was based on them having even more contempt for religion than Dawkins. I suggested it was based on a long tradition of positive, voluntary religious tolerance going back at least to the Founding Fathers. Your quote of yourself from the OP is tangential to what I was saying, so, well, I don’t see the point.

    Reading between the lines, you seem to be saying you agree with me. Well then, if so, your suggestion in #1 is problematic.

  6. David says:

    Dawkins is simply looking for an open witch-hunt against those whose beliefs he disagrees with. He is the face of intolerant anti-theism that festers in the heart of modern New Atheism.
    But at least his own views are likewise in the public sphere for all to know and treat accordingly.

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