Richard Dawkins on evil and religion in Africa

by Joseph W

Richard Dawkins has got into trouble this week for laughing at an American atheist feminist, who blogged about meeting a creepy guy in the lift. Dawkins told her, basically, cheer up at least you’re not a Muslim woman. David Allan Green argues this is the end of Dawkins being taken seriously as a liberal intellectual.

Richard Dawkins is a strange person.

Here he is writing about religion as evil, on p.283 of The God Delusion:

“As the Nobel Prize Winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said ‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. BUT for good people to evil things, it takes religion.’

Moreover, Dawkins presented TV documentary for Channel 4 entitled The Root of all Evil? in which Dawkins argued that religion was essentially evil, causing good people to do evil.

Dawkins on Catholicism:

Roman Catholicism gives vibrant new meaning to the word ‘evil’.

Dawkins is quite clear that he thinks religion is evil, because it leads to people doing bad things. But what about people who do bad things, outside of this question of God?

Here is Dawkins profiled in a US Presbyterian magazine ByFaith:

“What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.”

Compare Dawkins’ moral outrage at religion, with his uncertainty about calling the Nazis evil. This is quite wrong, as any sensible people would see.

Despite his lofty claims about how much better humanity would be without religion, I don’t think Dawkins has a particularly healthy outlook towards others, either.

For example, following the failed rapture prophecies of Howard Camping, he says of evangelical Christians in the USA:

I’m struggling to find a reason why American evangelical Christians deserve even a little respect […] No, no respect, not a crumb of respect, not a grain of pity. Just contempt for utterly stupid, worthless people.

“Just contempt”? “Worthless” people? Surely that’s not healthy for Dawkins, or for the atheist morality he believes that he represents.

It isn’t just Christians he looks down on:

I passed a woman in a full black bin-liner in Oxford this week. Her husband was casually dressed for the heatwave, with an open-necked shirt. Her eyes, which I could just see peeping through the slit, looked really nice, and it was all I could do to stop myself telling this unfortunate, downtrodden woman to kick her foul husband in the balls.

Was my impulse racist? I genuinely believe the answer is no. I feel positively benign towards Hindus in Britain (although I know Hinduism in India is responsible for some horrible things, including the caste system), but unfortunately in Britain Hindus are far outnumbered by Muslims.

I don’t think Dawkins’ sentiment would have been quite so bad, if he hadn’t started linking this incident to the number of Muslims in Britain. And anyway, where does it end? Is Richard Dawkins going to blog about his urges to headbutt haredi Jews in the groin, when he sees Orthodox women wearing wigs and long skirts?

This is plain silly:

If you see a Muslim beating his wife, there would be little point in calling a policeman because so many of the British police are terrified of being accused of racism or ‘Islamophobia’.

We get it – Dawkins strongly dislikes religious people and their faiths. It’s not just the fundamentalists he dislikes though.

Last year, Dawkins wrote about Chrisitian fundamentalism and  Haiti in the Washington Post. He claims that the fundamentalists who thought Haiti made a pact with the devil or received curses were the real Christians, and all other Christians are just hypocrites:

Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters. What hypocrisy. […] Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. […] It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.


You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

I don’t think it is Christian to attach particular meaning to natural disasters, as I have argued here and here. There’s a passage in Luke’s Gospel, in which believers speculate about why a tower has fallen killing 130 people, and what sins they might have committed to merit their fate. Jesus tells them, how you dare you assume these unfortunates are somehow more sinful than everyone else.

Presumably, if a Christian sect emerged, who thought it was God’s will to self-harm every time they sinned – based on Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5 – Dawkins would be having a go at all other Christians for being hypocrites, and not lopping bits off their own bodies.

Obviously for Dawkins, being a true Christian, is about taking the most extreme and atavistic version of your faith, and trumpeting it from the rooftops.  If you don’t do that, you’re just a hypocrite. It’s obvious for Dawkins, a true Christian isn’t even someone who has the closest understanding of his own holy text. Rather, it is someone who has the nastiest interpretation of that text.

Richard Dawkins claims to despise Christian fundamentalism and mission, but he has a symbiotic relationship with fundies. He needs the Pat Robertsons and the John Hagees of this world, so he can portray them as symptoms of a greater problem – human faith in the divine.

Yet it is hard to escape the conclusion, that Dawkins has a grudging respect for fundamentalist Christianity.  We know that he considers himself a “cultural Christian“, but it’s more than that.

Here is a fascinating post that Richard Dawkins put up about religion in Africa:

Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn’t any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy’s enemy be our friend?

Dawkins posts this map to illustrate his point:

A few things:

  • Isn’t this map a teency bit simplistic?
  • If Dawkins thinks that Christianity is a unique type of evil, why would he want to unleash it on Africa?
  • Shouldn’t he be offering support to African atheists and skeptics, rather than giving up on them completely?
  • Surely if Dawkins really believes in the atheist movement’s superior logic and reasoning, how could he possibly consider supporting Christian missions?
  • Why does Dawkins think that Christianity possesses a persuasive power that atheism doesn’t?

I think Dawkins has a bit of an identity crisis right now, and he needs to work out who he is. Is he a crusading atheist on a messianic mission, whose goal it is to eliminate superstition and usher in a new dawn of reason and right-thinking? Or rather, is he interested in opposing Islam because it is a uniquely evil religion? Is Dawkins on the road to dropping his hostility against Christianity altogether, so that he can have a spiritual ally against Islam?

Herein lies the conundrum.

Dawkins says he thinks religion alone makes good people do evil things. This is his polemical argument, and he has begun to believe his own propaganda. If he seriously opposes the evil committed in the name of Islam, he could be talking about ways to help liberal Muslims stem the tide of reactionary ideas.

Instead, Dawkins takes the absolute opposite position. Behind every moderate believer is either a fundamentalist, an idiot or a hypocrite.

Despite this, he thinks Christianity (a special kind of evil) is a formidable weapon against Islam (an unmitigated evil), and is far more effective than skeptic thought.

In the end, is this what it all comes down to?