Reprise—Hitting the Spot

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Fri, 2006-03-10 01:25

Reason is retreating before the advance of primitive superstition.

That’s the thesis of a two-part television programme, The Root of All Evil?, presented by eminent scientist Richard Dawkins, popularly known as “Darwin’s Rottweiler.” It was screened by the BBC late last year. SOLOist Marcus Bachler, who has reviewed the programme here and in The Free Radical, recently presented me with a tape of it, which I have just viewed. It is a wake-up call.

Dawkins points up the obscene and incongruous latter-day resurgence of the most virulent forms of Islam and Christianity, and the unabated influence of Judaism—all three, he reminds us, derivative from Abraham and the crudest, most brutish aspects of the Old Testament. He interviews unreconstructed bigots from all three religions, in Jerusalem, Britain and the United States. An Islamo-fascist (formerly an American Jew) proclaims the eventual world-wide triumph of “the soldiers of Allah”; a Christo-fascist advocates the death penalty for adultery; a Judaeo-fascist insists that God made the world in six days and there's nothing wrong with brainwashing captive children to this effect. In an especially chilling sequence, Dawkins highlights the American Christo-fascists’ obsession with Hell, with terrorising people—impressionable, vulnerable youngsters in particular—away from “sin” (especially homosexuality and abortion) no matter the degree of moral deformity involved in the terrorising. At the same time, a pastor apologist for the executed murderer of an abortion doctor expresses confidence that his fellow-Christian is “doing well” in Heaven. Such micro-barbarism, Dawkins contends, illustrates every bit as eloquently as 9/11 the macro-truism that those who believe absurdities are apt to commit or condone atrocities.

Dawkins alternates between bemusement, irritability and outright incredulity at the things his interviewees say. He openly scorns a Rabbi for believing the earth, along with the rest of the universe, was made in six days, sometime after what archaeologists identify as the Agricultural Revolution—a risibly recent event in the earth’s actual history of four and a half billion years. Equally deliciously he roasts “liberal” theologians—“fence-sitters” who betray reason and their faith alike—for wanting their cake and eating it too, for positing a “ration of miracles,” for “cherry-picking” from the Bible when the whole sordid document should be thrown out and its teachings dismissed as "barking mad."

Repeatedly throughout, he asks how all this can be happening in the twenty-first century. He had fondly supposed, he tells us, that science was winning the battle against superstition, that the fact of evolution was trouncing the myth of Creationism, that reason was in the ascendancy over faith. Yet every which-way we turn, he laments, religion is staging a hideous recovery. Dawkins attributes this to the virus-like qualities of religious belief and the timing of its inoculation. The Jesuits knew whereof they spoke, he says, when they gloated, “Give me a child for the first seven years and I’ll show you the man.” A child’s brain, Dawkins claims, is programmed to absorb the injunctions of authority figures without question—and the damage organised religion does in exploiting this vulnerability, coupled with the use of terror tactics in its graphic depictions of hellfire and damnation, is tantamount to child abuse. Only a few of the hundreds of millions of children so abused, he observes, acquire the perceptiveness, independence, intellectual muscularity and courage to self-administer the strong dose of rationality that alone can serve as an antidote to the virus ... and so religion is winning.

Objectivists can but empathise with Dawkins’ dilemma and his diagnosis. Yet it should be noted that Dawkins has made his own contribution to contemporary irrationality. He is a politically correct critic of “specie-ism,” an advocate of apes’ rights, a Malthusian alarmist concerning “over-population” and, arguably, a determinist in his view ("memetics") of how ideas spread, even as he acknowledges the potency of a volitionally-administered “dose of rationality.” He equates morality with a genetically-transmitted altruism (though he perhaps understands the term to mean a non-sacrificial benevolence—it's not entirely clear from the programme). His fulminations against sectarian schools sound suspiciously like a demand that such schools be banned. I am not familiar with his politics in any detail, but Marcus tells me that Dawkins is a “confirmed socialist,” as is the wont of Humanists. Well, the answer to supernaturalist nonsense is not secular nonsense.

Most signally, as riveting and refreshing as his outspoken presentation is in an era of weasel-worded appeasement of nonsense, Dawkins seemingly fails to grasp a crucially potent factor in religion’s enduring appeal—the way it still taps into the spark of idealism within us, the majestic sense of awe and wonder, the “total passion for the total height,” the striving for “unclouded exaltation” that makes life truly “sacred.” One doesn’t need an illusory after-life to provide the impetus for mining this, as Dawkins does observe, but it’s not the job of science to do it either—it’s the job of a rational, secular philosophy. And as proponents of such a philosophy we have failed to do this job at all well (Ayn Rand excluded). It’s religion, still, that “hits the spot,” spiritually, as a good beer does physically when it engages a certain point of the gullet. It’s religion, not Objectivism, that is growing at a rate of knots.

Watching and discussing Dawkins’ programme with two young Objectivists yesterday, I used the term “hitting the spot” repeatedly. One of them suggested it as the title for this review. I had intended to call it “Reason’s Retreat,” but figured the young man was right—“Hitting the Spot” is much more positive. It projects the imperative we must bend our minds around if we are to arrest and reverse reason’s retreat. I presented some of my own thoughts on “hitting the spot” in my SOLOC 2/TOC presentation, “The Elixir of Youth” and in my article, “The Pope, Objectivism … and the Best Within,” both of which can be found in the SOLOHQ archive. I commend them to SOLOists’ attention.

Strictly speaking, the term “inspirational Objectivism” is a redundancy; as its advocates, however, we need to do better in making it one. Dawkins’ thesis is a salutary reminder of this.


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Ciro- I thought it WAS a

Jody Gomez's picture

Ciro-
I thought it WAS a thrust piece when I saw the title. I never heard before that Linz was a tease. Smiling

HITTING THE SPOT

Ciro D Agostino's picture

I wonder why Jody never uses titles like this one  for his thrust forum Smiling

Ciro D'Agostino

Extra Information

Marcus's picture

Anyone wanting some more insights into Dawkin's view on religion should listen to this interview he gave about the TV series for "BBC radio five live".

This is the one Adam posted below, but much easier to access from the five live website itself.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod...

Ha!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"Spirituality" is precisely what I *was* raising. Only I didn't call it that, on account of its supernaturalist connotations. Smiling

Im impressed...

Marcus's picture

Ha! Adam.

I am impressed. Wonderful! Resourceful Americans have managed to get themselves hold of this subversive documentary!

I wonder if any US TV station will actually air it?

One point - not mentioned here so far about the documentary is Dawkins brilliant description of "faith" as a process of "non-thinking". Whenever I see the word faith bandied around now with a sort of religious pride - I have to think back to that apt definition.

I was expecting Linz to bring up the topic of the appeal of spirituality (or passion) in religion. I agree with Linz, that it depends what that passion is based upon - whether or not it is the symptom of a rational lifestyle (philosophy) - that gives it value or not.

If you have a bitTorrent

AdamReed's picture

If you have a bitTorrent client and a DVD burner, you can dowload the show on DVD (as an ISO image) from this bitTorrent server, burn the DVD and enjoy. See this description page for more info.

Another reason why religions appeal to people

Robert's picture

"by default, appeals to the *best* in people as well, & Objectivists haven't adequately absorbed this..."

For me, this sentiment was partly summed-up by something you (Linz) quoted in a PI-show obituary for Bob Jones' relative (Glanville something he used to go by - I think).

Anyway, the quote eloquently pointed out that, for many people, belief in god & heaven is strengthened out of a desire to see their dearly departed loved-ones again some day. Was it from the writings of Robert Green Ingersoll?

When I think of all the wonderful people I know, it saddens me deeply to think that their magnificent souls will disappear for ever when their bodies give out.

I'm sure that Dawkins is right when he points to early-indoctrination as one of the reasons that religion persists in the 21st century. But the idea that there is nothing after death, that your soul dies with your body and that you will never see your father and mother again when they go is still frightening - even in the 21st century. And fear is the reason religion exists, it is comforting to think that there is some benevelent being looking out for you when you are afraid.

Julian:People keep

Lanza Morio's picture

Julian:

People keep admonishing me for using words like: right/wrong, good/evil, moral/immoral. Telling me: 'Who are you to say what is wrong/evil/immoral?' Pish.

And Julian, they will say you are absolutely wrong and absolutely immoral to believe in such absolute wrong-ness and immorality.

Jason Quintana's picture

I was referring to some things posted by other people mostly on other web sites. I'm certainly not calling you a pseudo Objectivist!  I am interested in hearing more of what you have to say on this issue -- including something on the topic of "inspirational Objectivism" and how it has something in common with inspirational religion.

 - Jason

Just so we're clear ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Jason says:

Many Objectivists (or pseudo Objectivists) defend religion by claiming that it fulfills certain "natural" human needs. Instead I would argue that religion is a crutch for those who want support and validation for their bad thinking habits. The bad habits of needing to "follow and belong" and the desire for mystical make believe in order to evade certain facts of reality.

My review was certainly not intended as a defence of *that* aspect of religion, which I wholeheartedly acknowledge & disapprove of. It was pointing out that religion also, quite improperly & by default, appeals to the *best* in people as well, & Objectivists haven't adequately absorbed this - hence the dearth of *inspirational* Objectivism. I guess there are a few more articles in here! Smiling

Excellent point Lance.

JulianP's picture

Excellent point Lance. I never thought about it in that way. People keep admonishing me for using words like: right/wrong, good/evil, moral/immoral. Telling me: 'Who are you to say what is wrong/evil/immoral?' Pish.

Thanks for pointing that out.

Cheers
Julian

Dawkins a "confirmed socialist"? Probably not.

Marcus's picture

I told Linz that Dawkins was a "confirmed socialist" because I remember hearing a debate on the BBC that he took part in - regarding altruism - also involving a member of ARI. I remember that his arguments were that "altruism" was natural. (Although that view does not make him a socialist). Then someone posted on SOLO about Dawkins not believing in "individual responsibility".

Then I wondered to myself, although I assumed him to be a "confirmed socialist" - in his documentary - he doesn't sound like one to me.

So, I had a look at a book of his essays in the book shop, which covers a wide range of his opinions. In the book, I haven't found any specific socialist views.

In one essay, titled
"Science, Genetics and Ethics: Memo for Tony Blair".
(This is an actual memo Dawkins was asked to write for Tony Blair's reading over Christmas in 2000.)

He writes:

"Senior Ministers (and their Sir Humphreys) could be forgiven for seeing scientists as little more than alternate igniters and quenchers of public panic. If a scientist appears in a daily newspaper today, it will usually be to pronounce on the dangers of food additives, mobile phones, sunbathing or electricity pylons. I suppose this is inevitable, given the equally forgivable preoccupation of citizens with their own personal safety, and their tendency to hold Government's responsible for it. But it casts scientists in a sadly negative role. And it fosters the unfortunate impression that their credentials flow from factual knowledge. What really makes scientists special is their method of acquiring it - a method that anybody could adopt with advantage.

Even more important, it leaves out the cultural and aesthetic value of science. It is as though one met Picasso and devoted the whole conversation to the dangers of licking one's brush. Or met Bradmen and talked only of the best box protector to put down one's trousers. Science, like painting has a higher aesthetic. Science can be poetry. Science can be spiritual, even religious in a non-supernatural sense of the word."

In another essay he writes,
"One does not have to disparage the local achievements of Freud and Marx on this planet to agree that their findings have no universality."

In another essay, he criticises postmodern philosophers and in another pours scorn on the opponents of cloning and genetic engineering - even calling them "Luddites".

Therefore, although, his points of view are not specifically conservative, they are also not specifically "socialist" either - although he is clearly not a Libertarian either.

So, apologies for calling Dawkins - "a confirmed Socialist".

I should have said that he considers himself foremost a "scientist" and a "Darwinist" and that he has mixed political views - but he doesn't follow any specific political ideology.

John is absolutely correct

Jason Quintana's picture

"My point is that I think it has less to do with philosophy, and more to do with a twisted psychology."

And Ayn Rand understood this perfectly. Many people complain about the “endless psychologizing” in The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and in some of her non fiction essays but it was a certain set of learned psychological bad habits that she was attacking via philosophical arguments. The second hander and the mystic are two of her main targets. Followers of religion -- those who practice it via cultural osmosis and those who are serious fundamentalists all suffer from both of these bad thinking habits to some degree.

Howard Roark wasn't designed as a philosophical know it all. He was designed as a character with absolutely none of the destructive psychological baggage exhibited by the other characters in the book. Many Objectivists (or pseudo Objectivists) defend religion by claiming that it fulfills certain "natural" human needs. Instead I would argue that religion is a crutch for those who want support and validation for their bad thinking habits. The bad habits of needing to "follow and belong" and the desire for mystical make believe in order to evade certain facts of reality.

Just because the vast majority of people have certain flaws it doesn't mean that they are natural and acceptable.

- Jason

My observation is that

John M Newnham's picture

My observation is that religion provides a sense of belonging and community, of social sanction. For those people who need this, reason cannot lift the veil. They are willing to deny, because they want to belong, to feel the mass hysteria of a church service, to receive *approval* for surrendering themselves. My point is that I think it has less to do with philosophy, and more to do with a twisted psychology.

John

I saw these programmes

Scott Wilson's picture

and found it was inspiring, in that it confronted the irrationality of religion full on, but also had something missing, as is shown by his implicit willingness to ban religious education.

Setting aside the weaknesses, it was a wonderful confrontation head on, on prime time British TV - that religion is the source of so much evil. He showed it, muslim and christian alike. Of course the 20th century was dominated by evil driven by atheist collectivists, whereas now it is muslim ones, and to a lesser extent christian ones.

I agree that inspirational objectivism is what is needed - it is the yawning gap that altheism in itself fails to deliver. It fails to deliver values for living, and a sense of purpose to your own life - that is to enjoy it!

Another thing religion has going for it

Lanza Morio's picture

A friend pointed out another thing religion has going for it: a sense of right and wrong. A lot of people want definitive standards by which to live their lives. Besides religion and Objectivism most philosophies avoid absolute right-ness and wrong-ness.

Inspirational Objectivism

Tim S's picture

“… Dawkins seemingly fails to grasp a crucially potent factor in religion’s enduring appeal—the way it still taps into the spark of idealism within us, the majestic sense of awe and wonder, the “total passion for the total height,” the striving for “unclouded exaltation” that makes life truly “sacred.”

Exactly. Religion is successful because it operates in a philosophical vacuum. None of the alternatives on offer - science, economic rationalism, altruism, “family values”, minority group victimhood, pomo-wanking or even outright nihilism - are remotely inspiring or uplifting.

I like the term “inspirational Objectivism”. It adds a dimension of purpose to what we are trying to achieve as a movement and as individuals in our own lives.

Great stuff.

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