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Richard Dawkins Issues a fatwa against Religion
Last uploaded : Wednesday 1st Feb 2006 at 02:33
Contributed by : The Editor


I happened to be in the United Kingdom when a bizarre television series entitled ‘The Root of All Evil?’ was aired in primetime.

Presented by Oxford University Professor and avowed atheist Dr Richard Dawkins, the series explored the evils of religion.

Without doubt, Christianity has at one period or another in history been responsible for some appalling atrocities. Islam has seen periods of strife and bloodshed, with Jews finding themselves victimised alongside Muslims under siege from the Crusaders and succeeding Christian hordes. In the Middle Ages Jews were accused of draining the blood of Christian children for use in making Passover matzot (unleavened bread), culminating in the notorious Blood Libel, York massacres and expulsion in 1290. The Jews were not to be readmitted to Britain until the time of Cromwell. The massacre in York was so traumatic to the Jewish people that to this day they symbolically refuse to live there.

The Chmielnicki massacres of Jews were amongst the cruellest in Europe, only to be outdone by the Inquisition. Even poor Joan of Arc died at the hands of an Ecclesiastical court made up of her own co-religionists.

Religious fervour has inspired waves of genocidal murder. Religious faith has also sustained humanity through its darkest moments. This is where I part company with Dawkins.

In his television series he goes to a large evangelical gathering in the American countryside and then confronts the Pastor by making the astonishing suggestion that the service reminded him of a Hitler Nuremberg Rally. Dawkins could see no value in religious ritual and provoked the clergyman to ask him to stop being so arrogant. Is it any wonder the professor was eventually ordered off the premises?

On his visit to the Holy Land he showed religious Jews davening at the Western Wall and interviewed a radical Muslim who had started life as one Joseph Cohen. The images Dawkins used in his programme, and the interviews he selected for presentation depicted the fringes of the societies he visited.

What was so offensive about the series was the disdain Dawkins showed for any sort of faith. During the programme, which Lord Winston says nearly provoked him to smash his television set, my mind travelled to the story of the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn during Chanukah in Lieberrose concentration camp. Gryn’s father, salvaging a tiny morsel of butter in the camp to symbolise the endurance of the Maccabees, said a man can live without food and water but he cannot live without hope. When someone asked me why I attend religious services I like to say I do it for someone who died in a camp and could never enjoy another festival.

Another factor that makes Dawkins a poor judge of the value of faith post-Holocaust. Any Jew born after the Nazi genocide is told from earliest childhood of the terrible fate of relatives. Likewise, even pre-Holocaust Jews lived, through the Scripture and Passover Hagaddah, centuries of persecution and hardship. When Westminster Synagogue received delivery of the charred remnants of the Torah scrolls that had been rescued from the thousands of houses of worship that had been destroyed on Kristallnacht and after, the sight of those burnt pages was an inspiration. What does Richard Dawkins think ancient faiths are? People jumping up and down and getting into frenzies? Some of the greatest literature and commentary, addressing every aspect of the human condition, has arisen from Judaism, Islam, Christianity and other world faiths. Kabbalah, though recently hijacked by commercialism, is also a valued outgrowth of faith.

Dawkins created imagery and bewildering narrative that seemed to equate scenes of pilgrims seeking healing at Lourdes and other religious rites as reminiscent of the Taliban and of the perpetrators of 9/11. Without doubt pro-life advocates in the United States have attacked abortion clinics and practitioners. Violence has arisen from religious fervour for centuries. What is so appalling about Richard Dawkins view of the world is that he sees religion from a narrow, whining and cold-hearted Anglo-secular viewpoint with no regard for the meaning faith holds for the persecuted and downtrodden.

By the same token, attending a church, mosque, Hindu temple or synagogue in the United States one will find crowds of professors, artists, scientists, business people, the employed and unemployed and worshippers of all colours and backgrounds. These are decent, intelligent and educated people who go out the rest of the week and make a contribution to society or to their families and friends. That Dawkins can spend two weeks of primetime television deriding those of faith and making disparaging remarks about the world’s great religions indicates the paucity of spiritual fibre into which Britain has fallen.

Although one would not wish to lump him with these figures, Dawkins does come from the same culture that allowed to operate freely Oswald Mosley, the lifetime anti-Semitic campaigner Dowager Lady Birdwood and Holocaust-denier David Irving. The fact that ‘Little Britain’ and ‘Big Brother’ attract huge audiences and that churches are empty is a commentary on the state of British spiritual life. France is indeed fiercely secular but does not seem to suffer the absence of soul that has crept into British life since the ‘me generation’ replaced the Greatest Generation of the Blitz.

Alcoholism, child pregnancies and high divorce rates, not to mention road rage and an epidemic of crime have crept into British society, and a bit of churchgoing might not harm anyone. Synagogue attendance in the UK is much higher than church attendance, and Jewish crime is virtually non-existent. Notwithstanding the disturbing problem of radicalism, young British Muslims adhere to a much higher moral code than do we in Christian Britain. They are devoted to observance and ought to be an example to the dwindling Anglican fold. Crime amongst British Hindus is rare.

In the United States the level of crime dropped to dramatically low levels when the church took inner city crime into its remit and brought young hoodlums into its environs. This is a fact. As British Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks said after the hideous child-murder of Jamie Bulger, ‘if you follow the Ten Commandments through your lifetime you and our children will not go wrong.’ Richard Dawkins seems to prefer a life devoid of faith to a life built around Mosaic law. The latter seems to work better. Hitler, and Stalin detested traditional religion. I think I have made my point.

In Israel, one of the most secular nations in the world -- something Dawkins failed to point out -- the New Year for Trees is one of many delightful annual observances. Businesses and hotels put out baskets of fruit and nuts. Is this mumbo jumbo? During the darkest days of the Blitz faith sustained Britain’s leaders and citizens. In liberal British circles there is a grotesque habit of linking ‘evangelical fanatics’ with regular church attendance, which is so much a part of American life. That Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian Americans meld so well in daily life and discourse is a tribute to this rich tradition. It might do Britons good to listen to the weekly Bible reading as it relates to issues in modern life. Many a brilliant rabbi has taken the weekly parasha and linked it to a story in the news, leaving the congregation with profound thoughts to take into the coming week’s work.

Dawkins slots into that segment of British intellectual society that sees some sort of threat from organised religion. The fact that Higo Gryn, John Rayne and Immanuel Jacobovits could survive the Nazi horror and still wish to maintain their faith is far more inspiring than any pronouncement the eminent Professor might make.

I found the series offensive, hurtful and about as blasphemous as the infamous cartoon Muslims are currently criticising in Europe. If Channel Four Television would like to commission a reply to Richard Dawkins, I would be happy to front the programme. Meanwhile, I suggest he drop in on a sermon by one of the great rabbis or Christian clergy of his country and start understanding why religion is not about to go away.


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