Richard Dawkins says the darnedest things
It seems that the Mormon bloggernacle (or at least, my favorite outposts from it) are just now realizing that Richard Dawkins says shocking things about religion. What has he said latest? Well, I don’t think this is recent at all, but people are abuzz at Dawkins’s claim that religion can not only be comparable to sexual abuse, but it may be worse. GASP. The Mormon Matters article addresses a less contentious issue (is religious belief in general abuse? Is Santa Claus abuse?), but Adam F at Shenpa Warrior takes the big deal. (UPDATE: And I forgot Symphony of Dissent’s post regarding the labeling of children.)
Now, I’m not a huge Dawkins fan. I’ve not read his books; I don’t know if I’m all up with the “new atheism” that he and the others in the “Four Horsemen” have engineered…but when I looked at this article from his site that Adam F posted, I wondered what the commotion was all about. It seems pretty clear that Dawkins is addressing certain things about religion.
I wrote a comment on Mormon Matters, which I will shamelessly steal from here.
Dawkins’s point seems to be that religions aren’t just happy feel-good (I think that the Mormon Matters discussion misses this as the bloggers talk about the comforting and positive aspects of their religions.) Rather, for what comfort they might provide, they are also tied as well to shame and guilt. Insofar as they are tied to these things (or worse), they are emotionally and psychologically abusive. That is Dawkins’s argument, if I can summarize it best.
For example, take the non-LDS formulation of Hell. It is a place of infinite misery…and it is used as an incentive to get people to follow God (e.g., if you don’t want to go to this place of infinite misery, turn to Jesus.) I think Dawkins’s point is that not only is using such an extreme tool abusive in and of itself, but on top of that, this fearmongering isn’t necessarily justified with the weight of evidence.
Even without a place of infinite and unimaginable misery, Dawkins would say that other superstitious frameworks have other lesser, but still potent guilt tactics. If we take the Santa analogy…there is no Christmas Hell, BUT there is the fear of getting coal. I think Dawkins would say that this emotional manipulation is abusive because the coal-for-bad-children guilt tool is as unlikely as Hell. What it lacks in sheer terror (let’s face it…coal isn’t quite the deterrent that Hell is), it makes up for in the sickening fact that people continue to wield this malicious lie EVEN THOUGH THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN IT!
The real trick is to look inward carefully. I mean, I can imagine that a lot of people (probably Adam F and the Mormon Matters bloggers for sure) are thinking that Dawkins went too far. That Dawkins doesn’t understand the good that religion provides. Or that all religions can’t be brushed with the same brush (for example, Mormonism quite simply doesn’t have as cruel of theology as other denominations have.)
But beware! You *can* read plenty of stories of people “recovering” from SOME aspect of Mormonism. Regardless of what any member might think about these individuals’ claims (heck, they might seem completely untrustworthy), there is obviously a group of individuals who could and would support what Dawkins is saying.
I understand that Dawkins’s claim is jarring and upsetting. He is, if nothing else, a great shock jockey. But that is because he is making a bold juxtaposition that goes against our common sense. We think…what could be more damaging that sexual abuse? And Dawkins suggests religion, and we think: “couldn’t be! Preposterous.” But what if…what if…the accumulation of guilt, shame, fear, whatever inculcated by religious ideas such as Hell nets out to be worse in impact than sexual abuse?
Dawkins doesn’t mean to minimize the immense pain of sexual abuse. Rather, he is making a bold claim — that perhaps we shouldn’t take lightly — that we should be just as concerned, if not moreso, about the deleterious effects that certain religious motivations (e.g., avoidance of hell, worthiness in the eyes of God, etc.,) can have on people.