Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Root of All Evil?

Last night on Channel 4, was the first part of The Root of All Evil? presented by Richard Dawkins who boldly hypothesises that religion is a sort of cultural virus with which one generation deliberately infects the next generation and that this 'virus' or 'memeplex' is the cause of a great deal of the conflict in the world today. He argues that it had been thought (by western intellectuals) that religious belief was on the retreat, by that religioun was making a resurgence with avengeance. His visit to the tense and factionalised 'Holy City' of Jerusalem with cut-scenes of 9/11 and the bombing of the London Underground put this into perspective.

A Muslim in Jerusalem tells him that the West is depraved and corrupt for allowing women the freedom to dress provacatively and that we should prepare for the Islamic world empire. A Protestant pastor in Colorado has the charm of the boy next door, until Dawkins asks him about biology. He chases Dawkins out of his church, screaming that he has called his children 'animals'.

Great viewing!

I do agree that religion and blind faith can be dangerous and that seing them as a sort of self-reproducing cultural virus can be helpful. And the apparently benign faith of the masses cannot be seen as faultless in reinforcing the beliefs of the extremists. I don't believe that religion is 'the root of all evil' - rather it is adherence to ideology and dogmatism, which is the source of the problem. Religion can have plenty of that, but so does communism and patriotism.

Something that Dawkins hasn't mentioned so far is that there may be evolutionary and genetic factors to religion - we may be genetically predisposed towards religiosity. And, hence there must be genetic advantages to religiosity (at least historically) - for the reproducibility of the genes not necessarily for us as individual beings. How many major world civilisations have arisen without a unifying religion?

And powerful as it, science isn't able to answer all questions - there are existential and subjective aspects to life which science is unable to address - aspects which some people choose to express through religion. Is it possible to explore these aspects of our nature without buying into the dangers of religious dogma with blind faith?

This all links back to what I was discussing about Buddhism and dogma of course and I'll be talking about this in my next post.


  1. The danger of religion comes in when people become complacent and allow others to think for them. Even the most stifling religions can eventually lead to enlightenment if the practitioner is willing to explore and grow.

    Truth is an existential reality. Anyone can encounter truth, but first they have to be willing to think freely and face up to their conditioning, their assumptions. Any belief system that doesn't allow this is dangerous.

    You ask "Is it possible to explore these aspects of our nature without buying into the dangers of religious dogma with blind faith?" I say yes, but it takes an incredible amount of integrity and courage.

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