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Richard Dawkins is right: not all religions are the same

January 8, 2015

Happy New Year everyone. Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog recently (I had a couple of projects which consumed me and I just couldn’t get to the blog). I was disappointed by that but am looking forward to this year.

In the aftermath of the terrible Paris terrorist shootings, I noticed today that Richard Dawkins tweeted this:

“No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.”

I think Dawkins is correct, all religions are NOT all equally violent – I doubt there are many people fearing a violent backlash from the Amish community.

Dawkins’ comment reveals a deeper and more significant truth that ‘not all religions are the same’. I would think that this is fairly obvious, yet I am frustrated when ‘religion’, in a generic sense, is bandied about as the cause of violence and conflicts.

It’s true that some religion has and does cause division, violence and hatred. Yet physical violence is not consistent with all religious systems. For example, the Mennonite and Amish communities are firmly built on non-violence. They are certainly religious, but hardly violent. These stand in stark contrast with Islam, where violence is far more consistent with the Islamic religious system.

So next time you hear someone say, ‘religion is the cause of violence’, we need to stop and think, ‘yes, it can be, but which religion’ – as Richard Dawkins admits, not all religions are equally violent.

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From → Comment, News

12 Comments
  1. Not equally violent but all spreading the dangerous lie that (allegedly) supernaturally obtained texts are a legitimate guide to our activities.

  2. Even a broken clock…

  3. Ed Atkinson permalink

    Rob, I agree with your post. As ever, things are never simple. To me the problems start as soon as a person yields their impulses to an authority, creed, ideology or similar set of ideas. We have our natural empathies which put a stop on violence but when there is something ‘higher’ over us there is a good chance we will submit and override our natural empathies.

    Religions are examples of these higher authorities and it gets really toxic if violence is a part of the teachings. Another potential problem is when religion enables authority figures to have sway, then if the leader happens to lack empathy in his (it is never her) drive for power or ideology, the religious followers are cut off from their empathy and they implement the leader’s violent agenda.

    Remember the famous Milgram experiment on obedience to authority
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    So ‘all religion’ has the potential for these problems, but other ideologies do as well, and some religions overcome the problem with consistent anti-violence teaching.

    Is that fair?

    • Hi Ed,
      I’m still not entirely comfortable. Religions teaching, even if it’s anti-violence, is done with “god’s authority”. So anti-violence is good but they’re still reinforcing the yielding, as in your first paragraph.

    • Ed. Yes, I agree that things are never always completely straightforward.

      My main difficutlty I have with your comment is that I don’t think that humans are ever ‘ultimate’. Which means that we will always be servant to ‘something’ greater. It might be religion, ideology, philosophy, even science. Hence the better question in my view is ‘which is the best thing to hold above us’. If we sincerely believe that ‘nothing’ is above us, then I think that person becomes incredibly dangerous.

      Great to hear from you again. Looking forward to many quality discussions.

      Rob

      • Sorry to butt in Rob but your answer moved me. No-one is ever a servant to science. Science is merely a tool kit, a methodology, an approach. If you’re looking for “something greater” for which there’s tangible evidence, may I suggest “nature”?

      • Yes, I take your point and I agree (although some atheists do posit science in the space of god). I think ‘nature’, is probably better and certainly the position of Sam Harris ie my genes made me do it!

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        Rob, thanks you open up a very interesting line here. It reminds me of that Dylan song after he became a Christian: ‘You’ve got to serve somebody. It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but You’ve got to serve somebody’.

        I strongly disagree with the ‘servant’ aspect of your claim. My guess is that this ‘got to serve somebody’ aspect you are deriving from your Christianity and not from evidence. We all do need a framework to understand the world and to make sense of our moral actions, but we have the option to choose it and think it through for ourselves. We are not all servants. Those who don’t take the option and unthinkingly adopt the religion of their community are the ones who are the servants.

        In fact your own words demonstrate my point: “Hence the better question in my view is ‘which is the best thing to hold above us’.” So we are in charge, we are not servants. I choose, say, to be a follower of Rodney King’s (the 1991 LA police victim) ideology “can we all get along?”. I am not handing myself over to the ideology and if something comes up over which conflicts with it, say to campaign on climate change, I am free to adjust for myself.

        Rob, I sincerely believe that ‘nothing’ is above me (what is your home address?)

      • Ed. Yes I think this is very interesting. I’m intrigued of what you make of Sam Harris’ ethic which is thoroughly deterministic. Ie we are ‘servants’ (for want of a better word) to our DNA. Do you suggest that we aren’t servants of our DNA? In that sense, can you be a true naturalist? (This touches on another conversation we had about consciousness).

        In terms of your own ideology, I think you might have misunderstood me. I don’t believe that you genuinely believe that ‘nothing ‘ is above you, I’d suggest you are law abiding servant of the liberal democratic capitalist system? This means that you pay taxes and follow road rules etc. This is more my point, if you thought yourself ‘ultimate’ with no accountability, then that is far more terrifying.

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        Rob, many thanks for a though provoking question. I have not read any Harris, but your report of his views sounds similar to mine. I guess I would say that my DNA, my upbringing, my culture …. all these are part of me. So any instinct that I have to protect my family’s genes, or my tribe’s genes, by altruism are better viewed as a part of me rather than an outside influence. There is no ‘me’ that is above or divorced from these influences from DNA or environment. I am not a servant these influences, I am the influences.

        On the point of the law, it is in my interest to comply, but also I do agree with the community aspects of us all ‘getting along’. I willingly choose to comply. I would say it is merely spin to claim that I am a servant of the system. I could choose to do just enough to get away without punishment, or to cross the boundary and risk punishment. I am not a servant

  4. Ed Atkinson permalink

    Mick

    Yes I agree with you. I was being an observer in my comment. My personal view is that the yielding is unhealthy and the potential for violence is just one negative outcome.

    Evolution seems to have produced us having a tendency towards religion, so probably religion produced more benefits than problems. Now that we can provide many of these benefits through our civil structures such as good law enforcement, the problems with religion now outweigh the benefits at a society level.

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