Broadcast on 2/9/2007
One of the books recently bobbing around at the tops of the bestseller lists is scientist Richard Dawkins’s atheist critique of religion, The God Delusion.
In clear and accessible language and arguments, Dawkins lays out his position that there is no proof of the existence of God, so he does not belief. Furthermore, Dawkins argues that there is no special need to believe in anything more grand that the explanations of science about the natural world works and no reason to have faith in a moral system beyond what most secular societies have already worked out for themselves.
That’s the reasonable and friendly part of his argument. Dawkins begins to step on some toes when he offers a scathing analysis of the extreme violence of Mel Gibson’s Christian blockbuster, The Passion, or of the indoctrination of children into one faith group of another (which he likens, at times, to child abuse), and to the general dangers inherent in most forms of religious fundamentalism. As interesting as The God Delusion is -- and I think anyone interesting in critical thinking or the place of religion in society should read it-- the book at times does seem like an example what is coming to be called “Militant Atheism.” As to whether Dawkins is truly militant or not, I’ll be happy to let you decide. The God Delusion is, if nothing else, a provocative read.
Speaking of militants and provocation, I recently watched the DVD of Jesus Camp, a documentary film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, a staggering look at the role of children in the present day Evangelical movement in the United States. Home-schooled far from the clutches of the nation’s (mostly) secular schools, banned from reading Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings, these children are told time and again by the well-meaning adults in their lives that “the world is a sick old place.” More to the point, in their weekends and on their vacations, we get to see how some of these children are being trained as soldiers for Christ. I don’t think this is an exaggeration, although it would seem so just to read it here.
Over and over we see the children in Jesus Camp as your as 8 or 9 emotionally overwhelmed by adult descriptions of hell or abortion or the Rapture and the horrors of the “sick” secular world. These vulnerable young people are gradually brought around to militant views of their own, or so it would seem, and say they are prepared to lay down their lives for Jesus. As the head children’s preacher tells the camera, in effect, “They’re doing this in Islam, so we better start doing it here.”
I was so affected by Jesus Camp that I had to stop watching it several times. For me, as a teacher, to see adults imposing such extreme views of children and doing it with so much emotional manipulation – on children who really have poorly developed critical thinking skills – well, let’s just say that any educator would find such militant indoctrination highly unethical. But, you know, you can watch Jesus Camp for yourself. I’ll let you decide for yourself. We don't really go in for indoctrination here at Passing Notes.
It would be my hope in the end that the Militant Atheists and the Militant Evangelicals – though they would seem to never be capable of agreeing with each other – can teach the rest of us a lesson about the need for shared values, for a common set of facts upon which we can all agree, and for building consensus with each other about what’s important to most of us and what we should do about it. But often -- perhaps moreso these days -- the screaming from the fringes makes so much noise that the rest of us can hardly hear ourselves think.