Monday, October 15, 2007

I kinda feel like Richard Dawkins is a douche.

I mean, maybe that's not totally fair. It just seems that as a public figure he does a terrible job of examining his own assumptions. He's got a new campaign a-cookin', to try to organize atheists as a viable political entity to counter religion in modern government, and while I might be all for the basic gist of it, he comes off as very arrogant in a way that I find hard to get with. (n.b.: I've got him on my reading list but I haven't tackled him directly just yet, so I really can't mount much of a critique of him without being a bit of a douche myself.)

One thing that always bugs me when I see his public pronouncements is this sense that rationality is something outside of time, pure unsentimental enlightenment that is accessible to anyone willing to shed the silly blinders of faith. Isn't it also possible though, for example, first of all that religion and rationality have had profound moments of coexistence among the precursors to modernity? Or that in modern times faith cuts both ways, just as absence of faith has been known to do from time to time? Dawkins's expression of his atheism is dogmatic and ideological in my view, and this was, from what I understand, a well-articulated critique of The God Delusion given by folks who are in a better spot to have a go at Dawkins than I am. There was a really interesting article in the nytimes mag back in the spring outlining the range of the debate around science and god among some seriously high-level thinkers, and Dawkins just doesn't seem to be my horse in that race.

Here's more that I can't get with:

In an interview with the Guardian, [Dawkins] said: "When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."

Now look, if you scroll down and have a glance at my previous posts, you'll quickly guess that I'm not rooting for AIPAC or anything. But that quote right there is one goddamn silly way for Dawkins to address his own agenda. First of all, "monopolise" is a very unconsidered and uninformed choice of word there (which is not to imply that I agree with this, which is another pile of silly bullshit over which I groan). Second of all, dude apparently doesn't know much about the dynamics of the israel lobby (a vastly more appropriate way of terming it first of all, because this here jew, for one, is not spoken for by said lobby)- while I'm not going to bother parsing exactly how confused that quote from Dawkins is, I'm just going to wonder aloud what percentage of the israel lobby's clout derives from pretty much functionally atheist humans, and guess that it's a high enough number to render Dawkins's example totally off base. Isn't the israel lobby a prime example of harnessing religion to a highly secular agenda, therefor rendering the religion part of the equation something closer to a straight up political tool? And isn't this a fundamentally different and more complex case than religion informing politics? It would not be hard to find an example of a fully secular/atheistic individual who truly believes that zionism is the necessary and rightful path of self-determination for the jews. Meanwhile, without even thinking about it I can quickly call up this example of a man of faith, whose faith informs a moral stance that you'd have to be an asshole to try to diminish. I'd much rather have Archbishop Tutu on my team at this historical juncture than Archdickwad Dawkins.

Might it be the case that this eminent man of science isn't actually qualified to publicly address matters outside of science, like american foreign policy and u.s.-israel relations for example? (Of course, we've got to be leaving aside the ridiculously maddening christian fundamentalists who have gotten way in on the israel lobby game for a moment here, but I didn't say "Jewish lobby," Dawkins did.)

Now here's another, in my mind more interesting matter: I did both self-identify as a jew and also suggest that I might be an atheist. Possibly a contradiction, I'm still trying to sort that one out (and I'm not particularly vulnerable about the subject as long as anyone wanting to talk about it with me is actually thinking about what they're saying and realizing that these things are not necessarily obvious). I'm interested to talk to crypto-atheists, particularly, because I guess I've just been really fortunate to never feel like I couldn't just think whatever the fuck I want to. I don't doubt that there are many folks in the u.s. who fear oppression for coming out as full-blown non-believers. It's just that my contact with such people has been at most highly limited. Sure it's not hard to imagine someone growing up in strict religious confines in the u.s. and simultaneously wanting to shed the strictures and also fearing alienation by the only community said individual has known. But just 'cause I can imagine that doesn't mean I haven't taken my own experience for granted most of the time.

CLARIFICATION: I just noticed that Daniel Finkelstein went on to offer an elaborated version of his response to Dawkins's dumbass "Jewish lobby" remark. I want to point out that Finkelstein's elaboration (which he probably would've done well to post in full in the first place, unless he was baiting for the response that he inevitably got to his initial offhandish post on the matter) is almost really carefully considered and something I could agree with. But then he has to go and stretch his "fear" further and bother to introduce the word "Nazi." Dude, listen, Dawkins's comment was fucking dumb, no doubt, but c'mon. Don't say you weren't accusing him of anti-semitism, because you were- you were obviously distinguishing between overt and, um, 'unintended' versions of bigotry, but that is still what you were accusing him of in the first place, and then again in your elaboration, where you even manage to notch it up a bit. Accuse him of idiocy and ignorance, fine, he deserves it. But to conclude that that makes you feel afraid is one more step in the direction of making a trifle of actual and significant instances of bigotry (and I'm NOT saying that anti-semitism does not exist anymore). Please don't play semantics games with things that actually matter.


Blogger O.D.B. said...

Atheist as a viable political option - first step: Richard Dawkins cannot be spokesperson.

October 18, 2007 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger catlebrity said...

Nice! I mention your post on my blog:

As you'll see from teh name of my blog, you're definitely not the only one who feels like Dawkins is a douche.

May 5, 2008 at 4:04 AM  
Anonymous Jay from Philly said...

Dawkins' atheism seems to extend only to proceeds from book sales, speaking fees, and whatever thrill he gets from taking the stage. I don't know if there is a word for what he is: He doesn't care whether God exists or not. He only cares about money.

December 13, 2012 at 3:50 PM  

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