We atheists don’t need better leaders; we need leaders who are willing to step back and stop dominating the conversation, and dominating badly. Once again, Richard Dawkins has bungled the big conversation we ought to be having. Once again, he seems obsessed with a 15 year old kid who made a clock.
Don't call him "clock boy" since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) November 24, 2015
Don’t call him “clock boy” since he never made a clock. Hoax Boy, having hoaxed his way into the White House, now wants $15M in addition!
I could be sympathetic. I agree with Dawkins that suing the school that suspended him for $15 million dollars, as Ahmed Mohamed’s parents are doing, is absurd and unjustifiable, especially when it got him so much positive attention. There is a point to slapping the school down hard for prejudiced behavior that they don’t seem to realize even yet that was bad and bigoted, but to the tune of many millions of dollars? It’s a ridiculous sum that is just going to dissipate what good will he had, and inflame people like Dawkins who resented his notoriety already.
But Dawkins goes further. Yes, he made a clock. Yes, he reassembled components from a clock to do it, but that is still a legitimate effort. It’s like complaining that someone built a circuit board with a standard timing chip, and then claiming that they didn’t really build it because they didn’t design the contents of the IC. Or like claiming that The Selfish Gene wasn’t a real contribution because it just repackages the work of Maynard Smith and Hamilton (no, I’m not arguing that: despite having no new math or observations, that book was a powerful telling of the story). A kid taking electronics apart and putting it together again isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a step in his education that ought to be encouraged.
And now the anti-Muslim sentiment has gone too far. Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher — a combination to bring out the worst in both — got together to damn everything Muslim.
Oh, that’s their culture, you have to respect it, Dawkins said mockingly.
That’s right! That’s what they say. It’s just insane, Maher said, swooning.
Liberal about everything else, but then this one exception, ‘It’s their culture.’ Well, to hell with their culture, Dawkins concluded, to a storm of applause and a passionate yelp of approval from Maher.
To hell with their culture? I despise all religions, and I can sneer at every hateful thing that emerges out of a culture, every culture — but to ignore the good to condemn the bad, to make sweeping dismissals of entire complex traditions…I am sorry, Professor Dawkins, but that is bigotry. To forgive the sins of one culture because of the things one likes about it, while damning another culture wholesale because you don’t like certain parts of it (even when those parts are unforgiveably evil) is something that perpetuates conflict.
Keep in mind that Dawkins likes many things about his culture.
‘I’m kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition,’ he admits, ‘for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.’ Would he ever go into a church? ‘Well yes, maybe I would.’
There are billions of people who are culturally Muslim, who have fond sentiments about their experiences and traditions within Islam. What would Professor Dawkins say if one of them said, “To Hell with Western culture”, citing genocide in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, witch burnings, inquisitions, wars of mass destruction, racism, and colonialism? How can you talk about evensong and cricket matches, as if they somehow excuse the rot at the core?
And I can predict his answer, because I’ve heard its like many times before: that Christianity has mellowed, is less destructive, and doesn’t inspire the frenzy of hatred that Islam does, and all of those horrors are in the past. To which I would only say…racist police, Planned Parenthood killings, murders of trans gender people, Scott Lively, Westboro Baptist, the American prison system, the drone war, unfettered capitalism, our predatory attitude towards the environment.
How many cricket fields am I permitted to shit upon for all that? How many Anglican hymnals shall we burn to repudiate those other heinous products of our culture?
Every ex-Muslim can recite a litany of horrors that Islam perpetrates. But I don’t think most would argue that we need to erase the history of the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and contributions all around the world. We should not ignore the Islamic gifts to literature, poetry, music, mathematics, and science; we must not forget that these are human beings who may feel the deepest love for their culture as a whole, even as they deplore aspects of it.
I want to embrace Islamic culture as a significant part of the human experience, even while I reject the barbarisms within it, exactly as I am a child of Western culture who wants to see our flaws recognized and corrected. My hope for the future isn’t a world of uniformity, but one where we can enjoy each others’ differences and not kill each other for them.
Richard Dawkins is a smart guy, and we see these glimmerings of appreciation for the complexity of human life (how can he not, as a biologist?) in his writings — I hope he can see that he’s taking the wrong path. Even more importantly, I hope atheists everywhere can learn that he’s not the atheist leader we need…and that maybe we shouldn’t be looking for a man to tell us what to think at all.