Friday, December 08, 2006

In These Times: The Godless Fundamentalist

In These Times takes a look at Richard Dawkins, The Godless Fundamentalist. That actually seems like a fitting term for his brand of atheism, which is just as rabid as is the fundamentalism of believers.
In The Root of All Evil, biologist Richard Dawkins reveals his own lust for certainty

By Lakshmi Chaudhry

Religion fucking blows!” declares comedian Roseanne Barr in her latest HBO special. Her pronouncement, both in its declarative certainty and self-congratulatory defiance, could easily serve as the succinct moral of Richard Dawkins’ documentary, The Root of All Evil.

The big-screen version of a two-part British television series follows the noted biologist as he embarks on a global road-trip to the veritable bastions of theological conviction—the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a Christian conservative stronghold in Colorado Springs, a Hassidic community in the heart of London—bullying, berating and heckling the devoutly faithful he encounters along his way.

Confronting cancer patients who have traveled to Lourdes in hopes of a cure, Dawkins tells the viewer in the first scene, “It may seem tough to question the beliefs of these poor, desperate people’s faith.” By the end of the documentary, Dawkins’ bravado is not in doubt. When talking to Ted Haggard, a New Life Church pastor (more recently infamous for his predilection for crystal meth and gay prostitutes), after witnessing one of his sermons, Dawkins tells him, “I was almost reminded of the Nuremberg rallies … Dr. Goebbels would have been proud.” To a hapless guide at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, he taunts, “Do you really believe that Jesus’ body lay here?” And then there’s his remark—”I’m really worried for the well-being of your children”—to a Hassidic school teacher, Rabbi Herschel Gluck, whom Dawkins accuses of brainwashing innocent kids.

As he storms his way around the world in the state of high dudgeon, Dawkins’ attitude can be best described as apocalyptic outrage. The effect is in turns bewildering, embarrassing, grating and even unintentionally comic, as we watch the distinguished Oxford University Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science channel his inner Borat. When the astonished rabbi exclaims, “You are a fundamentalist believer,” even a sympathetic, true-blue San Francisco audience cannot help but chuckle in assent.

Read the rest.

Dawkins and crew -- Daniel Dennett, Greg Graffin, and Sam Harris -- have taken to calling themselves "brights" -- Dawkins' term for those whose worldview is not encumbered by supernatural and mystical belief.

As tends to be the case with most atheists, Dawkins is not really attacking anything other than a literalist interpretation of religious texts. His arguments can't touch any of the higher visions of the divine found in Kaballah, Vedanta, or Dzogchen, among others.

He can be amusing to listen to because he is smart and funny. But he is also maddeningly fundamentalist in his insistence that he has all the answers and that there is no other viable way to live in the world other than being an atheist like him.

The world needs to question its beliefs at this point -- too many people are willing to kill for what they believe. So I'm willing to give Dawkins and his crew some slack. But I think that they might also be doing some harm in making rational thought look intolerant and equally as crazed as the believers they attack.

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