The strange logic of Richard Dawkins


By Jessica Elgot
August 19, 2010
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Robyn Rosen makes some excellent points about Richard Dawkins’ baffling documentary on faith schools, and I won’t repeat them.

But one glaring point stands out for me:

Dawkins claims that faith schools “indoctrinate” children, illustrated by a long clip of little girls playing clapping games – a montage implying that faith was like some sort of obsession or disease that our children might pass between themselves.

Apart from how embarrassingly staged it was, it makes no sense. Children might become obsessed with a particular card game, or make believe game, but just because you teach them something doesn’t necessarily mean it will catch on. Try spending the morning teaching them trigonometry. They won’t be copying that in the playground.

Dawkins goes to great lengths to point out how irreligious this country is. Seven per cent of people attend church, for example. He uses that as an example of why we don’t need faith schools.

But a third of schools are faith schools, so roughly 33 per cent of the population attended one. If faith schools really do “indoctrinate” people, then they aren’t doing a very good job of it, because most people in this country have no faith. It’s a glaring flaw in Dawkins’ logic and one he never addresses.

What Jewish schools do teach is a deep understanding of tradition, of history, of chesed, the value of community, a respect for religious beliefs and enables those who want live a religious life to do so as fully as possible, with a deep knowledge of Jewish law.

Many will go on to lead observant lives, go to yeshivah, train to be rabbis, and be heavily involved in the community. And whether we like it or not, many will not. Many will go to synagogue once a year, or not at all.

The idea of faith schools poisoning the minds of children so they become unable to think for themselves is an entirely false assumption, proven, sadly, by how poor attendance of synagogues and churches is across the country. What is certain however, is how many intelligent, thoughtful, respectful and successful young adults Jewish schools in this country produce. And Dawkins is too proud to admit that.

COMMENTS

DLeigh-Ellis

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 21:40

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Excellent post Jess. Very good points made.

We are lucky to be part of a pluralist faith.. A faith that encourages debate and sees no issues with people analysing their beliefs from alternative angles.

I feel that Dawkins perceives all faiths to be as uncompromising as hardline Christianity. I think his agenda is based on a false assumption that all religious people are as insane as the fanatics, whilst in reality it is a small fraction.

Furthermore, he is wholly selective in his evidence... He has never confronted the historical fact of social development and cohesion fostered by medieval monastaries on the surrounding land. Neither has he bothered to address the ability of faith to aid people in dire need, for instance- the faith that enabled many people to survive concentration camps in WW2 or ethnic cleansing since. He also does not consider the vast amount of positive work provided by the thousands of religious charities, be they Christian Aid, Islamic Relief or Jewish Care.

Dawkins has become a brand name for a form of Atheism that now has more in common with fundamentalism than the rational egalitarianism he claims to speak for. He is in rhetoric remarkably similar to those whom he claims are trying to indoctrinate people.

We watched that old Disney film the other night 'The Rescuers,' in a sudden moment of nostalgia. I think even Rufus the Cat would be able to succesfully argue the point of faith to Dawkins:

'Faith is a blue bird, we see from far.
It's for real and as sure as the first evening star, you can't touch it or buy it or wrap it up tight
but it's there just the same, making things turn out right.'

Even science requires a level of faith.


JLCohen

Sun, 08/22/2010 - 17:22

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Having had a scientific education, I tend to agree with the background to Dawkins' arguments. However, I cannot agree with those arguments themselves due to his not-very-hidden agenda - Dawkins very obviously hates all religions and feels he has the right to tell others what they should and should not believe; as DLeigh-Ellis rightly says, "He is in rhetoric remarkably similar to those whom he claims are trying to indoctrinate people." He appears also to be lacking a certain amount of knowledge about religions - our own included, which could be said to promote scientific thought (which is surely the reason there have been so many eminent Jewish scientists) - and the faithful. Religion, as he says, has been the cause of much war, but has been used as an excuse just as often during wars that sparked from good old fashioned greed, be it greed for land, oil, slaves and so on. Secondly, there are also a very large number of people in this world who strive to prevent war and help victims of it because they believe their faith instructs them to do so.

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