I’ve watched Richard Dawkins’ two-part Channel 4 programme, “The Root of All Evil? – The God Delusion”. It’s a few years old now, but someone had posted it so I watched it. You can see part 1 here and part 2 here. I wouldn’t say it completely represents my views, but I found it quite refreshing after the way I have been feeling lately!
There was one bit, 15 minutes into part 2, that jumped out at me. He says:
A child is genetically pre-programmed to accumulate knowledge from figures of authority. The child brain, for very good Darwinian reasons, has to be set up in such a way that it believes what it’s told by its elders. There just isn’t time for the child to experiment with warnings like “don’t go too near the cliff edge,” or “don’t swim in the river, there are crocodiles.” Any child who applied a scientific, sceptical, questioning attitude to that would be dead. … The child brain will automatically believe what it’s told, even if what it’s told is nonsense. … For many people, part of growing up is killing off the virus of faith with a good strong dose of rational thinking. But if an individual doesn’t succeed in shaking it off, his mind is stuck in a permanent state of infancy.
It instantly struck me as true and it changed the way I saw the footage of religious dogmatism in action in the rest of the film. What distinguishes religious dogmatism from other ways of being is exactly that childlike trust in an authority.
While I don’t see society making moral progress to the same degree as Dawkins does, I think he’s right that religion chokes it. At the very least, the holy books preserve all the biases and moral shortcomings of the cultures they were written in, when they are taken as an authority in this way. Uncritical trust is deeply worrying!
But more than that, it is odd. I find it very odd when I stop and think about it, that we are prepared to believe God doesn’t want us to grow up and use our developing rational faculties, but rather, wants us to continue to take instruction on trust like a little child. And that we aren’t at all embarrassed by this self-humiliation.