• The Truth Behind the New Atheism: The Definitive Refutation, Part 8

    Chapter 10: What About the “American Taliban?”

    In this chapter Marshall seeks to discount the great concern the New Atheists have about groups of fundamentalist Christians who are attempting to breach the separation of church and state and are working towards creating a theocracy in america. After explaining Richard Dawkins’ discussion in The God Delusion about a pastor in Colorado named Keenan Roberts who runs “Hell Houses,” and how Dawkins believes that this is an example of what has become “mainstream” religion in America today, Marshall writes,

    Dawkins may not believe in hell, but he believes in the tactic. With Sam Harris riding shotgun (or, one might say, pitchfork), he guides us through that Hell House of religious fanaticism called America. Among others, he interviews a Lutheran terrorist who shot an abortion doctor and his bodyguard. He tells about a boy who wore Christian “hate speech” on a T-shirt to school. He drops in on political figures who blame a lesbian for the destruction of New Orleans, or run on a platform of “intolerance,” “hatred,” and “theocracy.” […] A number of recent and popular American books confirm the general outlines of this story.” Michele [sic] Goldberg writes darkly in Kingdom Coming (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007) of a gathering theocratic storm. Kevin Phillips warns of American Theocracy (New York: Viking, 2006) – a book Dawkins cites. Chris Hedges paints a particularly dark picture in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006). Sam Harris points to an article by sociologist Gregory Paul that suggests Christianity in America correlates to a higher rate of murder, unwed pregnancy, and, yes, abortion. […] But while the United States no doubt has its share of fanatics and odious preachers, the general truth is radically different. Look closely at the facts, and it becomes clear that the critics not only are wrong, but generally don’t even know what they’re talking about. I will argue not only that Christianity has done America good in the past, but that serious followers of Jesus, far from being a threat to democracy or their neighbors, act as what Jesus called the “salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), preserving the best qualities of American society. (173-174)

    David Marshall begins by complaining about a footnote in Dawkins’ The God Delusion! He says,

    Richard Dawkins’s case against Christianity in America is essentially anecdotal, while Sam Harris makes use of more systematic data. […] Dawkins offers two stories:

    In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America’s best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans. You’d think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners…

    In a footnote Dawkins admits he’s not sure if the story, which he found on the Web, is true. But “whether true or not,” it’s relevant because “it is entirely typical of utterances by evangelical clergy…on disasters such as Katrina.”

    One is numbed at first by the fatuity of the reasoning. Then, like drops of dew gathering around flakes of dust in the stratosphere, unease precipitates fast and furiously into questions.

    First, how many readers trouble to read footnotes? Given that some don’t, wouldn’t it be better to admit uncertainty about something so basic as the accuracy of a damning quote in the body of the text?

    Second, if the quote is so typical (and Robertson does say some very foolish things), why not offer one known to be accurate? It turns out this one was invented by the spoof Web site Dateline Hollywood, which explains on the site’s “About” page:

    Dateline Hollywood was founded in 360 B.C. As “Gladiators Weekly” to cover the booming entertainment industry in the coliseums of ancient Rome. Its pioneering analysis of the statistics of lion mauls and emperor thumbs up/down made it the original publication to take the business of entertainment seriously.

    Third, isn’t it a bit undignified for a respected Oxford professor to mine Internet “gotcha” quotes that he isn’t sure are accurate to attack the faith that created his civilization? (And even his university?)
    […] Dawkins then quotes Robertson (citing a BBC Web page this time) saying that God won’t protect the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, because they voted proponents of Intelligent Design out of office. Dawkins concludes, “Pat Robertson would be harmless comedy, were he less typical of those who today hold power and influence in the United States.” It is surprising how much of Dawkins’ case against American Christianity is of this nature. […] Of course, Dawkins’s sloppiness doesn’t prove his concerns about “Christian terrorism” and the “American Taliban” are entirely imaginary. But they show why we need to be wary of political pig-piles and generalizations from a distance based on a few suspect sources. (174-176)

    Marshall has distorted this situation a bit here. First of all, the point is that Dawkins was being up front and honest with his sources of information. This is the footnote from The God Delusion and should help clear things up.

    It is unclear whether the story, which originated at http://datelinehollywood.com/archives/2005/09/05/robertson-blames-hurricane-on-choice-of-ellen-deneres-to-host-emmys/ is true. Whether true or not, it is widely believed, no doubt, because it is entirely typical of utterances by evangelical clergy, including Robertson, on disasters such as Katrina. See, for example, www.emediawire.com/release/2005/9/emw281940.htm. The website that says the Katrina story is untrue (www.snopes.com/katrina/satire/robertson.asp) also quotes Robertson as saying, of an earlier Gay Pride march in Orlando, Florida, ‘I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you.’ [1]

    Second, Dawkins did offer an accurate quote in his footnote, which Marshall seems to ignore. Regarding the Dateline Hollywood article, perhaps Marshall should show some charity because Dawkins likely wasn’t aware the website was a spoof. Many of these kinds of sites can sometimes be difficult to discern from legit news sources unless you really look around the website. But Dawkins did try to check his facts because he cites the Snopes article as saying the quote by Robertson was false. Even the Snopes.com article admits that the satirical Hollywood Dateline article seemed very genuine and fooled many people. The article also mentioned how Robertson has said similar things in the past, which helped lead to confusion regarding the fake article. The Snopes article said,

    Good satire neatly straddles the divide between the believable and the incredible, and the Dateline Hollywood article quoted above achieved that balance so well that many readers mistook it for a straight news article. This acceptance was due in large part to U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson’s history of making rather outrageous public statements on his 700 Club television program, including his recent call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. [2]

    If Marshall could get past his biases against Dawkins maybe he could see the fact that Dawkins was up front with the information and was simply saying that he found two sources that contradicted each other and he was unsure of which one to trust. Instead of honesty all Marshall can see, it seems, is dishonesty and bad scholarship.

    Marshall continues,

    Dawkins spends three pages on Paul Hill, a Lutheran minister who was executed in Florida for killing an abortion doctor. […] And why does Dawkins spend so much time on Hill in a country where more than 200 million people see themselves as Christians? Are there no other ideological terrorists in America to worry over? There are. (177)

    Marshall then mentions some other terrorists: “Jim Jones, a New Age Marxist;” The Unabomber, who Marshall claims “was a ‘bright’ if ever there was one.” He also mentions Timothy McVeigh and Buford Furrow, a member of the group Christian Identity, who Marshall claims is “hard to recognize as orthodox Christian.” (177)

    Marshall says,

    In a predominately Christian country in grave threat of conquest by the “American Taliban,” Dawkins finds one Christian terrorist who killed two people. No reasonable Christian would blame our skeptical or Muslim neighbors for the hundreds or thousands who have died at the hands of fanatics who place themselves in those camps. That Dawkins focuses on such an exceptional case to represent the danger of Christianity in America involves no small act of stacking the deck and a de facto admission of how hard it is to find American Christians who are also terrorists. (177-178)

    This “argument” makes me laugh. There have been entire books on the subject discussing many examples of these “Christian terrorists,” some of which Marshall mentions in the beginning of this chapter. Other examples include the following: Dr. Barnett Slepian (an abortion provider) was murdered at his home by an anti-abortion supporter, James Charles Kopp. On Friday, October 23, 1998, Slepian had returned from the synagogue and was preparing soup in his kitchen when he was shot in the shoulder through a window. He died a few hours later. Kopp fled, but was arrested in France and extradited back to the US. He was tried and convicted of second-degree murder in Buffalo, New York and is currently serving a 25 years to life term of imprisonment. [3] On January 29, 1998, Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences. On December 30, 1994 John Salvi, who was an anti-abortion activist, murdered receptionists Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney in an attack. Salvi was later found dead in his prison cell with the official report stating that Salvi’s death was a suicide. [4]

    [A] small but radical [group called] Army of God, has targeted abortion clinics and been involved in kidnappings, bombings, and shooting deaths. According to many reports, they have even been linked to the 280 anthrax threats that hit abortion clinics in October following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    The poisonous mentality of this group was demonstrated when Army of God supporters met on January 21, 2001, in Bowie, Maryland, for its fifth White Rose Banquet. “During the event, numerous speakers called for violence against abortion clinics, approved of murdering abortion providers, and made jokes about killing homosexuals,” reported Church & State. Chuck Spingola complained, “Now, these people [homosexuals] are vile folks…If you deal with these people long enough, you understand the wisdom of god when he says they should be put to death.” Reverend Michael Bray, who served a six- year sentence for his involvement in abortion clinic bombings, was also awarded the title of “chaplain” during the event. [5]

    These several examples are just the tip of the iceberg and shows just how distorted Marshall’s perception of reality is when it comes to the number of “Christian terrorists” who commit horrible acts in this country. If Dawkins would have interviewed and written about every single Christian individual or group who have acted violently his book would be many magnitudes larger, so he obviously just focused on a few individuals. This is not in any way an “admission of how hard it is to find American Christians who are also terrorists.” It’s actually very easy.

    Next Marshall discusses the claim about whether or not Christians “want a theocracy.” He writes,

    All right – so Christians are not going to establish theocracy through violence, nor does Christianity engender violence. But isn’t it true that a major Christian movement, called Reconstructionism, aims to establish the biblical analogue of sharia law in American? [sic]

    “If secularists are not vigilant,” Dawkins warns, Christians will establish “a true American theocracy.” But what evidence is there that American Christians want such a thing?

    I grew up in conservative American churches (including the Presbyterian Church in America, which [Chris] Hedges describes as a particularly dangerous “schismatic sect”). I don’t even remember anyone telling to vote Republican. Since then, I’ve visited over 300 fellowships around the world, almost all evangelical, of many affiliations. I know these people better, I think, than Jewish journalists from the Bronx such as Goldberg, or New York Times writers from Harvard Divinity School, such as Hedges. (As for Dawkins, I’d be happy to give him a tour of churches in Oxford if he’ll give me a tour of pubs!)

    In four-and-a-half decades, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Christian pastor advocate theocracy. Nor have I heard any tell us to assault unbelievers. I have heard pastors talk about loving our enemies. […]

    What do Christians think about faith and politics? (179-180)

    After you get Marshall’s very subjective (and likely biased) opinions about what a certain number of Christians believe, he follows up with some actual studies, though they are very limited, and are studies he did himself with a very small group of people. He writes,

    I surveyed two groups of conservative Christians. The first was at Westside Presbyterian Church, which belongs to the evangelical wing of the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country. […] The second was at Cedar Park Assembly, one of the most politically active and conservative large congregations in the Northwest. Almost everyone who responded to my survey was conservative politically and had been a Christian for more than three decades. Given all that has been written about the “American Taliban,” how do you expect such members of the “indoctrinated elite” to respond to the statement, “America does not need a Constitution. The Bible provides the best specific rules for a legal system in a Christian country?” Of the 58 people who answered my survey, not one agreed. Over 90 percent thought, on the contrary, that the Constitution should be interpreted more strictly. How should the Bible apply to public policy? I asked, “How does the Old Testament legal system apply today?” Most agreed with the statement, “The Old Testament legal system was for a particular period in history, and should not be applied wholesale to modern America.” Some were dissatisfied with the choices I offered and wrote in alternatives such as, “The Old Testament law was fulfilled in Christ, and its principles, though not necessarily its specific, historically limited consequences, are still very applicable.”

    True, a large minority at Cedar Park (42 percent) agreed that “the government should favor Christian belief.” (Only two at the Presbyterian church thought so.) But that would be the status quo in England. Cedar Park is at the forefront of opposing same-sex marriage in Washington state. Yet, only 20 percent of these highly committed believers agreed that homosexual acts should be prosecuted. (Far fewer of the evangelical Presbyterians did.) Although Dawkins interviewed an American Christian who thought adulterers should be executed, no one in my survey even agreed that “witches should be put to death, as in the Old Testament.”

    The claim that American democracy hangs by a thread – and is kept together by secular termites holding hands – appears greatly exaggerated. Out of 42 statements on the survey, the most popular was the claim that “America was founded on Christian principles.” While this can mean many things, it certainly doesn’t mean American Christians think democratic and Constitutional government is a bad thing! (180-181)

    First of all, Christianity can and does inspire violence as I’ve shown above and there is more evidence of this as well. [6]

    Second, this survey by Marshall appears to only have had a mere 58 respondents! It is absurd for Marshall to think he has debunked the claim of the “American Taliban” by getting only 58 opinions!

    I would agree that Dawkins is wrong in that this Christian extremism isn’t “mainstream,” however, I do believe that Marshall has swung entirely too far in the opposing direction since he argues there isn’t that much of a threat from Christians.

    There is a minority of, more often than not, very politically active Christians who seek to break this “wall” between church and state and they often use political maneuvering in order to do so. Many Christian groups have attempted to pack the courts with sympathetic judges who will fight for their cause. Michelle Goldberg explains,

    The entire Christian nationalist agenda ultimately hinges on conquering the courts. A remade judiciary could let state governments criminalize abortion and gay sex. It could sanction the reinstitution of school prayer and the teaching of creationism and permit the ever greater Christianization of the country’s social services. It could intervene on the right’s behalf in situations like the Schiavo case. It could intrude into the most intimate corners of Americans’ private lives.

    To take just one example, if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it could undermine the ruling Roe was based on, Griswold v. Connecticut. That 1965 decision, which struck down bans on birth control for married women (extended to unmarried women in 1972’s Eisenstadt v. Baird), was the first to infer a right to privacy from the constitution. If the court ruled that no constitutional right to privacy exists, states would again have the latitude to make contraception illegal.

    Without Griswold, some states might ban birth control pills, which many evangelicals consider abortifacients, since they can interfere with the implementation of a fertilized egg. That prospect would have been far-fetched just a few years ago, but recently contraception has been under attack nationwide. A rash of Christian pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for both the morning-after pill and for ordinary oral contraceptives – 180 such incidents were reported in one six- month period in 2004. […] Some Christian nationalists seem to hope that the end of Griswold would open the door to the criminalization of all kinds of biblically incorrect sex. In 2003, Rick Santorum told the Associated Press,

    [I]f the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold….You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong, healthy families.

    Note what Santorum was objecting to. Not just abortion, or polygamy, or even adultery, but to the right to consensual sex within your home. If people do not have that right, then the potential for Christian nationalist intrusion into people’s personal lives would be limitless. [7]

    It must be stressed that Rick Santorum is not some obscure Christian hillbilly somewhere. He is, at the time of this writing, a lawyer and a former united states senator. However, when he made those comments he was a senator. A man who decides the laws that all americans will follow. And this man held these kinds of immoral and anti-freedom views?!

    Even the Discovery Institute, the “think” tank I exposed in an earlier chapter, has ties to the Christian nationalist movement. Michelle Goldberg writes,

    [W]hile [The Center for Science and Culture] calls itself a secular organization, the impetus behind intelligent design is unmistakably religious – something its own fellows freely admit to sympathetic Christian audiences. The Center for Science and Culture operates out of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that’s funded in part by savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, a leading patron of Christian nationalism. Ahmanson spent twenty years on the board of R.J. Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation, which advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law. […]

    The Center for Science and Culture also aims, in a far more elliptical way, to put God at the center of civic life. Originally called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, CSC speaks in two languages – one for the general public, and one for the faithful. Talking to the latter, it’s been candid about its true, grandiose goal of undermining the secular legacy of the Enlightenment and rebuilding society on religious foundations. As it said in a 1999 fund-raising proposal that was later leaked online, “Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”

    The proposal, titled “The Wedge Strategy,” began:

    The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built….Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art. [8]

    It should be clear that this minority group of Christians is very powerful, very well-funded, and is very influential in politics. Many groups attempt to get bills passed that would break down the “wall” between church and state, the first stage of the religious right’s attempts to force religious law on all citizens. [9]

    Here are also a few more quotes by some highly influential individuals who wish to see the separation of church and state crumble and who wish to institute religious law:

    “The republican party of Texas affirms that the united states of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgment of god is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principals based on the holy bible.” – The 2004 Texas republican party. [10]

    “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.

    But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
    It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
    It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
    It is dominion we are after.

    World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the gospel. And we must never settle for anything less…Thus, christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land – of men families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the kingdom of Christ.” – George Grant, former executive director of D. James Kennedy’s coral ridge ministries. [11]

    “When the founding fathers said ‘One Nation under God,’ they made the decision that they would submit to what God had put forward in his law.” – David Gibbs, a graduate from Falwell’s Liberty University. [12]

    “I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do, to amend the Constitution so it’s in God standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.” – the 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. (emphasis mine) [13]

    The above quotes should worry anyone who values their freedom, particularly those of Mike Huckabee, who even tried to attain the highest possible position in government. It’s the same thing Pat Robertson did in 1988 and as I type Rick Santorum (yes, that Rick Santorum who is quoted above) is running for president in the 2012 elections. [14]

    There is a clear pattern of these right-wing religious extremists attempting to gain high offices within the government and gain more power. How Marshall can discount these facts is beyond me, but the above facts should be more than enough to convince any rational individual of the danger that these individuals pose to everyone who isn’t a Christian in america (liberal Christians included).

    The final section of this chapter that I will discuss is David Marshall’s false accusations against Richard Dawkins and his claims of “child abuse.” Marshall begins this chapter with the following,

    Dawkins tells how a boy in Ohio won, in court, the right to wear a T-shirt that says, “Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white!” Dawkins comments that the parents “couldn’t” have defended their son’s right to wear such a shirt, “because free speech is deemed not to include ‘hate speech.’”

    Apparently the judge in the case disagreed.

    Such a T-shirt may not violate either school rules or the Constitution, but does, I think, violate the teachings of the apostle Paul, who said Christians should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). But is this really “hate speech”? The shirt calls certain behaviors (abortion and homosexuality) wrong, and a certain belief (Islam) false. Why define the expression of such views has “hatred”? If the Constitution doesn’t let us say something is wrong or false, what good is it?

    On the very next page, Dawkins accuses a group of Muslims of a “tendentious lie.” Indeed that’s about the kindest comment he gives on theistic religions (recall Dawkins’s 23-adjective assault on Yahweh: “misogenist [sic], homophobic, racist, infantcidal, genocidal…”). So why is a 12-year-old American boy guilty of a “hate crime” for a frankness that earns a British professor fame and fortune? (184)

    This complaint about Dawkins is just ridiculous. Dawkins’ point was that the boy’s parents couldn’t sue the school on grounds of freedom of speech, so they had to take another route by arguing that it was against the boys “freedom of religion.” And as Dawkins rightly pointed out,

    Once again, if such people took their stand on the right to free speech, one might reluctantly sympathize. But that isn’t what it is about. The legal case in favour of discrimination against homosexuals is being mounted as a counter-suit against alleged religious discrimination! And the law respects this. You can’t get away with saying, ‘If you try to stop me from insulting homosexuals it violates my freedom of prejudice.’ But you can get away with saying, ‘It violates my freedom of religion.’ What, when you think about, is the difference? Yet again, religion trumps all. [15]

    Then in the next breath Marshall actually accuses Dawkins of hypocrisy! Dawkins related the story about how the Islamic world declared a jihad on a Danish newspaper. Dawkins writes,

    I’ll end this chapter with a particular case study, which tellingly illuminates society’s exaggerated respect for religion, over and above ordinary human respect. The case flared up in February 2006 – a ludicrous episode, which veered wildly between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. The previous September, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Over the next three months, indignation was carefully and systematically nurtured throughout the Islamic world by a small group of Muslims living in Denmark, led by two imams who had been granted sanctuary there. In late 2005 these malevolent exiles travelled from Denmark to Egypt bearing a dossier, which was copied and circulated from there to the whole Islamic world, including, importantly, Indonesia. The dossier contained falsehoods about alleged maltreatment of Muslims in Denmark, and the tendentious lie that Jyllands-Posten was a government-run newspaper. It also contained the twelve cartoons which, crucially, the imams had supplemented with three additional images whose origin was mysterious but which certainly had no connection with Denmark. Unlike the original twelve, these three add-ons were genuinely offensive – or would have been if they had, as the zealous propagandists alleged, depicted Muhammad. A particularly damaging one of these three was not a cartoon at all but a faxed photograph of a bearded man wearing a fake pig’s snout held on with elastic. It has subsequently turned out that this was an Associated Press photograph of a Frenchman entered for a pig-squealing contest at a country fair in France. The photographs had no connection whatsoever with the prophet Muhammad, no connection with Islam, and no connection with Denmark. But the Muslim activists, on their mischief-stirring hike to Cairo, implied all three connections…with predictable results. […]

    Demonstrators in Pakistan and Indonesia burned Danish flags (where did they get them from?) and hysterical demands were made for the Danish government to apologize. […] A bounty of $1 million was placed on the head of ‘the Danish cartoonist’ by a Pakistani imam – who was apparently unaware that there were twelve different Danish cartoonists, and almost certainly were unaware that the three most offensive pictures had never appeared in Denmark at all (and, by the way, where was that million going to come from?). [16]

    Once you place everything Dawkins said in context it becomes readily apparent how foolish Marshall’s complaint was. There was no hypocrisy here. Dawkins was entirely correct to call what these Muslims did a “tendentious lie.” They incited a riot based upon fake images that had no connection with the cartoonists or Denmark! The boy’s t-shirt depicted views that are certainly bigoted and I find it very disturbing that Marshall wishes to argue that the t-shirt doesn’t depict hate speech. It most certainly does. It condemns an entire group of people (homosexuals) based upon nothing more than how they’ve decided to live their lives (or how they were born)! I am appalled by Marshall’s comments.

    Marshall continues with his absurd complaints about Dawkins. He writes,

    Similar hypocrisy is more ominously on display later in the book. Dawkins represents James Dobson (“founder of today’s infamous ‘Focus on the Family’ movement”) as the “sinister” modern-day equivalent of the Jesuit who said, “Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man.” Driving through Colorado, Dawkins spots a bumper sticker that reads, “Focus on your own damn family,” laughing in agreement. But mulling it over, he ponders, “Maybe some children need to be protected from indoctrination by their own parents (see chapter 9).”

    Having read some of Dobson’s books and listened to him on the radio over the years, I doubt he has ever advocated taking children away from their (nonabusive) parents. On the contrary, his listeners (among whom Dawkins is obviously not one) often hear him encourage parents to be intimately involved in the lives of their children. Dobson is precisely about focusing on our own families.

    By contrast, in the final sentence of the line quoted, Dawkins admits his own intention to “focus on,” or intrude in, other peoples’ families. He develops this idea (as promised) in chapter 9. In that chapter, he begins with the story of a Jewish child in Italy who was taken from his parents by the Catholic Church to be raised as a Christian. After telling us he “dislikes unfairness even more” than religion, Dawkins says that being brought up Catholic is “undoubtedly” worse than child abuse! Relating a few horror stories to justify the absurdity, he quotes, with (lightly qualified) approval, the following comments by psychologist Nicholas Humphreys [sic]:

    Children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible…than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

    What happened to “focus on your own family”?

    Dawkins began the chapter by horrifying us with the case of a child being taken from a family that taught him the wrong religion. Before many pages have passed, he wants us to feel horror for exactly the opposite reason: parents are allowed to teach kids any religion. The Catholics were narrow for saying only one religion was true. Dawkins is more broad-minded: he thinks children have a right to be indoctrinated into thinking they’re all evil, no matter what their parents say.


    But, you might remind me, the case of the Jewish child is true, while Dawkins has not kidnapped any religious children. (Nor do I expect him to – he lets his mouth and the zeal of his young friend Harris run away with him at times…or perhaps it is the other way around.) But the question is more than theoretical. Religious children in Communist countries were often taken away from their parents for precisely the reasons Dawkins gives. […] Pardon me if I find Dawkins’s thinking on this subject a bit ominous.

    Harvard psychologist Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Children of Crisis (the product of decades of research), doesn’t share Dawkins’s (or the Soviet state’s) gloomy view of the role of faith in the upbringing of children. […] Coles tells down-to-earth stories of how Christian faith helps children he has come to know personally. He summarizes, “In 20 years of work among poor people here and abroad, I have found Christ’s life a constant source of inspiration to this century’s poor.”

    Nor is all the inspiration just emotional. As DiIulio suggested, there is solid empirical evidence that religious faith not only makes people feel better, but also makes them act a whole lot better, on average. (184-186)

    There is much to say about this section, but I will restrict myself to a few comments. First, Dawkins did not ‘approvingly’ quote Nicholas Humphrey. Immediately after the quote cited Dawkins follows up with the following,

    Of course, such a strong statement needs, and received, much qualification. Isn’t it a matter of opinion what is nonsense? Hasn’t the applecart of orthodox science been upset often enough to chasten us into caution? Scientists may think it is nonsense to teach astrology and the literal truth of the Bible, but there are others who think the opposite, and aren’t they entitled to teach it to their children? Isn’t it just as arrogant to insist that children should be taught science?

    I thank my own parents for taking the view that children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think. If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the Bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, and not their parents’ privilege to impose it by force majeure.


    Humphrey’s point – and mine – is that, regardless of whether [the Inca girl who had been sacrificed] was a willing victim or not, there is strong reason to suppose that she would not have been willing if she had been in full possession of the facts. For example, suppose she had known that the sun is really a ball of hydrogen, hotter than a million degrees Kelvin, converting itself into helium by nuclear fusion, and that it originally formed from a disk of gas out of which the rest of the solar system, including Earth, also condensed…Presumably, then, she would not have worshiped it as a god, and this would have altered her perspective on being sacrificed to propitiate it. (emphasis in original) [17]

    Second, it seems I have ended up killing two birds with one stone. Not only does Dawkins not necessarily “approve” of Humphrey’s statement and Dawkins clearly explained his views about religion and children. He doesn’t want to stop parents from teaching their kids religion, he only asks that they expose them to all points of view so they are free to make up their own minds. I’ve said more about this elsewhere. [18]

    The final point in this chapter I will argue is how Marshall has misread Dawkins when he said being raised Catholic is “worse” than child abuse. Marshall’s counter-argument, saying how religion is good for kids, is based upon a strawman. This was an “off the cuff remark” that Dawkins blurted out during a lecture and simply used this personal story as a segue to his actual point, which was the psychological harm of scaring young children with threats of hell and punishment. It’s not that raising children in a religious environment in and of itself can be equated with the harm of sexual abuse. Dawkins writes, in context,

    Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience. […] But I was reminded of the incident later when I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents’ church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. (emphasis mine) [19]

    As I’ve demonstrated in this chapter, David Marshall has badly misread Richard Dawkins on several issues. Even going so far as to put words in his mouth. That’s what I’d call blatant dishonesty and it is appalling someone would publish such slander against another. He also horribly discounts the threat from powerful and influential members of the religious right, the so called American Taliban.

    1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; 239

    2. http://www.snopes.com/katrina/satire/robertson.asp – accessed 7-28-11

    3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnett_Slepian – accessed 7-28-11

    4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Salvi – accessed 7-28-11

    5. ‭The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America, edited by Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Books, Inc., 2003; 9-10‭

    6. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005

    7. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006; 155-157

    8. Ibid.; 83-84

    9. David Barton’s Lies in Action: Randy Forbes Reintroduces ‘Spiritual Heritage’ Resolution – accessed 7-28-11

    10. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg; 27

    11. Ibid.; 41

    12. Ibid.; 159

    13. Huckabee’s Stealth Theocracy – accessed 7-28-11

    14. Rick Santorum 2012 Campaign For President Launches – accessed 7-28-11

    15. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; 23-24

    16.Ibid.; 24-25

    17. Ibid.; 326-328

    18. Richard Dawkins and “Child Abuse” – Please don’t forget to view parts 2 & 3 linked to at the bottom.

    19. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; 317

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist