Dawkins is wrong about GodROGER SCRUTON
Faced with the spectacle of the cruelties perpetrated in the name of faith, Voltaire famously declared organised religion to be the enemy of mankind. Richard Dawkins, whose TV series The Root of all Evil? concludes next Monday, is the most influential living example of this tradition.
This analogical extension of the theory of biological reproduction has a startling quality. It seems to explain the extraordinary survival power of nonsense, and the constant 'sleep of reason' that, in Goya's engraving, 'calls forth monsters'. Faced with a page of Derrida and knowing that this drivel is being read and reproduced in a thousand American campuses, I have often found myself tempted by the theory of the meme. The page in my hand is clearly the product of a diseased brain, and the disease is massively infectious: Derrida admitted as much when he referred to the 'deconstructive virus'.
Nevertheless, let us grant Dawkins his stab at a theory. We should still remember that not every dependent organism destroys its host. In addition to parasites there are symbionts and mutualists — invaders that either do not impede or positively amplify their host's reproductive chances. And which is religion? Why has religion survived, if it has conferred no benefit on its adepts? And what happens to societies that have been vaccinated against the infection — Soviet society, for instance, or Nazi Germany — do they experience a gain in reproductive potential? Clearly, a lot more research is needed if we are to come down firmly on the side of mass vaccination rather than (my preferred option) lending support to the religion that seems most suited to temper our belligerent instincts, and which, in doing so, asks us to forgive those who trespass against us and humbly atone for our faults.
Maybe religion is to this extent like maths: that its survival has something to do with its truth. Of course it is not the literal truth, nor the whole truth. Indeed, the truth of a religion lies less in what is revealed in its doctrines than in what is concealed in its mysteries. Religions do not reveal their meaning directly because they cannot do so; their meaning has to be earned by worship and prayer, and by a life of quiet obedience. Nevertheless truths that are hidden are still truths; and maybe we can be guided by them only if they are hidden, just as we are guided by the sun only if we do not look at it. The direct encounter with religious truth would be like Semele's encounter with Zeus, a sudden conflagration.
There is a tendency, fed by the sensationalism of television, to judge all human institutions by their behaviour in times of conflict. Religion, like patriotism, gets a bad press among those for whom war is the one human reality, the one occasion when the Other in all of us is noticeable. But the real test of a human institution is in peacetime. Peace is boring, quotidian, and also rotten television. But you can learn about it from books. Those nurtured in the Christian faith know that Christianity's ability to maintain peace in the world around us reflects its gift of peace to the world within. In a Christian society there is no need for Asbos, and in the world after religion those Asbos will do no good — they are a last desperate attempt to save us from the effects of godlessness, and the attempt is doomed.
Muslims say similar things, and so do Jews. So who possesses the truth, and how would you know? Well, we don't know, nor do we need to know. All faith depends on revelation, and the proof of the revelation is in the peace that it brings. Rational argument can get us just so far, in raising the monotheistic faiths above the muddled world of superstition. It can help us to understand the real difference between a faith that commands us to forgive our enemies, and one that commands us to slaughter them. But the leap of faith itself — this placing of your life at God's service — is a leap over reason's edge. This does not make it irrational, any more than falling in love is irrational. On the contrary, it is the heart's submission to an ideal, and a bid for the love, peace and forgiveness that Dawkins too is seeking, since he, like the rest of us, was made in just that way.
Roger Scruton. "Dawkins is wrong about God." The Spectator (January 13, 2006).
This article reprinted with permission from Roger Scruton. See his web site here.
Copyright © 2006 Roger Scruton
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