The bold and the belligerent

Q and A’s new Monday night timeslot (9:30PM) on the ABC does not really suit me, hence I regularly miss the program. Fortunately, the ABC provides both transcripts of previous programs and the full freely downloadable programs, which means I can catch-up very easily.At the moment I’m about a week behind. I haven’t seen this week’s episode yet (featuring Miranda Devine, Catherine Deveny, Waleed Ali, Bill Shorten, and Peter Dutton), but I have managed to retrospectively watch last week’s episode, which featured Richard Dawkins, Patrick McGorry, Rabbi Jackie Nino, Steve Fielding, Julie Bishop and Tony Burke. Predictably, the discussion focused on topics amenable to the international visitor, the renowned author, scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins. The majority of questions were indeed directed at Dawkins, and undoubtedly the producers of the show derived great enjoyment from seating their international guest next to Family First’s paleolithic christian Steve Fielding.

Of course, I am an atheist. I’ve read The God Delusion, and I thought it was a pretty compelling book. I think the gist of what Dawkins says is correct. On Q and A, however, I think he came across as being quite belligerent; this seems to be his style. He is not interested in finding common ground with religious followers and trying to advance the cause of atheism – in actual fact, it seems that he delights in being blunt to the point of being belittling.

I suppose it is arguable that the cause of atheism needs people like Dawkins – people who are not afraid to call it as they see it and do not attempt to hide the fact that they think people who believe in religion are stupid. Dawkins is certainly right that the peculiarly special level of “respect” that society believes needs to be granted to people’s religious beliefs is anachronistic when compared to other facets of mainstream public debate. My view on education policy, for example, no matter how strongly felt, is somehow not in the same class as Joe’s belief in God, because it is not religious. Dawkins seems to be keen to represent himself to the world as a living, breathing personification of this mode of criticism.

When it comes down to it though, I don’t believe that Richard Dawkins is really doing the cause of atheism a great deal of good by slagging off the religious. The publicity he brings to the cause is impressive, but being abusive to people who at their core, are often fundamentally decent people, strikes me as counter-productive.

Consider for example, the transcript excerpt from over the fold. I agree with the point Dawkins tries to make, but the means by which he conveys it just serves to make Julie Bishop and Tony Burke’s counterpoints seem more reasoned, rational and considered. This is an odd and unhelpful look, when Dawkins is purportedly the super-rational one waving the torch for cold, hard science.

TONY JONES: Let’s hear a brief response from Richard Dawkins?

RICHARD DAWKINS: The New Testament – you believe, if you believe in the New Testament, that God, the all powerful creator of the universe couldn’t think of a better way to forgive humanity’s sins than to have himself put on earth, tortured and executed in atonement for the sins of humanity? What kind of a horrible, depraved notion is that?

JULIE BISHOP: You know, can I just say one thing?


JULIE BISHOP: You know what disturbs me about this debate and that is that people should respect other people’s views. Now, the neo-creationists say that there’s no scientific theory or fact and they deny it and the neo-Darwinists deny that there’s faith or religion. Let’s show some respect for different people’s views and then I think the debate will be perhaps much more pleasant.

RICHARD DAWKINS: What is wrong – when you say – you’re implying I didn’t show respect.

JULIE BISHOP: No, I’m saying that what disturbs me about this debate and we see it often is that there are extremes. And whenever I see extremes I’m concerned.

RICHARD DAWKINS: But the extreme is in the New Testament. I simply told you what is New Testament doctrine. That is St Paul’s view, which is accepted by Christianity. That’s why Christ came to earth, in order to atone for humanity’s sins. If it’s extreme, it’s not me that’s being extreme, it’s the new testament that’s being extreme.

TONY JONES: No, well, I’m going to jump in here, because is that not a story of sacrifice and therefore has something admirable attached to it which is the opposite of what you suggested?

RICHARD DAWKINS: Do you think it’s admirable? You think it’s admirable that God actually had himself tortured for the sins of humanity?

TONY JONES: That is the Christian view obviously.

RICHARD DAWKINS: That is the Christian view. If you think that’s admirable, you can keep it.

TONY JONES: Okay. Tony Burke, first of all, quickly?

TONY BURKE: I don’t think your ridicule of people’s faith is much better than what you’re criticising. I really don’t.

RICHARD DAWKINS: But I just stated it. I didn’t ridicule it. I simply stated it.

TONY BURKE: No. No. No. No. Sorry, if you go back over the words you used, once you’re stating it you did then ridicule it. You did. And if you want to look at the challenges and the conflicts and making a community around the world work together, then the level of respect that so many religions have not shown for each other absolutely needs to be lifted and your level of respect and tolerance could probably be a bit better too.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Let me answer that. Let me answer that. I did not more than state the Christian doctrine and Tony then said, “That is the Christian doctrine. Isn’t it admirable.” People said, “Yes, it’s admirable.” So how is it disrespectful if I simply state what it is and half the audience think it’s admirable? What’s disrespectful about stating it?

TONY BURKE: Press rewind, hear your own words. You have changed them.

3 thoughts on “The bold and the belligerent

  1. All this beligerence at the expense of some in the disability community who wish to put questions to the disability secretary about what they think as a poorly designed National Disability Insurance Scheme consultation process.

  2. Ah – that was actually a different week on Q and A. Shorten was on the program a different week to Dawkins, although it’s a fair criticism about the program generally. The questioning sometimes seems to get a bit railroaded and the guests carried away.

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