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.

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