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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When in doubt, attack the ABC

I note with interest that Senator Eric Abetz has apparently attacked the ABC’s Q & A program in a Senate estimate committee hearing today. The full Hansard transcript will probably be worth a review before we pass total judgement, although the following report from AAP raises a couple of interesting opening questions:

Figures show that over the course of the program’s 2008 season, 32 per cent of the audience was made up of Labor supporters, while just 24 per cent supported the coalition.

In other words, the representation of Coalition supporters in the audience for this show in 2008 was on average 75% of that of the number of Labor supporters present. But is this really a big deal?

It might be worth reminding Senator Abetz that the Coalition only has 78% of the number of seats in the House of Representatives that Labor has in the current federal parliament. I wonder if he is also concerned about this imbalance.

The Coalition quite frankly should not be expected to be entitled to equal representation to Labor in the audience of this program. It is only entitled to receive representation proportional to the amount of support it enjoys in the nation at large. Senator Abetz might like to believe that this is 50/50; but this is nothing but a petty distortion. The senator should get on with the job with helping his party become an effective opposition, and cease bashing the national broadcaster when it is not particularly warranted.