Friday, November 23, 2007

For the glory of God

by Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen

Gazing down from the 40th floor of a lower Manhattan skyscraper, Richard Dawkins shakes his head. "What a symbol," he growls.

In the evening drizzle, the city is a jungle of glitz and twinkling lights but Dawkins' attention is fixed on a flood-lit crater directly below us. It is Ground Zero, the footprint of the twin towers, still barren six years after the atrocity that made the world gasp. At the bottom of the vast hole, backhoes scrape into the night.

What does this symbolize, I ask? "Religious bigotry," he answers crisply. Not a twisted version of Islam. Not Islam as a whole. No, for the Oxford professor, biologist, renowned science writer, and author of the notorious bestseller The God Delusion, the void below is what religion itself hath wrought.

"The people who did this terrible thing were sincere, deeply religious, believed they were right, believed they were doing the will of their god, firmly believed they were going straight to heaven for doing what they thought of as a wonderful deed," Dawkins says. "They had just one thing wrong with them. They believed. They had faith. And it was their faith that drove them to it."

In New York to attend a conference on secularism sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, Dawkins has slipped out of what must be an exhausting reception with several hundred enthusiastic atheists. This evening, the heretic is a prophet and everyone wants to see him, to shake his hand and give thanks unto him. A British television crew records his every smile and nod. He could be forgiven for being a little distracted this evening.

But whatever one may think of the man dubbed "Darwin's Rottweiler," there's no denying the speed and precision of Dawkins' mind. Even harried like a royal on holiday, the man talks like a scalpel cuts.

"I wouldn't for a moment suggest the majority of people would do anything remotely so terrible, indeed anything terrible at all, but there is a logical pathway that leads from religious faith to doing the most appalling deeds."

Accept that there is a God. Accept that He is involved in the world's affairs. Accept that the Bible or the Koran is His holy word. "Once you've got that in your head, then a reasonable person can progress step by step to the conclusion that the right thing to do, the righteous thing to do, is to destroy thousands of lives."

In the Ottawa Citizen. (No longer available.)


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