But Dawkins is saying it anyway–in an interview last week. Usually, I don’t think of the kinds of things that Dawkins says as news (or anything like it), but to hear that his words have been gentle was definitely news to me. Personally, I seem to recall Dawkins telling his fans to mock theists, saying that religion needs to be “ridiculed with contempt”.
But perhaps this idea of mine: that ridiculing someone with contempt is something less than gentle, is simply part of my “God Delusion”?
Speaking of The God Delusion, whether or not Dawkins thinks it appropriate to open the book with a rant about how repulsive he finds the Judeo-Christian God, his grasp of the English language is very weak if he thinks he can call his words “gentle”.
Part of me suspects that what’s going on here is an attempt at damage control. Dawkins and the New Atheists have received a great deal of attention by being as vocal, controversial, and ungentle as possible. Now, it seems that they are trying to avoid some of the negative consequences of that attention. It’s not hard to imagine that Dawkins and others are getting tired of being accused of taking a shrill, mean-spirited approach.
But if he really wants to set the record straight about this, he should start by telling his fans that he was wrong to say that we should mock religious people, then go on by admitting that it was hypocritical to claim that raising a child Catholic is abuse based purely on hearsay. He may even want to consider admitting that throwing around the term “child abuse” isn’t exactly gentle speech in the first place.
Dawkins confesses that it was “a bit mischievous” of him to use the term “faithheads” in reference to religious people, and that he was deliberately trying to evoke images of crackheads. But, apparently, he wants us to please keep in mind that this comparison of religious people to crackheads was “gentle”.
It’s hard to imagine what would not be considered “gentle” by Professor Dawkins. It’s also hard not to wonder if there’s a bit of a double standard here. If a theist claimed that raising children as atheists was child abuse, referred to atheists as “nothingheads”, and claimed that the label of “atheist” was as deadly as any tribal division, would Dawkins take offense? Or, would he simply say “Well, I obviously disagree, but I appreciate that he’s being gentle.”?
Somehow, I doubt it.
But it’s possible that what Dawkins thinks he’s saying is not so much that he’s actually been gentle, but that he’s been more gentle than religion deserves. Given his (ignorant and prejudicial) understanding of what religion is, this makes much more sense. The main problem here is that he’s not remotely backed the claim that religion really is so terrible as he thinks. And, in any case, that’s not what he said. “I’ve been more gentle than I might have been” would have been a very different statement.
But what makes this significant isn’t that theists should be particularly bothered by Dawkins’ ignorant rants. We should care because mockery is the recourse of the weak-minded. It needs to be made clear that these statements are uncivil, not so much because of hurt feelings, but for this reason:
When Dawkins and his fans try to put their statements into civil language, the lack of angry rhetoric makes it obvious how shallow the content really is.