Thursday, September 23, 2010

Their Glory Is In Their Shame

Incidentally, there's a good post by Richard "Lenin" Seymour at Lenin's Tomb on the British protests against the Pope's visit, with some sharp criticism of Richard Dawkins. (Thanks to Jenny for the reference.) Lenin writes:
I also know imperial condescension when I see it - when I first came to England and found that people here believed that Northern Ireland was torn apart for thirty years or so because of religious sectarianism, because Prods didn't get on with Tims, I was shocked. And I was offended, as I still am when I think of it. When Dawkins et al repeat this ridiculous canard and apply the same logic, mutatis mutandis, to the explanation of the Israel-Palestine conflict (or worse, to the 'civil war' in Iraq), I know all too well that this isn't really about atheism, or secularism. It is about representing those who do not partake of the relative wealth and stability of the Anglophone imperial core as tribal-minded, bloodthirsty, backward idiots. We do not have conflicts based on rational interests, each making a claim to universalism, in which imperialist powers have weighed in on one side. We have petty, parochial struggles over atavistic ideas which are childish premonitions of modern, scientific truth claims, and where imperial power is invisible. Indeed, as Eagleton suggests, part of the whole basis of Dawkinsian befuddlement and outrage over religion is the feeling that things couldn't be so bad as to require a spiritual, much less messianic, solution. Class privilege benights its beneficiaries in this respect.
(Of course I don't have much use for Eagleton either.) Lenin also wrote:
Thus, some of those assailing religion have themselves played a key role in naturalising patriarchy and white supremacy, even though they always insisted that this was not their intention. Dawkins would argue that "genetic kinship" and reciprocation offer an explanation of, and evolutionary basis for, solidarity, equality and altruism amid the cruel, harsh and competitive world that his version of Darwinism evokes. But this is neither orthodox Darwinism, nor is it adequate. It does not explain the range of sacrifices that some people are prepared to make for others. The theory of gene kinship entails, as per Haldane's quip, that one will sacrifice oneself for other people who are genetically close to oneself. That would lead us logically to insularity rather than universalism. Indeed, for Dawkins' case to work, he has to suggest that we can subvert our 'selfish', competitive, vicious biological basis through a metaphysically strong 'free will', which is ultimately every bit as idealist as any statement made from the Vatican.

Dawkins' own free will still seems to be constrained by his selfish, competitive genes, however. To the imperial chauvinism mentioned above, we could add his intolerance of cultural difference - he has said, for example, that he experiences a visceral revulsion at the sight of a woman in a burqa, a sensation which is probably similar to that which I feel on witnessing an upper middle class white Oxonian telling Muslim women that what they're wearing disgusts him. In relation to the Pope's visit, he described his Romanness as the head of the second most evil religion in the world. What, I wonder, might come first? Buddhism? Judaism? Hinduism? Jainism? Zoroastrianism? No? Ah, right - so it'll be Islam again. One form of religious intolerance informs another prejudice, one which is bound up with race-making processes across the 'white' world. Such a ranking of religions according to alleged harm is not really to do with atheism.
This reminds me of Andre Pichot's book The Pure Society, which contains some excellent criticism of evolutionary psychology generally and of Dawkins in particular, and which I also learned about from Lenin.

P.S. Looking again at that weird photo above, of Ratzinger's robes being held open to reveal the lacy garments beneath while he holds rampant a crucifix on a stick, I wonder if I shouldn't have titled this post "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes." I guess I'll save that one for another day.