Support Christian missions in Africa? No, but . . .
#1
Interesting thought by Richard Dawkins. I don't necessarily agree with it, but its worth discussing.

Quote:Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?

Richard

[Image: Africa-Islam-Christian.jpg]

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#2
No.

I also disagree with the premises. I don't see Africa has being that far behind the US or India, that we have to declare Africa not ready for reason. Moreover, I don't see why we Atheists should act as though Christians and Muslims are the only two groups in Africa that are competing with each other. Most important of all, there is no reason to assume that either Christianity or Islam will "win" in Africa. These are the premises I disagree with.

My reasons for not promoting one over the other:

1. Religion gets necessarily integrated with the local culture, and it tends to bring out the worst in people, especially those in power. African Christianity will be just as Barbaric as African Islam. There is plenty of evidence for how brutal the Christian groups in Africa are. Christianity is more peaceful overall today not because it is inherently less violent. There have been periods in human history when Islam has been the more peaceful religion of the two. The reason that Christianity in the West is more peaceful today is because of specific historical reasons. The type of Christianity in Africa more closely resembles that in Europe during the Dark Ages.

2. What we're mostly doing in terms of promoting anything in Africa is giving lip service. On the ground the realities are much worse that our armchair activism allows us to see. Islam and Christianity are indeed the big two threats to Africa, and they are at war. Supporting either side simply for political reasons (as we would be doing) would be despicable, since we would be contributing to the escalation of animosity.

3. Looking at the history of Africa (and the rest of the world, for that matter), Christianity has played a major role in keeping it down.

4. These religions have already, and will in the future, wipe out much of Africa's cultural heritage. This is the same reason why I do not support the work of the Christian missionaries in India. Hinduism may be more oppressive to groups of people who have historically received the short end of the stick, but the way Christianity works is by creating an aversion to all things Indian. I am deeply aware of this from experiences with Christian members of my family.

5. The only way forward is for us to embrace reason. In fact, this is the best time to be promoting science and reason in Africa. The conflict between the two major religions can be more powerful than ever in turning people into doubters. Instead of talking about supporting one religion over the other, we could be talking about providing secular education and aid in Africa in order to bring more people to reason.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#3
I wouldnt support it either.

"Enemy of my enemy" isnt good enough in general if you ask me. As soon as the common cause is achieved, the two sides will fight each with increased vigour, and those with a conscience will wonder what the hell were they thinking when they formed the alliance.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead
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#4
Dawkins Wrote:Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil,
That a supposed atheist could refer to anything as "unmitigated evil" is quite puzzling. One expects such phrases from the Pope or Ayatollahs, but not from an Oxford University biologist. The concepts of good and evil are intimately bound with the cultural norms of a society and, especially in this case, with the dirty politics played out by several governments.

Dawkins Wrote:and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa?
To support one religion against another goes completely against any sort of secular ethics. What Dawkins proposes here is that his band of "atheist" followers consider supporting the supposedly lesser evil religion of Christianity against the "unmitigated evil" religion of Islam. His idea that religions cause wars or other forms of destruction is itself deeply flawed and ignores the vast material evidence pointing to other causes for these wars and destructions. In short, like Hitchens, Dawkins has brought in external political considerations to the table when discussing religion. This was almost inevitable given his suspect theory of blaming "religion" for all ills of human society.

Dawkins Wrote:My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?
This depends on what one means by atheism. To an atheist like Dawkins, bringing about atheism in Africa necessarily means bringing about liberal democracy in that region. To do this has been made impossible as of now. The reasons for this are several and if one reads the history of the region (which Dawkins evidently has not), it would be abundantly clear that economics played the biggest role, not "religion".
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#5
@Madhav: I agree with the general conclusions of your analysis, but I feel you are also letting religion off the hook too easy.

Quote:His idea that religions cause wars or other forms of destruction is itself deeply flawed and ignores the vast material evidence pointing to other causes for these wars and destructions.


You're right in that there are many other social, economic and political reasons why people fight wars, but without a doubt a lot of the conflicts in Africa today are along religious lines. Also, I don't think the focus should be entirely on war. Religions are causally responsible for perpetuating plenty of other forms of suffering on the people. Of course, as I said in my comment, we can't divorce the non-religious social and political aspects from how the primitive and barbaric aspects of a religion are interpreted, but that doesn't absolve religion itself.

Quote:In short, like Hitchens, Dawkins has brought in external political considerations to the table when discussing religion.


Just because Dawkins' focus is on religion, it does not mean that he is unaware of the complexities involved. I see what he does as a populist way of simplifying the issue in order to deal with one major problem in our society, religion. To a large extent the New Atheism movement is a populist movement, and one of the objectives is to harness the energy of the millions of unorganized Atheists to come together to combat organized superstition.
I interpret this as a form of Strategic Essentialism.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
(10-May-2011, 02:39 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: @Madhav: I agree with the general conclusions of your analysis, but I feel you are also letting religion off the hook too easy.
I agree that religion and beliefs do play a very important part in causing conflicts. If my post suggested that only economic factors were the root cause for conflicts, it was not intentional.Big Grin I just don't think it is useful to boil down a single "root cause" to everything of importance that happens in this world. For some reason, Dawkins seems to like to do that. I think such views can be characterised as reductionism. The fact that human life is so complex that there are no pat answers to all questions is something that every skeptic should keep in mind. The simple fact is that economic and political factors play a very major role (along with other factors like religion) in these affairs. This is not something that can be brushed under the carpet.

Quote:Just because Dawkins' focus is on religion, it does not mean that he is unaware of the complexities involved. I see what he does as a populist way of simplifying the issue in order to deal with one major problem in our society, religion. To a large extent the New Atheism movement is a populist movement, and one of the objectives is to harness the energy of the millions of unorganized Atheists to come together to combat organized superstition.
This is indeed one of the biggest problems with populism. If we pretended to go along with whatever a majority of people in a country wanted, we would be nowhere, since the elite who really hold the reigns of power would wield all the real power, while giving the illusion to the masses that they are all powerful. However, I don't think Dawkins is completely wrong in everything. I think Dawkin's concept of consciousness-raising is really useful in breaking the hold of religion and bringing about a more materialist/skeptical-oriented thinking. But, if Dawkins is deliberately "dumbing down" the analysis and not presenting all the facts as they are, that shows an elitist streak in him which I am not very comfortable with at all. Either that or he is just too dumb to see any factors other than religion at play in society. If the New Atheist movement is really sincere in encouraging freethought among people, it should be honest enough to provide all the facts as they are. I don't see the big issue with doing this, to be honest.

Quote:I interpret this as a form of Strategic Essentialism.
I'm not sure I follow as I'm not sure how atheists could present themselves as any kind of ethnic group or minority as the majority of the New Atheists come from the really elite and creamy layers of society.
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#7
(08-May-2011, 05:56 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: 4. These religions have already, and will in the future, wipe out much of Africa's cultural heritage. This is the same reason why I do not support the work of the Christian missionaries in India. Hinduism may be more oppressive to groups of people who have historically received the short end of the stick, but the way Christianity works is by creating an aversion to all things Indian. I am deeply aware of this from experiences with Christian members of my family.

It is disturbing that someone of Prof. Dawkins' eminence lends a caption to a clash-of-civilizations cartoon like the one posted, and in a sense sounds dangerously similar to the likes of Bishop Nazir-Ali in this zealousness to 'defend and celebrate Western Civilization'.

The premises here are themselves a series of non-sequiturs: " Civilization IS Western civilization. Western civilization IS a Judeo-Christian civilization". While nobody in any seriousness could accuse Prof. Dawkins of having taken such a line, it is not out of place to say that in much of what he and his colleagues say, there is an unspoken assumption that the only Enlightenment witnessed by civilization was the Western Enlightenment.

The stage is now set for conflating a defender of the Enlightenment and a defender of Western supremacy. For the likes of Dinesh D'Souza, a criticism of imperialism amounts to a rejection of Western supremacy and therefore amounts to a crime against civilization! While it is unsurprising that the likes of him can mouth lines like "Compassion came to the world with Christianity" with a straight face, even those with the scholarly credentials of Niall Ferguson slip into their writings claims like "Hard work began to be cherished as an ethic after Protestantism!". While the work of anthropologist Jared Diamond is instructive, the narrative of the Spanish conquests (and subsequent extermination of the natives) in South America seems to assume historical inevitability and suggest that these conquests were somehow deserved rather than accidental.

The examples above show how thinkers and public intellectuals with impeccable credentials maybe unaware or unconcerned about 'Western privilege' that may introduce a bias in their writings. Of course the remedy for this is not the smug dismissal with which M K Gandhi replied, when asked what he thought of Western civilization, with, "That would be a very good idea!" Like all forms of privilege, challenging this must begin with conscious-raising of the sort which documentaries like this planned one can provide.

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#8
(10-May-2011, 09:06 AM)madhav Wrote: The fact that human life is so complex that there are no pat answers to all questions is something that every skeptic should keep in mind. The simple fact is that economic and political factors play a very major role (along with other factors like religion) in these affairs. This is not something that can be brushed under the carpet.

I don't think Dawkins is unaware of these complexities. But if everyone in the world cared about all the factors affecting every issue they are trying to tackle, we will get no where. This is because ALL issues are complex and complete understanding is impossible. This is why we humans tend to specialize in our interests. Of course skeptics should be aware that things are complex. That does not preclude us from focusing on individual problems.

Quote:I'm not sure I follow as I'm not sure how atheists could present themselves as any kind of ethnic group or minority as the majority of the New Atheists come from the really elite and creamy layers of society.

I said "a form of strategic essentialism". Obviously I did not imply that "atheists could present themselves as any kind of ethnic group". Nor do I use the word in the exact context that it was invented, to describe a specific subject. I am talking about the general concept of the phrase. It is a very good concept that can be directly applied to a number of social causes, even if the inventor of the phrase doesn;t like those uses of it anymore.
The concept of the term implies that for the purpose of discussing and advancing certain socio-political ideas that we all agree on as a group, we can look past other relatively minor disagreements in ontology or epistemology between ourselves, in order to define ourselves as a group. This is what is being meant by "essentializing" a group or an idea, in the original definition of the concept. The fact that many New Atheists come from the educated sections of society is irrelevant to the discussion or the definition.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#9
(10-May-2011, 02:39 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: You're right in that there are many other social, economic and political reasons why people fight wars, but without a doubt a lot of the conflicts in Africa today are along religious lines.

No, most conflicts in Africa are tribal in nature fueled by western interests (Europe, US, IMF, World Bank). In fact, most conflicts in the world have been and are tribal in nature. This is something Dawkins doesn't understand. Religion is not the chief factor for war. In the current crisis in the Ivory coast and Nigeria the west is supporting the muslim tribes because they are already in their pockets. See the following links for a nice analysis of the situation there:

http://exiledonline.com/wn-blog-day-17-t...l-of-econ/
http://exiledonline.com/wn-day-26-lullsnlies/

(10-May-2011, 02:39 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Just because Dawkins' focus is on religion, it does not mean that he is unaware of the complexities involved.
I have attended one of his talks and I can safely say that he is very knowledgeable about evolution and biology but when it comes to the complexities of the world, he is very naive.
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#10
(22-May-2011, 01:21 AM)P11 Wrote: In fact, most conflicts in the world have been and are tribal in nature. This is something Dawkins doesn't understand.

Kin selection, the evolutionary basis of tribal in-group solidarity (and out-group hostility) is a recurring theme in Prof. Dawkins' outreach efforts. In fact, one of the reasons he considers religion a threat to civilization is because it tends to exacerbate our underlying propensity for tribalistic out-group hostility. In other words, the very recognition that ostensibly religious violence gets its staying power as well as lethal force from underlying tribal propensities, is a contributor to the New Atheists' concern for religion, and to say that tribalism is something they are somehow unaware of seems disingenuous.


(22-May-2011, 01:21 AM)P11 Wrote: I have attended one of his talks and I can safely say that he is very knowledgeable about evolution and biology but when it comes to the complexities of the world, he is very naive.

Prof. Dawkins' stance has been sneered at by the likes of apologists like Dinesh D'Souza who condescendingly whines, "This is what happens when a scientist strays out of the lab". The latest instance of this kind of condescension is a 'rabbinical pronouncement' on the inadequacy of Prof. Hawking to pronounce upon the existence or otherwise of an afterlife: "Stephen Hawking is an estimable scientist and no doubt an admirable man but he has no more competence to pronounce on heaven than any other thoughtful adult. "

Advocates of 'nuance' ever so often fail to recognize that some moral issues on which Prof. Dawkins takes an unambiguous stance aren't all that deserving of a nuanced treatment, and often when he does step out of the lab, it is in the interest of causes like public education, rife with socio-political complexity in which he has undeniable expertise.

Isn't it surprising that somehow in popular discourse, the accusations of naivete are always directed at one side of the fence and inexplicably withheld from say, a Tony Blair or a Shashi Tharoor who peddle Polyannaish visions of an ecumenical, interfaith utopia? The pretentious naivete of apologists and 'sophisticated theologians' is called out for what it is here.
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#11
(22-May-2011, 10:01 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: Kin selection, the evolutionary basis of tribal in-group solidarity (and out-group hostility) is a recurring theme in Prof. Dawkins' outreach efforts. In fact, one of the reasons he considers religion a threat to civilization is because it tends to exacerbate our underlying propensity for tribalistic out-group hostility. In other words, the very recognition that ostensibly religious violence gets its staying power as well as lethal force from underlying tribal propensities, is a contributor to the New Atheists' concern for religion, and to say that tribalism is something they are somehow unaware of seems disingenuous.
I think I should have been more clear. He does KNOW of the tribal nature of conflicts. But I do not agree with you and Dawkins in that our tribal tendencies are exacerbated by religion any more than by any other idea. The New Atheists seem to believe that our tribal nature and hence conflicts would be eradicated once religion is eradicated and I think that is a result of certain naivety. Hence, I would say Dawkins doesn't UNDERSTAND tribalism in the context of our present society, which is certainly quite complex. It is in the nature of man to kill and he would continue to do so with or without a religion.

Here is an example (http://exiledonline.com/wn-day-25-monty-...kuyu-skit/) of a little known genocide by the British in Kenya as late as 1950s, just a few years after the 2nd World War, Hitler and Nuremburg trials. It wasn't driven by any religious ideas, only pure tribalism.

(22-May-2011, 10:01 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: Advocates of 'nuance' ever so often fail to recognize that some moral issues on which Prof. Dawkins takes an unambiguous stance aren't all that deserving of a nuanced treatment, ..., rife with socio-political complexity in which he has undeniable expertise.
That is exactly my point. When it comes to specific and clear cut moral issues such as in the video, Dawkins might do a good job because as you said it doesn't require nuanced thinking. But when he talks of the role of religion in conflict he slips because conflicts are a result of a complex mix of tribalism, economic, political and other interests.

(22-May-2011, 10:01 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: Isn't it surprising that somehow in popular discourse, the accusations of naivete are always directed at one side of the fence and inexplicably withheld from say, a Tony Blair or a Shashi Tharoor who peddle Polyannaish visions of an ecumenical, interfaith utopia? The pretentious naivete of apologists and 'sophisticated theologians' is called out for what it is here.
Why are you holding me responsible for what is said in the popular discourse? I haven't heard Tony Blair's views on this subject, nor do I intend to because I know he ranks among the top in the list of all time crooks. As for Tharoor, I again haven't heard his views nor intend to on the subject because he seems to be very naive from whatever I have seen of his public life.
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#12
(22-May-2011, 11:18 PM)P11 Wrote: The New Atheists seem to believe that our tribal nature and hence conflicts would be eradicated once religion is eradicated and I think that is a result of certain naivety.

The New Atheists' stance that faith often stands in the way of conflict resolution and getting it out of the way is a good idea to start with, is often all-too-conveniently caricatured by their critics into the strawman that "New Atheists believe that the end of faith is the end of all conflict."
A fairer characterization of the New Atheist stance is that 'strident criticism of religious beliefs also has a place in the debate' on conflict resolution, and typical strawman distortions of the same are addressed in this earlier post.

(22-May-2011, 11:18 PM)P11 Wrote: I haven't heard Tony Blair's views on this subject, nor do I intend to because I know he ranks among the top in the list of all time crooks. As for Tharoor, I again haven't heard his views nor intend to on the subject because he seems to be very naive from whatever I have seen of his public life.

I brought those up just to provide context and illustrations that while scientists are accused of oversimplification, statesmen are often guilty of more blatant oversimplification replete with 'religion of peace' platitudes which ignore obvious threats let alone arcane complexities. Prime Minister Blair and Dr. Tharoor are cases in point because it is exactly voices like theirs that are feted in the very accommodationist circles from which the most gratuitous and condescending criticism of New Atheists originates.
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