Wednesday, November 5, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 9

This chapter is to a large extent anecdote-driven. There are some real horror stories about what has been done to children in the name of religion. And of course these are not isolated incidents.

Nevertheless, this is to a large extent a series of anecdotes, and there is always a risk attached to that. Anecdotes are highly effective as rhetorical tool, irrespective of whether there's much truth to the claims they are being used to illustrate. People tend to respond best to narrative - to a story. The Daily Mail, for example, is chock full of anecdotes about foreigners, edicts from Brussels, crime, and so on, and that can, and does, often give a highly misleading impression of what the situation is really like.

In response, Dawkins's opponents will simply trot out endless anecdotes about the benefits of raising children in a religious belief system (take a look at e.g. the work of Melanie Phillips - Mail columnist and author of such anecdote-driven rhetoric as the dreadful All Must Have Prizes ). You can't really establish what's true just by looking at the anecdotes being offered by either side.

Still, Dawkins admits he is "consciousness raising", and if that is your aim then piling up the anecdotes is a very effective tool. I call it APPRA - the Awesome Persuasive Power of Ramified Anecdote.

So, I approach this chapter cautiously because of its heavy reliance on APPRA. Having said that, it's masterfully done, and it's not as if there isn't, in fact, a good case being built for not indoctrinating children with religion. There is.

1 comment:

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Stephen,

Most of my generation (I’m a decade younger than Dawkins) grew up with religion as part of our education, but over 90% (probably closer to 99%) rejected it when they got past their adolescence, whether they were Catholic or Protestant. We now have Cardinal George Pell (Archdiocese of Sydney), who would love to turn back the clock to the 1950s, when the Church was still a political force and could manipulate social mores, but few people take him seriously, Catholic or otherwise (except the Pope and he doesn’t live here). I guess that is why Dawkins’ concerns are considered a little shrill in this country.

From the experience of my own religious education, I’m against the idea of teaching children religion as fairy tales, for the simple reason that they believe them to be true. I agree with Dawkins that there is a great heritage, not only in Christianity, but the other world religions, that should be preserved. I think religion should be taught in a historical and philosophical context, not unlike the way you've divulged it in your book, 'Philosophy'.

Having said all that, I call myself a religious person, but it has nothing to do with anything Dawkins has discussed thus far: it’s to do with my own sense of spirituality that has nothing to do with anyone else.

Regards, Paul.