Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Dawkins' Style I

In my previous post concerning Dawkins, entitled "Disputing Dawkins I," I looked more at Dawkins rhetorical ploys more than his argument. Here, I will again look at his rhetoric, but this time not in the sense of, "How does he try to convince?" but more like a book reveiw, or, "Is his style any good?"

One of the primary features I noticed about his style will nicely double as the subtitle of this post.


Dawkins spends some time discussing the level of respect that he ought to level toward religions. His conclusion seems to be, "Some, but not much." By this he seems to mean, about the same as the average person affords political views (which is less than traditional good manners suggests). As usual, his semantics are a bit slippery and I'm having trouble deciding what he means by "respect," but I'll let this pass, since it's a digression from my point. This discussion of respect come before the caveat at the end of his introduction that he will not deliberately offend anyone, but he also won't "don kid gloves" when discussing religion. Fair enough. This is how he ends the chapter.

Then he opens the following chapter with this gem (page 31):

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a mysogonistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

These are literally the first words following his claim that he will not be intentionally offensive. Do I need to explicate this? Since one of my up-coming criticisms of Dawkins is his failure to explicate anything he criticizes, I suppose I will. He calls the Judeo-Christian God "the most unpleasant character in all fiction." Perhaps he has not read about or heard of Cthulu, Pennywise the Clown, Flagg, or goodness knows how many baddies that fiction, and the horror genre in general, has produced. That being said, he's got to realize that, even if his litany of insults is true (and that's fifteen adjectives and four nouns), this is an exaggeration.

These first words goes beyond not donning kid gloves. The description is obviously and avoidably offensive, and completely unnecessary for his argument. Anyone who reads this passage must see the offensiveness of it to someone who believes in, and in fact worships, "the God of the Old Testament"; either Dawkins is deliberately insulting, regardless of his claim not to be, or he is insensitive to the point of sociopathy.

This is simply a taste of his deliberate offensiveness. Here's a little more:

  • pg. 5: "...dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads..." When's the last time someone called you a ____-head and meant it kindly?

  • pg. 16: "...exposes the weakness of the religious mind." Not only do most people no longer use the definite article for a group--imagine the horror such a phrase as "the female mind," "the African mind," "the plumber mind," or, for that matter, "the atheist mind," would provoke--but refering to a whole demographic as weak-minded seems, well, a little offensive.

  • pg. 20: "religious readers will be offended by what I have to say, and will find in these pages insufficient respect for their own particular beliefs (if not the beliefs others treasure)." The parentheses' contents, an implication that religious readers are unsympathetic to the religions of other readers, were unnecessary. I was certainly offended on behalf of any Muslim readers for his disgusting comments about their practices and beliefs (see last bullet for an example).

  • p. 36: "I suppose that, in the ditzily unreal intersection of theology and feminism, existence might be a less salient attribute than gender." I think he just called feminists ditzy. He claims that his consciousness has been raised by the feminists, but the use of "ditzy" to describe self-affirmed women belies that claim quite a bit.

  • p. 252: "Obnoxious as that doctrine [that Jesus asked Judas to betray him] is..." This is about the third time he calls a person or belief "obnoxious." I'm not really even sure what he means by this. It's seems to me that he's just throwing in insults that he feels like using.

  • pg. 253: calls some particular belief "barking mad."

  • pg. 308: of Islamic children, "nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots." The movement from "innocent little heads" to "demented parrots" was harsh, that's for sure. I can see where he draws the imagery from, but I think most people would agree that there's something wrong about that.

It seems, to me at least, that this is not simply discussing religion with the same respect would of politics or artistic expression. These are deliberate insults that neither advance his argument nor fit, as far as I can tell, under the category of "wit," of which the reviewers on the book jacket claim Dawkins has an abundance. I stand by my previous claim--either Dawkins is intentionally offensive, or he is insensitive to the point of sociopathy. I suppose there are other options, such as idiocy or a Canadian-English/England-English translation barrier, but I'm not convinced by these.

Yet again, this does not disprove Dawkins argument. What this post does do (I hope), is provide some indication why any religious person has the right to be blindingly furious when someone calls this book "amazing," "witty," or "a must-read." Containing as it does blatant stereotyping, hateful language, and an open disrespect for, not people's religions, but people's feelings, self-worth, and sanity, I am horrified to read people's unconditioned support for this book. Had he stuck to his argument I would not be nearly as upset about this book as I am. He has the right, I suppose, to argue against religion. He does not have the right to slander religious people in this way.

And so, to all supporters of Dawkins, heed this warning: if you ever support this book in my earshot without the caveat that the descriptions he uses are appalling, I will publicly accuse you of hate crimes against all religious peoples.

Go to the Dawkins Directory

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