Richard Dawkins appears to have changed his mind a little on the evils of Christianity now that Barack Obama (a candidate he admires) is running against Mitt Romney (a candidate he loathes). Once upon a time, Dawkins saw all religions as being equally false and commensurately ridiculous, even taking the time to rail wildly against the flimsy influence of the Church of England. In a conversation with Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens in 2007, the question of whether “all religions are equally bad” came up. Dawkins conceded that perhaps they were not all equally practically dangerous in the modern world, but insisted that they were uniformly irrational nevertheless. “My concern,” he said,
is actually not so much with the with the evils of religion as whether it’s true. And I really do care passionately about that. The fact of the matter: is there, as a matter of fact, a supernatural creator in this universe? And I really care about that. And so although I also care about the evils of religion, I am prepared to be even-handed because they all make this claim.
This view was well summed up in a 1997 essay in the Humanist:
“It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
Back then, Dawkins blurred all the world’s faiths together, treating them as different strands of a single problem — faith — that was inherently inferior to the empirical nature of modern science. How things have changed in an election year. Now, Dawkins happily draws distinctions between religions, opining on the relative “silliness” of the various claims that he once steadfastly treated as one. “Mormonism,” he tweeted, “is no nuttier than ancient religions, but they have the excuse of being ancient, not 19th C fabrications.” This, to say the least, is not an “excuse” that he has granted Christianity often.
“Christianity is not in the same league as Mormonism,” he told a man who asked him why Barack Obama was seemingly exempt from his criticism. Mormons are “barking mad,” “loony,” and “racist,” he replied. They believe “surreal nonsense about planets and magic stones, hats and underwear.” And Christians? Well, on seconds thoughts, Christianity is really not that bad. Nor Islam, apparently. “Bible & Koran genuinely old, written in the language of their time. Book of Mormon written by 19thC charlatan. Romney too stupid to see it,” he averred. This is a line of argument he explicitly rejected in The God Delusion, in which he compared Christianity directly to the primitive beliefs of African tribes and argued that, for his purposes, the differences between the major religions were immaterial.
Such equivocation is so last year. Now, Dawkins likes to single out Mitt Romney and his fellow Mormons as being uniquely dim. “It may be ignorance not stupidity for the creationists, and ignorance is no crime. But to be fooled by Joseph Smith takes real stupidity,” he announced. This was a particularly odd contrast for him to draw, especially given that literally 90 minutes earlier he had tweeted that “40% in US are stupid enough to believe the world is only 6000 years old. They’ll vote for a man stupid enough to be fooled by Joseph Smith.” What a difference an hour and a half makes. At half past five, creationists are forgivably ignorant. By 7 p.m. they’re dumb as rocks.
Those familiar with Dawkins’s work have been surprised at the sudden lack of consistency. It is odd to see such hedging from a man who once called for the world to “ridicule and show contempt” for Christianity, who advocated for the arrest of the pope, and who happily wrote passages such this in his seminal work, The God Delusion:
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 misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
In October, he weakly explained to James Taranto that, ”loopy as Christianity may seem to you, it’s stone cold sane compared with Mormonism.” Besides, he continued to his half million followers, Obama can’t possibly be a Christian. Obama, who is “intelligent, educated, humane, [and] witty” is “probably not religious,” and, if he is, he’s ’only vaguely ‘spiritual.’” Whereas, “Bishop Romney really IS Mormon in the full batshit doolally sense.” That’s convenient, then.
Dawkins is entitled to his own view on the matter, but if it is true that Obama has been lying for his whole life – and throughout his presidency – then it does rather make a mockery of Dawkins’s weird obsession with the notion that Romney is uniquely dishonest, and with his insistence on collecting evidence before making assertions.
So, why has Richard Dawkins softened on Christians and Christianity and decided that Mormonism is singularly evil? This might give us some idea:
Obama can’t succeed with a Congress that filibusters everything because of who he is. Give him a mandate. Vote Democrats for Congress
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) November 1, 2012
Politics does funny things to people. If anyone is in doubt that Dawkins is a staunch liberal, take a quick look at his Twitter feed. On it, he describes Mitt Romney as an “awful Republican,” and — this might sound familiar — disdains every Republican candidate and president since Eisenhower. He constantly, almost obsessively, retweets Barack Obama’s campaign missives. He approvingly quotes Obama’s infamous line about those who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and contrasts it favorably with Romney’s NRA membership, which he characterizes thus: “No dang libruls gonna take away mah constitootional raht to carry a gun. Pow! Bang! Weehaaar! Good shoot’n pardner.” Indeed, so partisan is the man that he even entertained the absurd dual conspiracy theories that Bush cheated in his debates with a radio (it’s “undeniable,” apparently) and Romney with a handkerchief in his.
This is a shame, but it is not a surprise. I’ve very much enjoyed Dawkins’s books on science, biology, and evolution, and I enjoyed The God Delusion, too. The lattermost, however, made it clear that whatever genius Richard Dawkins has for science does not extend into politics or current affairs. (His passage on how to set up the “ideal society” is one of the most excrutiatingly infantile things I’ve read.) If anybody could profit from Thomas Sowell’s advice that experts should stay in their fields, it is Richard Dawkins.
On the lecture circuit, Dawkins likes to explain to his audiences that faith corrupts thinking people. Alas, his love affair with Barack Obama appears to have proven him correct.