Discover more from The Poetry of Reality with Richard Dawkins
Replying to Jordan Peterson
A colleague sent two challenges to me, posted by Jordan Peterson, suggesting I should respond. I’m happy to do so because I greatly respect Dr Peterson’s courageous stance against a bossy, intolerant thought-police whose Orwellian newspeak threatens enlightened rationalism. The hero of 1984, Winston Smith, was eventually persuaded by O’Brien that, if the Party wills it, 2+2 = 5. Winston had earlier found it necessary to stake out his credo. “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows”.
My answer to the question is no if you include supernaturalism in your definition of a religion, and a dear colleague takes her stand on this distinction. But the following three similarities are enough for me to justify a yes answer to Jordan’s question. The first of the three is characteristic of religions in general. The other two are kin to Christianity in particular.
1. Heresy hunting. Ruthlessly uncompromising, relentlessly unforgiving persecution of heretics: “Kill a TERF today”. “'If you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face” etc. There is an orthodoxy, not written down in one particular scripture but understood by all votaries. And woe betide you if you transgress. As a minimum you’ll find yourself in the Twitterstocks, pelted with abusive epithets as a bigot. And you may well find yourself out of a job as universities, governments and businesses queue up to signal their virtue. Such latter-day Torquemadism rams home the fact that what we have here is a cult with its own religiously enforced dogma: dogma that makes no sense to anyone outside, but which resonates perfectly with cult insiders – the evangelical leaders and their sheep-like followers.
Why is a (white) woman in America vilified and damned if she identifies as black but lauded if she identifies as a man? That’s topsy-turvy, because race really is a continuum whereas sex is one of the few genuine binaries of biology. Why do journalists, police, and prison authorities respectfully kowtow to a convicted rapist by referring to “her” as “she”, even as “she” uses “her erect penis” to assault yet more women? Why do so many of us go along with a distortion of language so perverse that it comes perilously close to 2 + 2 = 5. We know the answer. Cowardice. Too many of us are afraid of the baying mob.
2. Hereditary Guilt. One of Christianity’s nastier doctrines is the notion that we are all, even tiny babies, born in sin. Every baby inherits, via a long lineage of semen according to St Augustine, the sin of Adam. Augustine could not be expected to know that Adam never existed and therefore could own neither sin nor semen. But post-Darwinian “sophisticated theologians” should know better, and their learned treatises are harder to respect
Today’s Original Sins are slavery and colonial oppression. All white people are born in sin, the sin of their ancestors. From the moment they are born, all white people partake in the “institutional racism” handed down, like Adam’s semen, from their great great great grandfathers, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation . . .” (Deuteronomy 5:9).
3. Transubstantiation. Roman Catholics are required to believe that bread and wine, when a priest says certain magic words over them, become the body and blood of Christ. In a stronger sense than Protestants, who see the bread and wine as mere symbols. Catholics invoke Aristotle’s silly distinction between “accidentals” and true “substance”. The accidentals of wafer and wine remain wafer and wine, but in their substance they become body and blood. Hence the word “transubstantiation”. Similarly, in the cult of woke, a man speaks the magic incantation, “I am a woman”, and thereby becomes a woman in true substance, while “her” intact penis and hairy chest are mere Aristotelian accidentals. Transsexuals have transubstantiated genitals. One thing to be said in favour of (today’s) Catholics: at least they don’t (nowadays) insist that everybody else must go along with their beliefs.
Peterson is right to imply, in the rhetorical tone of his question, that there is a religion of woke. I have mentioned two specific similarities to Christianity. But more important is their extreme, intolerant zeal, shared with typical new cults, just beginning their journey towards eventual settled status as religions with a long and dignified tradition.
And so to Peterson’s second challenge:
I see this accusation again and again in graffiti scribbled on the lavatory wall that is Twitter. Peterson’s tone is more civilised, of course, but the message is the same. We who have spoken out against the irrationality of religion are to blame for the rise of the irrationality of woke.
There is a certain logic that might be said to underlie the indictment. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a personal hero of mine, has suggested that in some parts of the world we need Christianity as a bulwark against Islam. Both religions are equally nonsensical, but Islam is the more evil. In the words of Hilaire Belloc,
Always keep a hold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
Belloc’s great hero GK Chesterton is supposed (perhaps wrongly) to be the author of the following quip: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. They then become capable of believing in anything.”
I get the point, but I love truth too much to go along with it. I, along with Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer, and others, are against all religions without exception. And that includes the cult of woke. To oppose one irrational dogma by promoting another irrational dogma would be a betrayal of everything I love and stand for.
The Poetry of Reality with Richard Dawkins is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.