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Part 2: The Virus of Faith

In The Virus of Faith, Dawkins opines that the moral framework of religions is warped, and argues against the religious indoctrination of children. The title of this episode comes from The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins discussed the concept of memes.

Sectarian education

Dawkins discusses what he considers as the divisive influence of sectarian education, with children segregated and labelled by their religion. He describes the Hasidic Jewish community of North London as cloistered away from external influences such as television, with children attending exclusive religious schools. He questions Rabbi Herschel Gluck to find if their culture allows children to access scientific ideas.

Gluck believes that it is important for a minority group to have a space in which to learn and express their culture and beliefs. Dawkins states that he would prefer traditions taught without imposing demonstrable falsehoods. Gluck emphasises that although they believe that God created the world in six days, the children have studied evolution, although he goes on to say that the majority of students will not believe in it when they leave the school. Gluck contrasts the tradition of Judaism with scientists who "have their tradition". Dawkins facial expression at this point seems to suggest he is taken aback at the assertion that science is based solely on “tradition”. Gluck then goes on to contend that it's called the "theory of evolution" rather than the "law of evolution".[1] When Dawkins points out that the term is used in a technical sense and describes evolution as a fact, Gluck suggests he's a “fundamentalist believer”.

Dawkins expresses concern about increasing religious influence in British schools with over 7,000 faith schools already and the government encouraging more, so over half of the new City Academies are expected to be sponsored by religious organisations. He says that the most worrying development is a new wave of private Evangelical schools that have adopted the American Baptist Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, and as an example calls on Phoenix Academy in London.[2] Dawkins is shown around the school by head teacher Adrian Hawkes and remarks on how the teaching material appears to mention God or Jesus on almost every page; such as a reference to Noah's Ark in a science textbook. Hawkes responds by saying that the stories could have a lot to do with science if you believe in them, and that the science he was taught at school is laughable today. As an example, he mentions that he was taught that the moon came from the Earth's ocean and was “somehow flung out into space” during the early years of the Earth’s life. Dawkins says that it should have been presented as a strong current theory.[3] Another lesson talks about AIDS as being the "wages of sin," so Dawkins inquires whether this might not be mixing health education with moralistic preaching. Hawkes responds that without a law-giver, “Why is rape wrong? Why is paedophilia wrong?” and that if people believe they can get away with committing bad deeds then they will tend to do them. Dawkins responds to this claim by asking Hawkes if the only reason he doesn't do these things is that he's frightened of God and subsequently suggests that this attitude is characteristic of the warped morality that religion tends to instill in people.

Religion as a virus

Next, Dawkins discusses specifically the idea of religion seen as a virus in the sense of a meme. He begins by explaining how he considers the mind of a child to be genetically pre-programmed to believe without questioning the word of authority figures, especially parents – the evolutionary imperative being that no child would survive by adopting a sceptical attitude towards everything their elders said. But this same imperative, he claims, leaves children open to "infection" by religion.

Dawkins meets the psychologist Jill Mytton who suffered an abusive religious upbringing – she now helps to rehabilitate similarly affected children. Mytton explains how, for a child, images of hell fire are in no sense metaphorical, but instead inspire real terror. She portrays her own childhood as one "dominated by fear." When pressed by Dawkins to describe the realities of Hell, Mytton hesitates, explaining that the images of eternal damnation which she absorbed as a child still have the power to affect her now.

Then Dawkins visits Pastor Keenan Roberts, who has been running the Hell House Outreach programme for 15 years, producing theatre shows aimed at giving children of twelve or older an indelible impression that "sin destroys". We see rehearsal scenes depicting doctors forcing an abortion on a woman despite her changing her mind, and a lesbian gay marriage ceremony presided over by Satan in which the women swear to “never believe that you are normal” and Satan cites First Corinthians 6 as God saying homosexuality equals sin. Roberts absolutely and unapologetically believes the scriptures about sin, and when Dawkins questions this basis for morality, replies that it is a faith issue.

Biblical morality

Next, Dawkins questions whether the Bible really does provide a suitable moral framework, and contends that the texts are of dubious origin and veracity, are internally contradictory and, examined closely, describe a system of morals that any civilised person should find poisonous. He describes the Old Testament as the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and as example readings are given of Deuteronomy 13 which instructs believers to kill any friend or family member who favours serving other gods, and Numbers 31 where Moses, angered at the mercy his victorious forces show in taking women and children captive, instructs them to kill all save virgin girls: an act Dawkins describes as genocide. Dawkins also questions another story from Judges 19 in which a lesser character, an old man, offers his maiden daughter out to an angry mob of "wicked men" to be raped and humiliated to save his male guest from being raped by the "wicked men". In Dawkins' opinion, God must be the most unpleasant character in all fiction.

Dawkins then discusses the New Testament which, at first, he describes as being a huge improvement from the moral viewpoint. But he is repelled by what he calls St Paul's nasty sadomasochistic doctrine that Jesus had to be hideously tortured and killed so that we might be redeemed – the doctrine of atonement for original sin – and asks “if God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who is God trying to impress?" He says that modern science shows that the alleged perpetrators Adam and Eve never even existed, undermining St Paul's doctrine.

Dawkins then interviews Michael Bray who interprets the Bible literally – he would like to see capital punishment enforced for the sin of adultery, for instance. Bray was a friend of Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for murdering a doctor who performed abortion and the doctor's armed escort, James Barrett. Bray defends Hill's actions and speculates that he is now "doing well" in Heaven. Later, Dawkins converses with his friend Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and a liberal Anglican. Harries sees the scriptures as texts which should be read in the context of the time they were written, and interpreted in the light of modern insights. Dawkins asks Harries about his attitude towards miracles – does he believe in the Virgin Birth, for instance? It's not "on a par with" the resurrection, says Harries.

Secular morality

Finally, Dawkins searches for an explanation of morality based upon evolutionary biology, which he considers more hopeful than ancient texts. Together with the evolutionary psychologist Oliver Curry, he discusses the primordial morality to be found among chimpanzees. Curry explains his view that we don't need religion to explain morality and if anything it simply gets in the way. Instead, he claims, a more convincing explanation is to be found in the concepts of reciprocal altruism and kin selection.

After briefly addressing the rise of secular values, Dawkins goes on to discuss morality with the novelist Ian McEwan. McEwan takes as his starting point the mortality of human life, which he says should naturally lead to a morality based on empathy – one which he claims should confer upon us a clear sense of responsibility for our brief span on earth.

Dawkins finishes by arguing that atheism is not a recipe for despair but just the opposite; rather than viewing life as a trial that must be endured before reaching a mythical hereafter, an atheist sees this life as all we have, and by disclaiming a next life can take more excitement in this one. Atheism, Dawkins concludes, is life-affirming in a way that religion can never be.

Teil 2: The Virus of Faith

In The Virus of Faith (Der Virus des Glaubens) behauptet Dawkins, der moralische Rahmen der Religion sei verzerrt und argumentiert gegen die religiöse Indoktrination von Kindern. Der Titel der Episode bezieht sich auf Das egoistische Gen, worin Dawkins das Konzept der Meme besprochen hat.

Sektiererische Erziehung

Dawkins erläutert den spaltenden Einfluss sektiererischer Erziehung, bei der Kinder nach Religion getrennt und eingeteilt werden. Er beschreibt die hasidische jüdische Gemeinde von Nordlondon, die sich externen Einflüssen wie etwa Fernsehen verschließt und ihre Kinder auf exklusive religiöse Schulen schickt. Er befragt Rabbi Herschel Gluck um herauszufinden, ob deren Kultur Kindern Zugang zu wissenschaftlichen Ideen verschafft.

  1. A theory in common usage can mean a conjecture, while in science it means a testable explanation. To a philosopher a law can prescribe how the world should be, but a scientific law is a generalization based on empirical observations.
  2. Phoenix Academy independent Christian schools: Ofsted description
  3. A similar hypothesis, Generally referred today as the giant impact hypothesis, is still accepted today: see NASA fact sheet on the origin of the moon.