Richard Dawkins is someone I once greatly admired. An accomplished evolutionary biologist and general scholar of all things related to the natural sciences, he disproved the claims of sacred scriptures by means of ethics, commons sense, and his forte, science. To myself, he was a kind of prophet who preached to any who would listen—including myself—of how and why one should lead a life without yielding to any god. And for quite some time, years actually, I took his works to be unquestionable truths.
His written works, lectures, and speeches are quite diverse. At times he simply talks of the miracles brought to us by the evolution of science. On other occasions, he would showcase how religious dictations have no actual basis to lean on. Yet as of late, his words exhibit the idea that religion is the root of all the wrongs in this world. For the first and second categories of topics I saw no problem with Dawkins, but on the last I began to disagree with his assessment.
I am an International Relations student, and an amateur analyst of political and military events across the globe. My studies concentrate primarily on how conflicts began, were handled, and how they were brought to an end—in some cases, hypothesizing solutions regarding how they could potentially be concluded. Of the many fascinating matters in my field, perhaps the one I am most intrigued with is the idea that religious beliefs breed conflict rather than abate it, as most believers would say. A number of my betters, though I cannot say whether they are the majority or minority, reached the consensus that differences in belief systems is a prime reason for groups of people to hunt down one another. Dawkins resides in this school of thought.
In Dawkins’ eyes, the violence carried out under the name of religion—be it hate crimes, terrorism, or all-out warfare—are all caused by contrasts in belief systems. This, I would argue, is not the case. For in my humble opinion, religion is as a political asset, simply a banner.
Religion serves the same function as other ideologies believed or worshipped by the diverse factions of humanity. While there have been countless battles launched with the supposed claim of either promoting Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, so on and so forth, the finer texts of history would showcase that these belief systems and their kin are nothing more than masks for covering up darker truths. The works of social scientists who scrutinize over the causes of warfare, beyond their surface appearances alone, would make us understand that the foundations of conflict are quite numerous and complex.
For instance, let us take the example of the Thirty Years War. A purported religious crusade between Protestants and Catholics. The heads of states from both sides declared in a public manner that there was a struggle between two beliefs, and the opposing force are heretics for declaring that their faith is the one truly welcomed by the Abrahamic god. However, these declarations are merely one of countless methods for rallying the support of the masses. If I may over-simplify things somewhat, the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants are shortly put, an endeavor by both sides to expand their spheres of power. As the past superpower, the Holy Roman Empire started to collapse, keen leaders realized that they could gain supremacy over most European nations. An instability in the balance of power formed a competition between the enthusiastic kingdoms to expand their lands, gain access to more resources, control the actions of parties weaker than they are. The participants of the war did not place the spreading of their religions as a primary concern, but a way to justify their expansionist tendencies to their subjects.
Another way of showcasing how irrelevant religion really is as a root for conflict, is to turn back towards recent history, specifically during the years of the Cold War era. The leaders of both the Soviet Union, the United States of America, and the client states of the two superpowers utilized banners in a way similar to how the leaders of the Thirty Years War did. Yet these particular banners were not adorned with symbols pertaining to religious beliefs, rather the symbolisms used were birthed by the ideologies of Communism and Democracy. With each party painting its opposition as the opposition of evil. The Soviets were drawn to be inhuman beings who fought against every man, woman, and child’s right to live freely. Whilst the US were elucidated to be the epitome of greed, with its followers as uncaring individuals who would do anything for personal wealth.
But again, the Cold War is not simply Democracy going up against Communism. It was, in a simplified understanding, a contest between two emerging superpowers. An era wherein two of the world’s most powerful states fought over which of them should reign supreme. The ideological part did not truly matter, the priority of both states were to seize power alone.
Thus we can now see, that both samples of warfare seemingly caused by ideological differences in fact had other underlying factors. Ones that were obscured by the banners of religion, nationalism, and so on. From this point on, we can return back to Dawkins.
Where Dawkins’ mistake lies, is in analyzing conflicts solely from their surface appearance. He was distracted, as were the unfortunate peons ushered into combat, into believing that banners amount to something more than just another way of justifying a statesman’s selfish decisions and actions.
I do not blame Dawkins for his inaccurate analysis concerning human conflict. Any person, no matter how bright he or she is, could always be in error. However, what I do blame him for, is misguiding the people—for the most part Atheists—who think that all of his sayings could never be incorrect. As it is a scientist’s greatest sin, to hypothesize about a phenomena, without gathering sufficient data and preaching as if it is the absolute truth.
What I hope Dawkins would one day do, is delve deeper into human history. Understand in full what caused the ripples and waves that have occurred throughout our existence. Otherwise, he would only be diverting his followers from the daunting task of objectively analyzing the past.
If Dawkins had taught us anything, it is that we should never look for easy answers. The sort that dictates numerous, diverse happening are all caused by a singular factor. It limits our ability and willingness to take in all the necessary information needed to dig up truths. Such a method of thinking is counterproductive to figuring out how to bring about a more peaceful Earth, which Dawkins wishes he could do but fails because of his blunder.