Sunday, 20 April 2014
Richard Dawkins is the John Snow of Religious Studies
That is to say, he knows nothing. It doesn't matter how smart he is in biology (and whether he is or not is not for me to say, not being an expert on that subject), he and most of the new-atheists are absolute ignoramuses at religious studies.
Case in point: for Easter, the Richard Dawkins Foundation pushed around this meme, pointing out the alleged origin of the word Easter:
I'll not that I'm not absolutely sure whether the Richard Dawkins Foundation ("Official") has anything to do with Dawkins directly, and I certainly doubt he wrote this caption himself; but this is an example of an endemic problem the man himself has engaged with: he doesn't actually know anything about religious studies yet is quite willing to spout off any old bullshit he hears. I've read him do it over and over again in articles, and in videos. When he talks about science, he is (or at least, appears to my layman's eyes and ears to be) rigorous and demand rigorousness from his opponents; in fact, that's one his chief damning criticisms of them. But when he's dealing with religion, history, and other humanities, anything goes. As if history wasn't a discipline. As if the study of religion was something anyone could do; or rather, no one really needs to do. Its all so stupid, right? So why should we have to fucking know anything to criticize it?
Now, here's the thing: "Easter" is not called "Easter" in Latin, or any of the romance languages (as far as I know). It is called "Easter" in English, from the time of the Saxons; which seems very strange if it made a jump of thousands of years after the ancient goddess Ishtar stopped being worshiped in that form (and thousands of miles away from where she was ever worshiped), and at least hundreds of years after the Latin church started practicing the festival of Christ's supposed resurrection, which they called Pascha (where the Spanish "Pascuas" comes from; both coming from the Hebrew term Pesach).
There's no question that the christian Easter rites borrowed from pagan rites, but that still doesn't excuse repeating something that just isn't factually true (the supposed Ishtar-Easter connection). This just shows off how little certain critics actually know, and it ends up giving all criticism a bad reputation as fanatical and not fact-based.
There is indeed a potential connection: Eostre (Saxon) comes from Ostara (old Germanic) which may derive, from great distance, from Astarte which was another name for Ishtar.
All of these (and many other feminine deities, like Inanna or Babalon) are a type of love-goddess sometimes described by the archetype of "The Red Goddess".
And yet the fact that there is such a connection, but the Dawkins foundation gets their facts wrong anyways through bad scholarship and bad reasoning, is only more ironic and more disappointing.
New atheism is very stupid at these things. And the problem is that they are mimicking (as usual) the same errors that the religious set make in the opposite direction: that idea I expressed above: if its stupid, then why do I need to actually know anything to mock it? "I can just engage in sloppy thinking and get away with it because it isn't something serious like Science/The Bible" (take your pick).
By engaging with that mentality toward the humanities, all of New Atheism is committing the exact same error that the anti-evolutionist and Creationist fanatics they so hate do to them.
The New Atheists would be outraged if some Creationist were to make some ridiculous claim about the hummingbird because he hasn't actually studied biology; but they feel completely free to say whatever they like about religious studies because they just assume you don't actually have to know anything about these things.
They don't know their Ishtar from their Eostre, their Dhammapada from their Mahabharata, their Augustine from their Duns Scotus. Things that are complex they want to reduce to schoolboy taunts, but it leaves them looking like schoolboy-level thinkers. To anyone who actually knows anything, they come across looking like idiots.
Belief may be a simplistic matter of faith or doubt; but religious history, religious philosophy, and religious sociology are not. They are complex. And when it comes to being capable of engaging in debate that doesn't seem infantile, the supposed luminaries of the new-atheist movement seem utterly unarmed.
Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia