I just have to boast: I’m on TV!
Well, sort of, anyway. Daylight Atheism commenter RiddleOfSteel has brought to my attention this clip, in which Richard Dawkins is interviewed for the Canadian TV program The Agenda. As we all know by now, my essay “The New Ten Commandments” is quoted in Dr. Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, and about halfway through the clip (at around 4:10), the interviewer reads one of my ten commandments verbatim.
That being said, I have to raise a substantial objection to the way my work is actually used. The interviewer’s line of questioning for Dawkins is the standard, tired “why are you atheists so disrespectful of other people’s faith” strategy. To my dismay, he quotes my third commandment – “Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect” – and uses it to attack Dawkins in furtherance of this canard!
This is a serious misrepresentation of my views. I categorically did not mean by this that we should refrain from ever criticizing others or saying things that offend people’s sensibilities. On the contrary, my ten commandments also include injunctions such as “Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you”, and especially, “Question everything”.
In fact, in my third commandment, I define precisely what I mean by “respect”:
“Respect” mandates treating others as inherently valuable, not using them as tools or means to an end that may be cast aside and discarded once they have made their contribution.
There is nothing in there about not criticizing other people’s beliefs, nor should there be. In fact, I would argue that it shows more respect for others – respect for their intelligence and their ability for independent thought – to speak our minds freely to them and let them evaluate our arguments, rather than censor ourselves out of some spurious idea of politeness.
Richard Dawkins is dead-on when he states that religious beliefs have historically been surrounded by an abnormally and unjustifiably thick wall of respect. We atheists ought to make it our mission to demolish that wall: to raise people’s consciousness and cause them to realize that religious beliefs, no less than any other category of beliefs, should be open to inquiry and criticism.