Daylight Atheism in the News

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.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Alex Weaver

    I assume you’ve written in?

  • Steve Bowen

    Not your first and I doubt your last “15 minutes of fame” Ebon.
    I find actually that despite the admiration I have for Richard Dawkins in print (especially when he’s on his home ground of genetics)he can come across as ineffectual in this type of interview. He was quick to disown your commandment (rather than give you credit)because of the use of the word “respect”. He should , as did you, define the limits of that respect. His failure to do so diluted the point somewhat.

  • mikespeir

    Oh, man! Can we still talk to you? If you don’t want to associate with us anymore, I’ll understand.

    Seriously, cong-rats! It’s renown well deserved.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Good for you! I can think of nobody more deserving of some attention. This is an excellent blog that should be read by everyone.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Congrats on being quoted on TV. Not so congrats on being misused. All in all, though, it’s a nice piece of recognition.

  • Christopher

    It appears that people like me aren’t the only ones being misconstued these days…

  • Christopher

    Spelling – “misconstrued”

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Congratulations! You’ve been blurbed! It means you’ve arrived. (I’ve only been blurbed once, when an extremely mixed and mostly negative book review I wrote had one out- of- context positive sentence excerpted on the next edition of the book. It’s very exciting.)

    And yes. You’re right. The idea that “respect” means “never expressing disagreement” is an absurd and harmful one. The distinction I try to draw is that I try to be critical of ideas and behaviors, not people. (I’m not always successful — I have, on occasion, succumbed to the seductive allure of the snark — but it’s a useful distinction, and one that I strive for.)

  • exrelayman

    If you rely on faith over reason, you forfeit some of my respect. I respect your right to think as you wish, but my respect for you as a sane, reasonable person diminishes. Respect for your rights is given. Respect for you is earned.

    In the clip, the interviewer conflated respect for the rights of the deluded with respecting the deluded. It is comical to observe the believers of a mythology, the development of which can be clearly traced (The Origins of Christianity and the Bible/Benson), demanding respect for their delusion. Or not so comical when you contemplate that such mentality persists at top levels of Christian (Mr. President, tear down that wall) and Islam governments. Many thanks to the clear thinkers, Ebonmuse among them, making an effort to combat the superstitions that can destroy us.

  • James B

    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

    That’s a very good point, and something that non-believers come up against quite regularly. In a sense it is insulting to play the sycophant with other people’s beliefs.

  • Dennis

    Congrats, you deserve it. The nod on tv, not the misrepresentation.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Heh, you know you’ve hit the big time when you’re quoted out of context. Perhaps next time they’ll stuff your mouth full of words.

    Good show.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Ditto on the congratulations, although I’m waiting for the day when you’re the famous person, instead of just being mentioned offhand in some famous person’s book or interview.


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