When Matzke asked Dawkins if "it would be a good idea for a government to make it *illegal* for parents to teach their religion to their children?", Dawkins clarifies his position as follows:
Of course I don't think it would be a good idea. I am horrified by the thought. My entire campaign against the labelling of children (what the petition called "˜defining' children) by the religion of their parents has been a campaign of CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING. I want to educate people so that they flinch when they hear a phrase like "˜Catholic child' or "˜Muslim child' "“ just as feminists have taught us to wince when we hear "˜one man one vote'. But that is consciousness-raising, not legislation. No feminist that I would wish to know ever suggested a legal ban on masculine pronouns. And of course I don't want to make it illegal to use religious labels for children. I want to raise consciousness, so that the phrase "˜Christian child' sounds like a fingernail scraping on a blackboard. But if I dislike the use of religious words to label children, I dislike even more the idea that governments should police the words that anybody uses about anything. I don't want a legal ban on the use of words like nigger and yid. I want people to feel ashamed of using them. Similarly, I want people to feel ashamed of using the phrase "˜Christian child', but I don't want to make it illegal to use it.
Let us therefore deal with the position that Dawkins has officially embraced, as I have two very serous concerns about this campaign of "consciousness-raising."
First, Dawkins is famous and influential by playing off the public image as someone who vigorously promotes critical thinking, science, and reason. His is usually perceived as an Ambassador of Science. Yet his chosen method of "consciousness-raising" abandons and betrays those very values. Dawkins acknowledges that his entire goal is to elicit emotional reactions in people. He is on an admitted "campaign" to elicit flinching, wincing, and shame. He wants the phrase "˜Christian child' to sound like a fingernail scraping on a blackboard.
Dawkins is thus appealing to two sets of emotions. The campaign sets out to create a society where religious people feel shame because it is a society where non-religious people look at religion (thus, religious people) with disgust. To carry out this "consciousness raising," we have seen his chosen tactic. Dawkins has made a television documentary that portrays religion as the root of all evil, is on a campaign that likens a religious upbringing to child abuse and equates religion with viruses, mental illness, and illegal narcotics. In other words, the "consciousness raising" is really a campaign of demonization.
Is this critical thinking, science, and reason at work? Obviously not. In fact, a much more accurate term for Dawkins' "consciousness raising" is propaganda. Consider the following from an author on Wikipedia :
The aim of propaganda is to influence people's opinions or behaviors actively, rather than merely to communicate the facts about something. For example, propaganda might be used to garner either support or disapproval of a certain position, rather than to simply present the position, or to try to convince people to buy something, rather than to simply let them know there is some thing on the market.
What separates propaganda from "normal" communication is in ways by which the message attempts to shape opinion or behavior, which are often subtle and insidious among other characteristics. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts to deliberately evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting illogical (or non-intuitive) relationships between concepts or objects (for instance between a "good" car and an attractive woman or a sex symbol).
An appeal to one's emotions is, perhaps, a more obvious, and the most common propaganda method than those utilized by some other more subtle and insidious forms.
Since Dawkins has admitted that he is on a "campaign" to elicit emotional reactions in order to shape opinion and behavior, it is quite clear is has become the lead propagandist in a movement that he, Harris, and others are trying to spark. What makes this most unsettling is that he does this while at the same time championing critical thinking, science, and reason. And his followers don't notice the contradiction.
And this leads to the second problem. Since the consciousness raising is really an act of propaganda that effectively demonizes religious people, encouraging emotions at the expense of critical thinking and science, the success of his effort is inversely related to the significance of his personal positions and opinions. If he succeeds in creating a climate where religion is commonly viewed as child abuse, the religious parents become child abusers in such an enlightened society. And while Dawkins may have repudiated his signature on the petition, there is no reason whatsoever to think that those who join his "campaign" would do likewise.
Consider, for example, the words of one of Dawkins' fans on his official web site (found in the comments section of Nick's article):
Richard is a high-profile figure who has to consider how things are perceived in the USA as well as the UK and around the world. He decided to distance himself from that particular petition. It is his call.
But here is the reply I would have liked to see Richard write to Ed Brayton.
Yes, I signed the petition. It isn't realistic at this time to expect that the petition will result in a law affecting religious instruction in the home and in schools funded privately. The petition however helps to raise consciousness about the issue. Religious indoctrination, and religious labelling, of children is undesirable and should be regarded as child abuse. Note that it is indoctrination (teaching dubious beliefs as fact when children are too young to judge) that is opposed, not religious education (explaining what a variety of religions believe).
I signed the petition. We currently have a law prohibiting parents and teachers from hitting (includes smacking) children. That law would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. I hope that the petition will contribute to Richard's campaign of consciousness-raising, and that in a future time, a law against religious indoctrination could actually be possible.
The same fan later adds:
The petition states truthfully what the petitiom creator wants. It is often the case that the first petitions for contentious laws (universal suffrage, ban fox hunting, etc, etc, etc) are ahead of their time. I see this petition in that light.
I am supportive of the petition because I think religious indoctrination of children is damaging to modern society, whether performed inside or outside state-funded schools, and because I think the petition serves as a contribution to consciousness raising, provided enough people sign it.
I am a supporter of free speech and civil rights as well. The petition does not seek to outlaw adults holding religious belief, and does not seek to prevent educating children about religious belief. I see the petition as merely ahead of its time.
For this member of the movement, the political act was linked to the consciousness raising. Thus, Dawkins is leading a propaganda campaign that does appeal to people who do support making religious indoctrination illegal. The "consciousness raising" easily slips into government action. It's just a matter of time and numbers.
There is another incident that highlights the troubled road Dawkins is walking down. Like Dawkins, Peter Singer is a highly regarded scholar and author of many books. It was Singer's brand of "consciousness raising" that gave birth to the modern animal rights movement, the movement that now hunts down scientists and burns labs. Yet recently, a scientist, relying on Singer's utilitarian logic, caught Singer in a moment of profound intellectual weakness:
According to an account of the documentary in The Times of London, which Singer has not disputed, Singer is shown in an exchange with Tipu Aziz, an Oxford neurosurgeon who has developed new treatments for Parkinson's disease, in part by giving Parkinson's to non-human primates for experiments. Aziz tells Singer that about 40,000 people have probably been helped by the research, and that about 100 monkeys were used to develop the treatment.
Singer then tells Aziz: "Well, I think if you put a case like that, clearly I would have to agree that was a justifiable experiment." Singer then goes on to say that as long as "there was no other way of discovering this knowledge," he could "see that as justifiable research."
This acknowledgement quickly turned the animal rights movement against their father.
A British animal rights group that has been fighting Aziz and his research published an update denying that Singer had ever been a leading figure in the movement (it might want to check PETA's Web site to verify that Singer has been considered its hero). The British Web site, Arkangel for Animal Liberation, published the following: "Peter Singer seems to have fallen foul of the lies propagated by the vivisectionists and many in the animal rights movement are now expressing their disgust," adding that "the man talks rubbish and the sooner the notion that he has any place in the modern animal rights movement is dispelled the better."
Singer is now trying to backtrack, but the point is clear. If the founder of the animal rights movement betrays their emotional agenda, he will be viewed as a traitor, history will be rewritten, and he will be dismissed.
And this takes us back to Dawkins and that inverse relationship. If he succeeded in his campaign (which is unlikely), then his own personal opinions about government coercion become just that "“ his own personal opinions. It would not matter that Dawkins personally believed parents have a legal right to indoctrinate their children in their religion (and once said so); many of his more extreme disciples would simply throw him and his personal opinions overboard. After all, it is not as if he made some powerful case for the right of parents to indoctrinate and infused this into his "campaign."
Dawkins acknowledges that he signed the petition because of his passion and it was a deeply flawed error in his judgment. As such, I submit this is an apt metaphor for his entire campaign of "consciousness raising."