The Root of all Evil
Allow me to begin this review by stating what I am/am not and what this review is/is not. The very nature of the material in this two part documentary necessitates such an approach as feelings and thoughts on both sides run high over this issue, even with the smallest comment.
I consider myself a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. I am a licensed Minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand. I would consider myself to be at the liberal end of Evangelicalism. I subscribe to the historic creeds of the Christian church (specifically the Nicene Creed) and the statement of faith of my own denomination. Within that and around the interpretation of the Bible, I believe there is much dialogue and debate to be had. I am a radio announcer working within Christian media. I am not a scientist or a great philosopher. I am also not considered by large numbers of people to be one of the greatest minds of our time. Thus this is simply a humble, subjective review of a two part documentary series that touches on what drives my life – religion.
This review is simply my thoughts on the documentaries themselves. This is not a contribution to the debates that rage around atheistic evolution, theistic evolution, 6 day creationism, intelligent design and every shade that exists within them… shades which are often ignored as people argue the big ones. This review will also disappoint those who would hope to hear a minister demonize Richard Dawkins and it will disappoint those on the side of Dawkins who would hope to hear anyone move away from the thought of “infancy” (faith) into a realm that denies a belief in God because natural science, they argue, doesn’t give evidence for it.
I am going to assume that people reading this have a basic understanding of whom Richard Dawkins, probably the worlds most famous atheist at this time, is.
I like Richard Dawkins; there, I, a Christian Minister, said it… I like Richard Dawkins. I don’t agree with him on all things, but I like him. He predominantly comes across as a polite, respectful Englishman who follows the rules of debate – attacking the topic, not the person. The problem is that the topic is so fundamental to many people’s lives that they feel they are being attacked.
He also seems to have a genuine love and care for the human race and sees beauty all around him. He seems to be driven by the belief that if religion/faith can be done away with, then the world and humanity would be better for it and we can create a morality whose basis is empathy. If that is his belief then his course of activity could be nothing other than what he is doing. He is trying to make humanity better and The Root of All Evil? is simply a step in that journey. His tenacity and willingness to face the vitriol of extremists and people who feel attacked, in order to pursue his aim is admiral.
The title itself, The Root of All Evil? is not necessarily indicative of the intent of Dawkins in this exposition. A quick Wikipedia search (sorry) indicates that the title was more about the intentions of the network airing the documentaries, than Dawkins.
The Root of All Evil? preceded the writing of the now famous book, The God Delusion, which I believe went on to develop some of the ideas presented in this documentary (I have not read it). I could give details on the structure of the two part documentary, but I won’t. We could talk about what interviews/information was added and what was conveniently left out, but we won’t. If you want that information, a quick internet search will reveal it to you and you can watch interview material that wasn’t included and make up your own mind about it.
Let’s focus on the basic premise and the strengths and weaknesses of this.
The basic argument of The Root of All Evil? is that faith works against independent thought, that it denies rationality and evidence, has no basis in reality and can lead to irrational action. Dawkins posits the theory that even the most moderate faith is ultimately a “slippery slope” to divisiveness and extremism – the sort of extremism that leads to violence and war. He then sets about demolishing extremism (and yes, extremism can have plenty of adherents, it isn’t necessarily a whacky few) and the excesses of religion around it.
Firstly, I think his critique is something that needs to be heard by all people of faith. Essentially he provides an outside perspective of some of the excesses and problematic nature of much of religion. He points out its insular nature when critiquing religious education and its tendency to foster prejudice and division between opposing groups. He also notes the feelings of group safety and how (these are my words to sum it up, not his) people often leave their brains at the door and can get caught up in what amounts to mass hysteria when they are surrounded by like minded people. These are worthy accusations that should cause us to look at ourselves and in turn, listen to those outside of our own streams of thought.
There are a few things that stood out to me though, that I take issue with. I apologize to my Roman Catholic friends for this one, but he uses the Assumption of Mary as an example to debunk faith. He states that this tradition started being taught around 500 – 600AD and that the tradition grew until it became common belief, then in the 1950’s, the Pope decided (after convincing himself that it was true) to make it official doctrine and from that time forth, Roman Catholics have had to believe it to be true. In my humble opinion this is an excess of faith, and thus, in a sense he is rightful to point it out, but not as an example that debunks all Christian faith (as is implied, not stated). In my view this is far different from the biblical, historical accounts of the humanly witnessed life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the cornerstone of the Christian faith.
More importantly I think he also somewhat ignores the nature of humanity. Whether you exist in the camp of Atheistic Evolution, 6 Day Creationism or any shade in between, one must admit to a propensity towards varying amounts of chaos in the nature of the human race for whatever reason (the fall, natural selection… whatever). The idea that the removal of faith/religion can lead to a more empathetic and thus, peaceful society is far too simplistic. Religion (though many will argue with this) is not the cause of hate and violence, it is merely a vehicle often used to propel that nature already existing within humanity. If faith/religion wasn’t used, another vehicle would be. If this were not the case, then why is it that people can look at the same thing and come out with very different ideas about what it may represent and thus venture out on different courses of action relating to what they believe they have seen and understood? The nature of the human is the answer. Removal of the vehicle isn’t necessarily the answer, the changing and shaping of the nature using the vehicle is.
As a wonderful example, the famously satirical cartoon show, Southpark ventured into this very issue when doing an episode on Dawkins. They showed a future world where Richard Dawkins and others with the same thoughts had found success and faith/religion had been removed and replaced only with ‘rational’ thought and the wonders of scientific discovery. In this world, war didn’t about around differing religious groups, it happened around whose ‘science’ was right and whose was wrong. Humanity’s natural tendency towards chaos will outwork itself in many different vehicles, even that which some deem to be ‘rational’.
Now of course, this argument doesn’t mean that if faith/religion is wrong that people should blindly follow it, on the contrary, if it is wrong, it should be left behind. But this review isn’t being written to convince people to follow my course of faith. Hopefully we can examine the beautiful diversity of humanity and the different ideas, opinions, thoughts, values and beliefs that are expressed by it and form our own understandings about existence. You do not have to believe anything prescribed to you by another person.
Ultimately The Root of All Evil? provides another opinion motivated by a world view that is not my own. But for me and for many others, there is benefit in openly listening to and learning from that view.
Reviewed by: Frank Ritchie.
Rating: PG – Parental guidance is recommended for younger viewers.
Duration: 96 mins.
Director: Russell Barnes.
Release Date: Available Now.