It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On Richard Dawkins, Liberals, and Islamophobia

Last week, the Commonwealth Club of California hosted a discussion with British scientist Richard Dawkins. Moderated by journalist and Stanford media fellow Mary Ellen Hannibal, the main focus of the conversation was Dawkins’ new book, Science in the Soul. Dawkins, a famously devout pooh-pooh-er of all things religious and/or spiritual, was quick to point out that the title of the book did not signal a miraculous conversion of some sort from his own religious beliefs, i.e., atheism, reason, and observation-based evidence.

In the course of an hour-long conversation that touched deeply on many topics relating to science, the scientific method, evolutionary biology, and the future of humanity, one questioner from the audience asked him, “Are liberals afraid of Islam?” 

In his answer, Dawkins questioned the moral authority of “liberals” who decry misogyny, homophobia, and the like but yet “give a free pass” to Islam with respect to these forms of hate in preference to supporting Muslims as “victims of oppression from the West.” In his view, however, it is not the West that has victimized Muslims but rather Islam itself, implying that it is Islam that requires its followers to practice hateful behavior against women and gays and thus that Islam is in need of reform.  

In my opinion, Dawkins’ is an overly simplistic view of the origins of misogyny and homophobia among Muslims. With no data to back me up (so let the comments begin!), I would nevertheless “guess” that many if not most practicing and even devout Muslims, particularly those in the West, are not misogynists or homophobes, at least no more than the general population at large. Rather, I would posit that misogyny and homophobia arise much more from cultural norms of society at large and just plain ignorance-based fear of people who are “different” rather than from the dictates of religion.

Further, it is a common practice, particularly among religious fundamentalists not only of Islam but of Christianity and Judaism, as well, to cherry-pick passages from their respective religious texts to justify misogyny, homophobia, racism, slavery, and other expressions of hateful and hurtful behavior in the name of eradicating sin and apostasy. Of course, those same texts could also be, and often are, cherry-picked to instead demand love and brotherhood and inclusion.

So, it’s not so much Islam or other religions themselves that are at fault but rather some practitioners of those religions who have a particular cultural, social, or political agenda they want to “sell” by saying, in effect, to paraphrase comic Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine, “I didn’t want to hate all those folks. The Lord made me do it!” Actually, Geraldine’s original wording is right: “The Devil made me do it!”

If you’d like to hear a recording of the Commonwealth Club’s full interview with Richard Dawkins, click here.


  1. I agree that the society dictates more than the religion.

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  3. I concur with you completely. We ought not carefully select things from a book or discussion and should regard different religions and others perspective.