The disgraceful Telegraph article on Dawkins

The Telegraph hit piece on Dawkins is out (as many of you already know; it’s nearly 5 in the afternoon in the UK, while it’s only a fresh-faced nearly 9 in the morning here on the west coast of the US). It’s even worse than I expected it to be, and that’s saying something. It’s vicious slavering bullshit. It’s a disgrace to journalism.

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

It’s not “awkward.” We’re all descended from people who did bad shit. Count on it. God, just think, here’s me, a feminist, yet half of my ancestors are men!! Omigod that’s so awkward; how will I ever explain it?

There is no “estate”; there’s a farm. Everybody alive now depends partly on wealth created by forced labor.

He is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

Esther Stanford-Xosei, of Lewisham, south London, the co-vice chairman of the Pan-African Reparations Coalition in Europe, said: “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

“The words of the apology need to be backed by action. The most appropriate course would be for the family to fund an educational initiative telling the history of slavery and how it impacts on communities today, in terms of racism and fractured relationships.”

Ah, Adam Lusher, that’s naughty.

What he means is, he phoned Esther Stanford-Xosei and solicited that statement from her. The way he phrases it, it looks as if “calls” are coming spontaneously (despite the fact that this article is the first anyone has heard of this “revelation” apart from Richard’s account of Lusher’s obnoxious phone calls). That’s a sneaky journalistic trick, presenting their own “calls,” or “calls” that they’ve solicited for a story, as if they were independent. That trick borders on deceit; it borders on mendacity, not to say lying. It’s technically true but highly misleading. It’s contemptible. It shouldn’t be the job of journalism to play tricks of that kind.

There’s more, in other papers. This stuff has to be bitten off and chewed one by one.


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Was one of Lusher’s ancestors a slave belonging to ur-Dawkins? Or is Lusher just throwing mud against the wall in hopes some of it sticks?

  2. michaeld says

    Hmm you know I bet Lusher has the genes of a rapist, a murderer, a torturer and a thief. Cause quite frankly we all do its just a matter of how far back you want to go.

    I also found the statute of limitations line a bit silly. I think death is the ultimate statute of limitations on anything. If Hitler had a descendants should we put him on trial or have them make reparations to the Jews? Actually the Jews are another example should we hold them responsible for the genocides in the old testament? This sins of the fathers stuff is just very silly.

    Finally why the focus on Dawkins I’m willing to bet the skeletons in the royal closets are much easier to dig up and probably better documented.

  3. Graham Martin-Royle says

    Where do I start? If I’ve got to apologise for EVERYTHING bad any of my ancestors did, how about my umpteenth million great great whatever grandparent, the single celled piece of slime that just ate another single celled piece of slime, without even introducing themselves! Too ridiculous for words. I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did and I refuse to apologise for their thoughts, deeds, words and/or actions.

  4. ezekiel says

    Well, it’s easily defensible under Exodus 20:5 “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”

    Of course, the Bible was actually quite big on slavery, but when you’re cherry-picking your lunacy, you can cheerfully ignore the contradictory parts.

    Once again, if it says it in the “Good Book”, it must be true!

  5. Enzyme says

    See, this is one of the many reasons why I don’t understand the right. Doubtless in my ancestry there are kings and vassals, slaves and slave-traders, princes, merchants and beggars, saints and vagabonds. The same applies to just about everyone on the planet. Humanity is this vast, sprawling mess, and there each and every one of us is; and each and every one of us is at the centre. And I think that that’s FANTASTIC.

    Not fantastic because some of us were slaves (do I even have to say that?) but fantastic because it’s fascinating, and morally fantastic because it’s humbling: it’s impossible to be pompous in the face of the fact that we’re contingent motes in the stream of history. And fantastic because it reminds us that, though present injustices demand our concern, we don’t have to be trapped by the past, either as individuals or a species – because the past is everything, and you can’t be trapped by everything.

  6. nemothederv says

    Some of my ancestors fought the American civil war in the name of ending slavery, some owned slaves.
    What am I supposed to do? Should I apologize or say “You’re welcome”?
    Heritage is nothing to be proud of or ashamed of. It just is.

  7. says

    This is a rarity: a voice on the Right(!) hinting that some wealthy white dude bears guilt for previous centuries’ nastiness, and ought to make reparations to….well, someone plausibly associated with the victims I guess.

    I’m willing to be that a good fraction of the wealth of the entire West derived from slavery, the conquest of the Americas, and various other bits of imperialist/colonialist exploitation.

  8. says

    Exactly. That’s what I meant by “Everybody alive now depends partly on wealth created by forced labor.”

    That’s why reparations aren’t a loony idea even though the actual slaves are long gone. The slaves’ descendants on average own a smaller fraction of that wealth because they are slave descendants. They never even got the god damn 40 acres and a mule – instead they got another century of forced labor disguised as vagrancy laws and the like. They really are owed some actual money.

  9. Gordon says

    This is why I hate the passive voice: “calls have been made” “Dawkins faces calls to apologise”

    By and from who?

    These sad little people present their own mental states onto the population at large, trying to falselycreate the impression most people agree with them.

    But a story of “me and my right wing chums think ol’ Dawkins is embarrasing us with his well researched poll and we figure we’ll sling some mud” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

  10. says

    Yes exactly, and it’s not just the passive voice, it’s above all the careful omission of any agents. Here “Dawkins faces calls” – which is actually not the passive voice, but it sure as hell is agent-free. In the case of DGHW it was “there are fears” – about as free-floating and agentless as you can get. No people, just “fears” drifting around, stirring up trouble.

    Journalists should be forbidden to do that on pain of firing.

  11. Cam says

    I understand that forced labor leads to economic inequalities that persist even now. It’s not as if even a freed slave got a lifetime’s worth of unpaid back wages, let alone compensation for pain and suffering.

    If someone’s both wealthy and a clear beneficiary of that persistent inequality, then I don’t think it’s ridiculous to ask that they consider pitching something into the kitty in the name of fairness. It’d be a decent thing to do. I do believe that those of us who know that we have slaveholding in our family’s not-so-ancient history should have a good think about what that means for the circumstances of our own lives.

    But “a good think” is not the same thing as “a public groveling session”. It’s the “apology” business that sticks in my craw, not to mention the “oh hai I found a gotcha ha ha ha Dawkins u think you’re awesum but ur not” nonsense. No, Lusher, you haven’t found a gotcha and it’s not actually an awkward inconsistency. Like you say, Ophelia, it’s not even odd.

  12. Banjobee says

    Ah…..don’t you just love the whiff of sanctimonious ordure eminating from the godly? Dawkins is related to slavers, slavery bad, thats why he is an atheist, christians put an end to slavery, christianity good, that is why Dawkins is pissed (oh, and shrill of course).

    The Prof really has poked the godbots in a sensitive part of their anatomy lately, namely the numbers game they like to play that has a supposed 70% of English Brits as Church of England supporters. The recent independent survey of people who describe themeselves as CofE on census forms that his Foundation funded has revealed a few painful truths that really have them pissed. We over here now await the inevitable government ministers’s public interjection that will give more privilege, funding and access to schools to the godly in an effort to save the nation’s soul from collapsing morals and militant secularism.

    By the way, its well worth reading the following well-researched and referenced article by James MacDonald on the historical relationship of our fine upstanding Anglican (and other christian) church relationships with slavery:

    Revealing stuff.

  13. Mike B says

    I’m sorry to say it gets worse. This is Giles Coren in The Times:

    [W]hen Richard Dawkins, the Nerd King, preening master of self-promotion, slippery old silver fox, “disco don” of the Dark Side, God-slayer and pompous champion of the Atheist Delusion, got all tangled up trying to deliver the subtitle of The Origin of Species on the Today programme last week, I was beside myself with glee, like almost everyone in Britain apart from Lucifer himself (who couldn’t believe he’d failed to drill Dawkins on that one in the practice runs . . .) […]

    Historically, when people get to imposing their own definitions of religiosity on others, you’re looking at persecution. You’ve got three Jewish grandparents, you’re a Jew. Go directly to the Gas, do not pass Go, do not collect £200.

    Dawkins, in his sour, power-crazed, demagogic old age is bringing more than a whiff of Nuremberg to his definitions. Standing there at the temple doors, counting numbers, taking names, telling people who and what they are. Going on the radio to mock believers with word games (and then coming a cropper himself, as fools do).

    He should go screw himself. This is England….

    Perhaps one could draw some conclusions from all this about the state of faith (esp in the UK). But just for now it’s too unpleasant to think on.

  14. Ken Pidcock says

    Ooh, that is worse. By “whiff of Nurenberg”, do you think he means not allowing Catholic bishops to escape responsibility by claiming that they were just following ecclesiastical law? Kidding.

  15. duck1887 says

    I don’t know my Brit newspapers, but I did see at the Telegraph site that the three most-viewed stories there (Dawkins was #4) were:

    1. Man pulled out of snowed-in car after being stuck ‘for months’

    2. Hitler had son with French teen

    3. Tokyo homeless woman lived in stranger’s cupboard for a year

    So I’m not sure that real journalism was ever a danger there. But maybe some UK reader can fill us in.

  16. Sili says

    . Here “Dawkins faces calls” – which is actually not the passive voice, but it sure as hell is agent-free. In the case of DGHW it was “there are fears” – about as free-floating and agentless as you can get. No people, just “fears” drifting around, stirring up trouble.

    Marry me.

  17. Brigadista says

    Is it just me, or has anyone else caught a whiff of scientology tactics here? Don’t attempt to engage and offer some form of reasonable defence of your own argument, just sling as much mud at your opponent as you possibly can, regardless of its relevance or accuracy.

  18. Mike B says

    Brigadista –

    Yes, there’s a familiar feeling to some of this. Personally I’m reminded of Climategate: the palpable glee evinced at irrelevant and trivial points, opponents made to look despicable and a we-told-you-so-all-along superior tone.

    There’s yet another anti-Dawkins screed in The Indie this morning. It’s by someone who used to be intelligent, although this article is a cut-and-paste collection of anti-Dawkins cliches.

    The Church of England couldn’t hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he’s almost an advertisement against atheism. …

    Aggressive secularists and atheists love pointing to the horrors that have been done in the name of religion, from the Inquisition to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But they are strangely silent on the horrors perpetrated by atheist regimes, such as those of Stalin and Mao.

    It ends:

    the C of E can be bumbling and take an inordinate time to resolve its internal disputes. But it is kind and generous even to those who don’t agree with its teachings. And that’s more than can be said of Richard Dawkins.

    Interestingly the proximate cause of the article is the Ipsos poll and what it revealed about the (dying) beliefs of UK christians.

    Could someone be pressing a nerve, perhaps?

  19. says

    Dawkins is related to slavers, slavery bad, that’s why he is an atheist, christians Quakers put an end to slavery, christianity Quakers good, that is why Dawkins is pissed (oh, and shrill of course).

    There, fixed that for you.

    The rest of Christianity was busily finding Biblical justifications for slavery. There are plenty.

  20. Lori says

    Wow, they had to go back almost 400 years to smear the man, that’s the best they could find? lol Stick to the sex scandals of politicians and priests. At least you can find photos of them.

  21. says

    Jeezis, that Indy piece…

    What is the matter with them all? Why doesn’t it occur to them that all this highly personal ranting abuse doesn’t look what you’d call “professional”? The second sentence of Sieghart’s outburst is just…scummy. What is wrong with them?!

  22. kev_s says

    Tempting to suggest that someone take a blunt knife and ensure this twit is not the start of a long line of anything.

  23. Dave J L says

    Intelligent rebuttals are great: I want a stimulating argument, but it’s so frustrating when it is evident that one’s opponent has just so simply but spectacularly missed the point.

    The Rev. Giles Fraser’s rather schoolyard-like taunt to Richard Dawkins on the Today programme shows how much he missed the point that Dawkins was trying to make with the poll results: it’s not that Christians who can’t name the first book of the New Testament aren’t really Christians, but that that question was symptomatic of the poll results in general showing that many people who identify as Christians don’t seem to hold some significant beliefs which many would say were integral to being a Christian, with the overall point being that advocates for Christian privilege in British culture are in a tricky position if they’re simultaneously asserting the privilege of a set of beliefs while not actually agreeing amongst themselves as to what the content of those beliefs are. Fraser derided Dawkins for arrogantly telling people what they believed; for him, their self-identification seemed to be enough. But isn’t part of the point of religion that one doesn’t get to choose, and it isn’t simply a matter of self-identification? It’s not what humans say Christianity is, but what God says?

    And as for Sieghart’s ‘[atheists] are strangely silent on the horrors perpetrated by atheist regimes, such as those of Stalin and Mao. It is militancy, not religion, that is bad.’ Again she’s missing the point atheists are trying to make when criticising religious regimes: it’s not that atheists or atheism are perfect, or better candidates for a publicly-mandated belief system, but that it is religions who claim to be superior, and history shows that they are evidently not. I’d agree that ‘the problem’ in any such regimes is ‘militancy’, but the point I try to make as an atheist is that while this is by no means exclusive to religion, only religion enshrines unknowable supernatural absolutes at its core and then spins rules and morals from this: absolute rewards and absolute threats from absolute unknowns. This sort of dictatorship only happens with secular regimes when they behave like religions (as with Soviet Communism), and people outside of such regimes still feel entirely free in criticising them – only religions are defined by such an absolutist structure, and beg respect even from outsiders and even when they invite the severest criticism through their actions.

  24. TheVirginian says

    In 1677, English judges ruled in two lawsuits, both styled “Butts vs Penny,” that slavery was legal because Africans were pagans and therefore Christians could lawfully own them. (Based on a Jewish scripture that says the Israelites could enslave neighboring peoples and all their descendants). (These were separate suits involving two different groups of slaves. Not sure if the suit was filed by a 17th-century abolitionist; details are too sketchy.)
    In 1693, an English judge made the same ruling in “Gelly vs. Cleave.”
    The Virginia colony law of 1662 that banned what we today would call interracial sex (not overturned until the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Loving vs. Virginia) was not about race (a biological concept that was not created until the later 18th century) but about “Christians” having sex with “Negroes”; historically, Christians were forbidden to have sex with non-Christians on the ground that it was a moral contamination.
    Up until the U.S. Civil War, almost all of the hundreds of defenses of U.S. slavery were written by Christian clergy (about 300 of them).
    So, I call upon all Christians: Will you apologize for being part of the religion that created and defended slavery, killed 600,000 Americans in a war to defend slavery, then created segregation and killed thousands of black Americans to maintain it? Will all Christians pay into a reparations fund? And will Christians acknowledge that atheists, like Dawkins, bear no responsibility for slavery or reparations because they have renounced that evil horror for slavery and segregation?
    Will the Telegraph publish a lengthy piece on Christians’ guilt for slavery?
    I am not holding my breath.

  25. Banjobee says

    Of course all this “Dawkins is a slaver” bollocks stems from him having the temerity to question just how christian this country is. The godders didn’t like the answers and found having their privates poked wih a sharp stick a bit painful. Still, just as I was dispairing at the relentless viperous responses of our supposed ‘free press’ a loan voice of reason appeared in the Times this morning to put the record straight. Matt Ridley (who had an ancestor burned at the stake as a demonstration of our finest, tolerant christian tradition) has written a well crafted response to the whole “we are being persecuted” feeding frenzy. Catch it on the RDFRS site if you haven’t already.

    But just as I was settling back contented with a nice hot cup of Java, having read it over breakfast, I am afraid I ended up spluttering most of my morning beverage out when I also read that Piggles, sorry I mean Pickles, our Communities Minister (now there is an oxymoron in more ways than one) has announced in the Express and the Daily Fail (two papers of absolute integrity which is why he used them I guess) that our government intends to put christianity back in the centre of public life.

    You know, I used to read about the GOP in America and worry, what if that sort of religiot politics gets over here? A bit like watching those mole hills on your neighbours lawn grow and multiply on the other side of that path, then WHAM, the bloody things appear in your own flat green sward. Well, it seems the first mole hill has just appeared over here. Time for the pest control I guess. My grandad used to use a shotgun. Not hugely efficient he used to say, but hugely satisfying. But I guess I would be (rightly this time) accused of being a militant secularist if I reached for the Purdy. Sigh.

  26. DLC says

    So let’s see. my ancestors were serfs under English rule. Oh, and before that they were hunted across Europe by the roman empire.
    Before that they probably owned somebody else as slaves. So who do I pay off ? And who pays me off ? How many acts of contrition are necessary ? No doubt some kook somewhere will tell me exactly how much of my future income and that of any offspring I might have must be paid out. No doubt to *their* pocket.
    Sorry. not buying any. IMO Dawkins should use this article as a springboard to push his next book.

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