Richard Dawkins’ spring tour of the United States is bringing him to Minneapolis — he’ll be speaking in Northrup Auditorium (the huge auditorium on the UMTC campus, so there should be lots of room for everyone) on 4 March 2009. Be there!
In other Dawkins news, he has posted an unused and unedited interview with Father George Coyne on his site. It’s long and it’s very aggravating, so not many of you will make it through the whole thing, but you’ll understand why it wasn’t used in any documentary. Coyne is personable, intelligent, and pleasant without fault. He’s the kind of avuncular and educated fellow anyone could find wonderful in conversation … except on religion.
Dawkins politely asks him how he reconciles the peculiar details of his religious belief to reason, and Coyne can’t quite address the problem. He’s willing to admit that if he’d been brought up in an Islamic household, he almost certainly wouldn’t be Catholic, but that that should inform him that the specifics of his belief are not founded in evidence and reason evades him totally. He falls back on “tradition” and “faith” as excuses. It’s tragic — I’m certain he’s a very smart man, but on religion he is simply blind and stupid.
Another tangent came to me while watching the video. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, which means I spend all this time with strangers in airports. It’s interesting; most people are just people, and you can’t pigeonhole them into narrower roles without talking to them, except for people in uniforms. And who wears uniforms? Soldiers returning or going back to duty, police and security guards who are on duty, and priests. The police I can understand; they have an official job to do, and the uniform is useful in announcing their authority and making them obvious people to turn to when you need help.
But priests? Nope. That is an utterly useless profession. No one is worried about needing an emergency exorcism, or handling a drive-by spiritual crisis, or requiring rapid cracker delivery. Wearing the clerical collar is simply a demand for deference and respect, a token flaunted in expectation that the bearer will be regarded as especially virtuous and important. It’s annoying and unwarranted. I’m afraid that when I see priests wandering about in the airport, I’m not thinking, “there goes a good man,” I’m thinking, “there goes a sad gomer who wasted his life on the nonexistent.” I suppose it’s fair warning, but it’s still pretentious.
So in the Dawkins/Coyne interview, I’m noticing that Coyne has the magic collar on (I suppose if he’d been raised in an Islamic culture, he’d have a beard and black robes; if Buddhist, he’d be shaved bald and wearing orange; same difference), and Dawkins is dressed like any academic, nothing particularly distinctive. It bugged me. There is a status game being played here, and clerics demand it and get it, while scientists shrug off the superficialities and don’t try to push it. If you just ignore the words they’re saying (trust me, Coyne’s words aren’t at all enlightening) and look at the image, the message is that Coyne has special status, while Dawkins is simply one of the hoi polloi.
I don’t quite know what to do about it. We’re certainly not going to propose a uniform for scientists, which would be just as pompous as priests making sure to announce their delusions visually even while they’re standing around the luggage carousel. I guess I’m just going to have to put it on my to-do list of things to accomplish while we’re destroying religion: diminish the credibility of the clerical uniform. We’re just going to have to start regarding it in the same way we view clown costumes, I think.