The Root of All Evil? is a television documentary, written and presented by Richard Dawkins, in which he argues that humanity would be better off without religion or belief in God.The documentary was first broadcast in January 2006, in the form of two 45-minute episodes (excluding advertisement breaks), on Channel 4 in the UK.
Dawkins has said that the title The Root of All Evil? was not his preferred choice, but that Channel 4 had insisted on it to create controversy. The sole concession from the producers on the title was the addition of the question mark. Dawkins has stated that the notion of anything being the root of all evil is ridiculous. Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, released in September 2006, goes on to examine the topics raised in the documentary in greater detail.
Part 1: The God Delusion. “The God Delusion” explores the unproven beliefs that are treated as factual by many religions and the extremes to which some followers have taken them. Dawkins opens the programme by describing the “would-be murderers . . . who want to kill you and me, and themselves, because they’re motivated by what they think is the highest ideal.” Dawkins argues that “the process of non-thinking called faith” is not a way of understanding the world, but instead stands in fundamental opposition to modern science and the scientific method, and is divisive and dangerous.
Part 2: The Virus of Faith.
How is it, asks Richard Dawkins, that despite science having exposed old religious myths, militant faith is back on the march? The mechanism for perpetuating beliefs that Dawkins describes as leading to murderous intolerance, is by imposing religion on children who are too inexperienced to judge it for themselves.
We wouldn’t categorise children according to their parents’ political stance, says Dawkins, since they are too young to make up their minds about such matters. But we segregate them in sectarian religious schools, where they are taught superstitions drawn from ancient scriptures of dubious origin, which promote a ‘contradictory and poisonous system of morals’.
From generation to generation
Dawkins compares this to a virus, which infects the young and is passed down the generations. Visiting an ultra-orthodox Jewish school, he describes the British-born headteacher Rabbi Gluck’s Yiddish accent as testament to the isolation of his community. Gluck says that it’s important for members of minorities to have the space to express their own beliefs and traditions. He describes science as one tradition, and Judaism as another. His students are taught about evolution and if only a minority end up believing in it, he says, this is not out of ignorance.
The number of faith schools is increasing. More than half the Government’s proposed City Academies will be run by religious organisations and there’s a growing number of private evangelical Christian schools. ACE ? Accelerated Christian Education ? has developed a curriculum which includes a mention of God or Jesus on every page of its science text book. The head of a school which uses this material argues that if there were no lawgiver, there would be no reason to see rape and murder as wrong.
Hellfire and damnation
Transmitting such a ‘warped reality’ to young people, says Dawkins, amounts to indoctrination. Children are uniquely vulnerable and if they fail to question and shake off such superstition, they remain in a state of perpetual infancy. He talks to a woman brought up in a strict Christian sect who describes the terror of eternal damnation, which dominated her childhood, as a form of abuse.
Hellhouse movies are a new growth industry in the USA today. Graphically filmed, they demonise abortion and homosexuality with the explicit aim of scaring the viewers. Pastor Keenan Roberts explains that the aim is ‘to leave an indelible impression on their lives that sin destroys ? and Jesus saves’. The result, says Dawkins, is a mindset which can justify the murder of a doctor who carries out abortions on the grounds that he is destroying a being created in God’s image!
Physicist and Nobel prizewinner Stephen Weinberg describes religion as an insult to human dignity. ‘Without it,’ he says, ‘you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.’ Dawkins agrees. It is more moral, he says, to do good for its own sake than out of fear. Morality, he says, is older than religion, and kindness and generosity are innate in human beings, as they are in other social animals. The irony is that science recognises the majesty and complexity of the universe while religions lead to easy, closed answers.
Is there no more than just this life? asks Richard Dawkins. How much more do you want? We are lucky to be here, he says, and we should make the most of our time on this world.