If all attributes of life are explicable in terms of replicators (genes and in the case of many higher species, memes), then explanatory myths are a cultural curiosity rather than a fundamental sphere of life i.e. religion is completely subsumed WITHIN cultural and philosophical studies.
What he principally rails against is :-
- the privileged participation of religion in social and political discussions (not participation per se, but the privilege and protection that goes with it)
- the forcing of irrationality of thought on children along with sometimes brutal cultural practices (cf. with the wonderful and exciting cultural exploration of irrationality through myth, fantasy, father Christmas etc.)
- the acceptance of coercion by religious forces of whole populations in relation to a wide range of aspects of everyday life
Secularism: I can't see how religion produced secularism except in the sense that as soon as something is "red", by definition something else is "not red".
Poetry: Dawkins raves about the poetry of the cosmos principally in Unweaving the Rainbow and has a much shorter and referring section in The God Delusion. I can't see how there is anything mystical about human relations. They are undoubtedly unique, possible more complex than any other animal relations, and certainly more powerful in influencing the living systems of this planet (although rather powerless so far in relation to the physical forces on the planet as we are experiencing at the moment). Many people (including myself) have spontaneously responded to cultural artefacts such as music by believing that the creativity reflected the presence of a "god" .... but these experiences can be replicated for others in a mountain (the razorback ?), looking at a flower - or even at a Nuremberg Rally or in the presence of Kevin Rudd. These experiences are "wonderful" but not supportive evidence for a God.
Dawkins deals with secularist regimes and the atheism of Stalin and possibly Hitler very briefly in the book. The later parts of the book are indeed fragmented and scrappy I think due to the fact that he is targeting the "everyman" particularly in the USA and wants to specifically address the common red herrings. this is the sense in which I agree with you about the "schoolboy" tone. Trouble is if we live in a democracy (cf a theocracy) then the "rabblement" votes, so you have to speak directly to them.
I certainly would like to see a more detailed analysis of the role of secularism in creating or exaggerating the brutality of these regimes. I think that there is likely to be a long line of religiously committed despots throughout history that numerically outweigh these people in number, victims and brutality.
A can't think of Dawkins as a totalitarian in any sense other than the idea that a rationalist is a totalitarian. To believe, with some extreme post-modernists, that thinking irrationally is a valid alternative to rationality is simply to accept every other thought pattern or belief system on equal merit. Numerology has had a profound effect on human history - as has astrology, etc etc. Why not include them ? What about systems that have less historical credibility - scientology etc Why not allow them equal time ?
Dawkin's makes the point that although we may esoterically defend the right to hold such views, when we are confronted with a situation in real life most will prefer rationality. I believe people should have the right to read/ publish/ believe in a clairvoyant's view of who was the murderer, but I think that the overwhelming majority of us want a society that decides who did it rationally.
Interesting Article on Violence in one of my favourite online magazines - The Edge - See A History of Violence
I see what you mean about secularism. "Religiosity" is in fact the original state of the human mind. Other primates may be capable of at least some of the psychological manoeuvres needed for religious thought: the assumptions that acts are caused; that most (if not all) acts are the result of an agent of some kind; perhaps a primitive theory of mind - the agent thinks I should....). Secularism is a recent development arising from the development of rational explanations for an ever increasing proportion of acts ("enlightenment"). To exert social power, secularism aped powerful forms used for the same purpose by religions - building design, organisational hierarchies etc.
Perhaps, atheism needs to formally establish itself as a religion to really get of the ground - tax exempt status and immunity from vilification or discrimination would be a boon to membership....
I don't think Dawkins is supporting an "enlightenment project". He believes that rationalism is not a cultural product, like classical music, or one of many equally valid ways of thinking about the world, but rather a evolving compendium of what ever is demonstrable and repeatable in our world. i.e. no central doctrine, no unassailable truths - just a smooth scale of probabilities where the apple falling is very likely (colloquial expression = certain), the asteroid hitting earth is very unlikely, and the existence of god astronomically unlikely (colloquial expression = NOT true).
I think that your sense of "totalitarian" threat from rationality may overlook the fact that there is NO "text" which we can kill each other over. Demonstration trumps all. Darwinism (Like Newtonian physics) is almost certain to be overlaid with a more exact explanation which has greater explanatory and predictive power. As a rationalist, I would love to see this happen. The idea fills me NOT with defensive anger, but with delighted excitement. THIS is the crucial difference between reverence for an artefact (e.g. text) compare to a process ("whatever you can demonstrate").
Rationality IS. Rationality WORKS. All else is mind games (including Naturalism). Mind games are fun (Zeus, Jesus, fairies, terminator II) and were the starting state for human understanding of the world, but we need to grow up.
The Enlightenment is a fascinating historical period where rationality gained its most powerful foothold and the outcomes for our species have not all been good (just as the control of fire was not good for all people or species).
The central points that I was most intrigued by in your analysis were:
- the weakening of the social fabric in Western Civilisation by the idea of a personal morality (cf. a social morality) and the primacy of individual interest (cf. the centrality of the social benefit), and the fact that this may have been sparked by Luther.
- your idea that the centuries old and continuing move from intuitive social relations (based on intuitions about what the current ruling class would consider acceptable) to contractual social relations (based on the interpretation of a text by expert lawyers) has progressively robbed us of any faith in social relationships
Rationalism has certainly contributed by undermining one of the main forces (religion) that underpinned the philosophy of the state. This did not have to be so. The religions of the West got into an argument with science which was not necessary. Religion could have easily followed the view put by many scientists trying to avoid death or dishonour, that the mind of god is inscrutable, and rationality is the means to explore it and wonder at it. This would have lead to the immense strengthening of the church as a likely benefactor of scientific development (notable examples of this fostering of science within religion are easily found in Christian and Muslim history). the end point of this view would have gradually lead such a society to something like Einstein's God - “I have never imputed to nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”P15 Albert Einstein