June 20, 2007

Dawkins Says Threats to Reality-Based Community Not Limited to Right

I think Richard Dawkins is right to point out that attacks on the reality-based community do not come solely from the Christian right. In fact, I sometimes wonder if our focus on the usual right-wing tactics leads us to miss some of what has been happening on the left. Dawkins points to the political left and their cultural relativism (i.e., political correctness) as an equally important threat of anything we're seeing on the right.

We have grown accustomed to Christian extremists ranting about wanting to turn America into a Christian theocracy, pushing young earth creationism, and a host of other destructive plans for Christianizing the masses. We are aware that they believe their religious delusion should be favored above all others and want this to be reflected in our laws.

But what about the left? According to Dawkins (update: link no longer active),
I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism - the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged.
He offers the example of native Americans in Washington State blocking scientific research on the Kennewick Man because they insisted he was their ancestor. Regardless of the fact that there was clear evidence that this was not the case, they got their way.

For a more current example of Dawkins' concerns, we turn to Philadelphia where police officer Kimberlie Webb sued her department for their refusal to allow her to wear a hijab while on duty. Although a federal judge just ruled against Webb, the issues raised by the case fit what Dawkins is discussing quite well.

You see, the federal ruling reversed a prior ruling in Webb's favor by none other than the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's right - the EEOC actually concluded that the police department had violated Webb's rights by prohibiting her from wearing Muslim garb while on duty.

Fortunately, federal judge Bartle had more sense, noting,
Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia.
Webb certainly has the right to sue the department as she did. However, the idea that the EEOC would rule in her favor strikes me as absurd.Why must freedom to practice one's religion become freedom to practice one's religion in public?

What does this have to do with Dawkins' comments about the left's cultural relativism? While the right is trying to shove fundamentalist Christianity on the public, the left is powerless to resist because they are convinced that all religions are equally praiseworthy. All the right has to do is claim that their religious beliefs are being questioned, and the left falls apart. They have left themselves no way to favor some beliefs over others, as they refuse to adopt any sort of meaningful standard to evaluating religious claims.

As long as the left insists on treating religion with respect, scenes like the one in Philadelphia will continue, as will the power of the Religious right.

H/T to Daily Atheist.