criticism

Richard Dawkins Stands by Offensive Remarks

Richard Dawkins addressing the World Humanist Congress on Aug. 11, 2014, in Oxford, England. Photo via Brian Pellot/RNS.

As the world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins is no stranger to criticism from religious believers.

But in recent months, a few of his opinions have riled many in the atheist community as well. Remarks he made on Twitter and elsewhere on subjects ranging from sexual harassment (“stop whining”) to Down syndrome fetuses (“abort and try again”) have sparked suggestions from some fellow nonbelievers that he would serve atheism better by keeping quiet.

When asked about his controversial July tweets on pedophilia — Dawkins opined that some attacks on children are “worse” than others — the 73-year-old British evolutionary biologist and best-selling New York Times author declined to be interviewed.

But on a speaking tour through the San Francisco Bay Area in support of his new memoir, “An Appetite for Wonder,” he invited a reporter to sit down with him and explore the thinking behind his remarks.

Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said — including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is “worse” than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.

'Hands Up! Don't Shoot!'

ON AUG. 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson. A collective groan was let out across social networks—people began the lament “Not again.”

Just four days prior, John Crawford III, a 21-year-old black man, had been gunned down by police in a Walmart in suburban Dayton, Ohio, without warning, while shopping for a BB gun. A few weeks earlier, Eric Garner, an African-American man, was choked to death by a New York City police officer.

For young black men, each incident is a reminder of how easily our lives can be taken away by police aggression. For the people in Ferguson, however, over-policing is all too familiar. In a city where 67 percent of the residents are black, there are only three black police officers on a force of 53.

A 2013 report from the Missouri attorney general’s office revealed just how bad relations are between officers and black citizens. Out of the 5,384 traffic stops made last year by the Ferguson Police Department, 86 percent of them targeted black drivers. Black drivers were searched and arrested at nearly twice the rate of white drivers, although contraband was found at a rate 13 percent less than that of white drivers.

The shooting death of Michael Brown was the tipping point. The gathering anger and frustration bubbling on the streets of Ferguson from an abusive and militarized police force finally erupted.

What followed was astonishing. A generation often criticized for its supposed apathy toward social issues organized and protested while being tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets. Peaceful demonstrators took to the streets each night to demand the arrest of Darren Wilson and were met with an aggressive response by law enforcement. Police used dogs, tear gas, and stun grenades to disperse the crowds exercising their right to assemble—events eerily similar to ones decades ago during the civil rights movement.

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Beauty as Antidote

If beauty heals the world, and the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, who's up for demanding a better cinema experience?

Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies and How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.wordpress.com and co-presents “The Film Talk” podcast with Jett Loe at www.thefilmtalk.com. He is also a Sojourners contributing editor. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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