The Troll of the Month is an episode we choose every month to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show the positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.
In a tweet at the end of July, Richard Dawkins, renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, called religions “virulent plagues” which propagate a “virus.”
“ODST is run by the Anglican church, which propagates a weakened strain of the virus,” he said, responding to a story of two parents who are taking the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) to court for religiously “indoctrinating” their children.
“If this couple win their case, I hope it will serve as a precedent for campaigns to protect children from more virulent plagues such as Islam and Roman Catholicism,” he continued.
Dawkins went on to compare religious beliefs to cancer. Invoking the common criticism, “’Don't call people's beliefs a virus, that's like calling people cockroaches. Very offensive and unnecessary,” he went on to tweet: “Don’t call cancer a disease. Very offensive to cancer sufferers”…Children indoctrinated with religion are the main sufferers from the mind virus of faith.”
Other than for his best-selling study of evolution, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins is most renowned for his militant views on atheism. He expressed some of these in his book The God Delusion and frequently becomes hostile towards believers on social media.
While religion and power, especially when they are used as forces to oppress others, should be held to account, Dawkins’ dehumanising language crosses the line.
Using words like “cancer,” “virus” and “plague” to refer to religious beliefs are dehumanising metaphors that imply that believers are ill, diseased or brainwashed. If faith is a “mind virus,” those who have faith are victims by default.
Although Dawkins is not advocating for any violence, this kind of dehumanising rhetoric is still dangerous. It depicts human beings as repulsive and might lead to a justification of abuse or, in more serious cases, incite violence. Dehumanising words have been used in propaganda materials by regimes that committed genocides (Hitler referred to Jews as “parasites” and “vermin”), and are used across the world by powerful political actors to attack groups that they see as the opposition.