Dawkins And Swimming Women

Last week George Washington University complied with a request by Muslim students to schedule a female only swim hour at the campus pool. This would allow female Muslims to swim without violating tenants of their religion. In the comment section of a blog where this was discussed a woman wrote that initially she thought that this was a nice idea. It would be nice to take a swim without men checking her out. Then she changed her mind stating that it wasn’t worth encouraging sexual segregation. That would be a step backwards for women overall.

Another poster replied to her stating that calling it a step backwards was “offensive to Muslims”.

I asked that poster if that thought was supposed to shut down the debate. That “we shouldn’t go there”, that we shouldn’t discuss a relevant factor in the issue because it would hurt people’s feelings who hold an idea.

I didn’t get an answer, but later in the day I started reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins where I found these interesting quotes:

“The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe ‘religious liberty'”.

snip ….

A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – the non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offense and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other.

Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:

Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’. Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe . . . no, that’s holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

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2 thoughts on “Dawkins And Swimming Women”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the quotes you cite. But from what you describe of the GW situation, it sounds to me like that might be about something slightly different.

    When the first woman called the policy a step backwards, she was taking a policy that was designed to accommodate Muslim students, and disappearing Muslim students from her analysis of whether it was a good idea. Saying, in essence, “There’s nothing in this for me; therefore, it’s a bad idea,” while ignoring the fact that it’s not about her.

    I don’t know if that’s why the second poster found her comments offensive to Muslims, but I think that if I were Muslim, that’s why I would be offended.

  2. A problem regularly fought in the 20th century was women being denied opportunities at male only clubs, events and institutions. The woman who made the “step backwards” comment didn’t want a precedent for justifying sexual segregation, again, given the history of women’s rights in the U.S..

    So there was something in it for her and American women in the very big picture, not backsliding on hard won victories for equality in the U.S..

    The “offensive to Muslims” comment author either was “offended” by the idea that doing something nice for Muslims was backward or that their values in regards to the treatment/place of women, which was reflected in the request made by the students, was viewed as backward.

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