Saturday, April 9, 2011

Richard Dawkins and "The God Delusion"

Last week we began to take a look at some of the arguments used by Richard Dawkins and the “New Atheists” who are gaining such a voice lately as popular writers and speakers. As I read Dawkins’s The God Delusion, I am struck with several things. First, there is a contempt for religion and religious people that seems far beyond reason. Even his fellow atheists criticize Dawkins for his exaggerated ridicule and caustic insults. For example, fellow atheist and Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse, said, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist…” (from Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against Godby Scott Hahn, Benjamin Wiker, pg.4). Dawkins has been likened (again, by his fellow atheists) to the most rabid, fundamentalist preacher spewing out a diatribe against the pagans. When one has a good argument, however, there’s no need to resort to such tactics. Whether, then, Dawkins’s vitriolic rhetoric is an indication of the weakness of the atheist position in general or just of Dawkins’s inability to argue reasonably on the subject is open to debate, but Dawkins lets his emotion rule.

In fact, Dawkins seldom resorts to reasoned argument, the second thing that really strikes me about The God Delusion. Often he seems to just ramble about points that seem unconnected to his argument. But more importantly, he shows an utter disregard for even the most undeniable facts. One of his most amazing statements has to be this: “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre  Dame, the Shwe Dragon. the temples of Kyoto or, of course the Buddhas or Bamiyan.” (pg.249). Seriously? Dawkins is either utterly ignorant of the history of his own time, or just plain dishonest. Has he ever heard of Stalin or Mao Zedong? Last week I previewed the history of atheist regimes and their 110+ million murders in the past 100 years. And the truth is, Stalin bulldozed plenty of Greek Orthodox churches. As recent as three or so years ago the atheist Chinese government bulldozed a church building that was being used by a growing church.

Ahh, but there is no evidence that Stalin’s atheism motivated his brutality (pg. 273)! Again, can Dawkins be serious? Does not the brutality of every atheist regime point to a connection? But Dawkins cannot think of a single war fought in the name of atheism (278). I guess it depends on what you call “war.” Ask the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of believers who were (and are still being) imprisoned by atheist regimes—imprisoned because they had the audacity to practice their faith!

Finally, I am struck with how Dawkins mostly uses the worst examples of religion. Sometimes it is difficult to argue with him simply because what he passes off as representative examples of Christian faith many believers would reject also, myself among them. An awful lot of evil and no little amount of foolishness is done in the name of so-called Christianity. Makes one wonder why there aren’t more atheists.

Conveniently, however, Dawkins not only neglects to distinguish between so-called Christianity and what is a true expression of it, but fails to mention the inestimable good that has been done in the name of the “religion” of Christianity. In the first centuries after Christ, Christians stood out for their compassion and sacrificial love in a world that was noted for its cruelty and indifference. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, writes: “The willingness of Christians to care for others was put on dramatic public display….Pagans tried to avoid all contact with the afflicted, often casting the still-living into the gutters. Christians, on the other hand, nursed the sick, even though [some] died doing so….Even in healthier times, the pagan emperor, Julian, noted the followers of the Way ‘support not only their poor, but ours as well.’”

Jesus taught his followers not only to love one another, but to love the poor, and even to love their enemies. And they are still loving their enemies, even if they are atheists who hate God.