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Dawkins the Fundamentalist Atheist

Dawkins Fundamentalists

Back in the seventies and eighties I read quite a few of the articles that appeared in The New Republic.  Although always left of center, the magazine at that time had little use for liberal pieties and published fairly iconoclastic articles shattering many idols of the left.  Alas those days are long ago, and The New Republic has fallen into the lock step ideological conformity that makes the portside of our politics such a gray place.  However, apparently, not always.  John Gray has a piece on Richard Dawkins, that must not be missed.  How good it is may be gauged by the anguished bleats of the faithless in the comments section.  I especially enjoyed this portion of Mr. Gray’s article:

Exactly how Dawkins became the anti-religious missionary with whom we are familiar will probably never be known. From what he writes here, I doubt he knows himself. Still, there are a few clues. He began his pilgrimage to unbelief at the age of nine, when he learned from his mother “that Christianity was one of many religions and they contradicted each other. They couldn’t all be right, so why believe the one in which, by sheer accident of birth, I happened to be brought up?” But he was not yet ready to embrace atheism, and curiously his teenage passion for Elvis Presley reinforced his vestigial Christianity. Listening to Elvis sing “I Believe,” Dawkins was amazed to discover that the rock star was religious. “I worshipped Elvis,” he recalls, “and I was a strong believer in a non-denominational creator god.” Dawkins confesses to being puzzled as to why he should have been so surprised that Elvis was religious: “He came from an uneducated working-class family in the American South. How could he not have been religious?” By the time he was sixteen, Dawkins had “shed my last vestige of theistic credulity.” As one might expect, the catalyst for his final conversion from theism was Darwinism. “I became increasingly aware that Darwinian evolution was a powerfully available alternative to my creator god as an explanation of the beauty and apparent design of life. … It wasn’t long then before I became strongly and militantly atheistic.”

What is striking is the commonplace quality of Dawkins’s rebellion against religion. In turning away from the milk-and-water Anglicanism in which he had been rearedafter his conversion from theism, he “refused to kneel in chapel,” he writes proudlyhe was doing what tens of thousands of Britain’s young people did at the time. Compulsory religious instruction of the kind that exists in British schools, it has often been observed, creates a fertile environment for atheism. Dawkins’s career illustrates the soundness of this truism. If there is anything remarkable in his adolescent rebellion, it is that he has remained stuck in it. At no point has Dawkins thrown off his Christian inheritance. Instead, emptying the faith he was taught of its transcendental content, he became a neo-Christian evangelist. A more inquiring mind would have noticed at some point that religion comes in a great many varieties, with belief in a creator god figuring in only a few of the world’s faiths and most having no interest in proselytizing. It is only against the background of a certain kind of monotheism that Dawkins’s evangelical atheism makes any sense.

Even more remarkable is Dawkins’s inveterate literal-mindedness. He tells us that “the Pauline belief that everybody is born in sin, inherited from Adam (whose embarrassing non-existence was unknown to St. Paul), is one of the very nastiest aspects of Christianity.” It is true that the idea of original sin has become one with a morbid preoccupation with sexuality, which has been part of Christianity throughout much of its history. Even so, it is an idea that contains a vital truth: evil is not error, a mistake of the mind, a failure of understanding that can be corrected by smarter thinking. It is something deeper and more constitutive of human life itself. The capacity and propensity for destruction goes with being human. One does not have to be religious to acknowledge this dark fact. With his myth or metaphor of the death instinct thanatos, Freuda lifelong atheistrecognized that impulses of hatred and cruelty are integral to the human psyche. As an atheist myself, it is a view I find no difficulty in sharing.

Quite apart from the substance of the idea, there is no reason to suppose that the Genesis myth to which Dawkins refers was meant literally. Coarse and tendentious atheists of the Dawkins variety prefer to overlook the vast traditions of figurative and allegorical interpretations with which believers have read Scripture. Both Augustine and before him the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria explicitly cautioned against literalism in interpreting the biblical creation story. Later, in the twelfth century, Maimonides took a similar view. It was only around the time of the Reformation that the idea that the story was a factual account of events became widely held. When he maintains that Darwin’s account of evolution displaced the biblical story, Dawkins is assuming that both are explanatory theoriesone primitive and erroneous, the other more advanced and literally true. In treating religion as a set of factual propositions, Dawkins is mimicking Christianity at its most fundamentalist.

Go here to read the rest.  Dawkins, like the vast majority of the internet atheists who ape him, is a fundamentalist, not only in his atheism but also in his view of Scripture.  (I use fundamentalist here in its popular sense as a religious literalist.  A devotee of the Fundamentalist movement in Protestantism is not a fundamentalist in that sense.)  That is what makes them so ineffective when they troll a Catholic website.   They unload their proof texts, usually from the Old Testament, to illustrate that religion is absurd, and then are deflated when Catholics respond that we have 2000 years of reading the Bible and that we understand that portions of it were never meant to be taken literally.  The atheists usually do not know how to react to this, and often end up, ironically, as a shocked defender of the Bible from papists who will not accept the authority of Holy Writ!  What Dawkins and his acolytes lack is a true knowledge of the complicated religion, Christianity, that they are attacking, and an unwillingness to accept that there are other ways of looking at Man and the Universe than the ones they possess.  An inability to put oneself into the shoes of an adversary is always a dire handicap in debate as it is in life and that is the great tragedy of Dawkins and his followers.  Their lack of belief flows from their lack of empathy, and the questions about the human condition that arise from such empathy.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

13 Comments

  1. re dawkins thoughts about Elvis: “how could he not…. he came from an uneducated working-class family in the American South” I always instinctively rebel against that kind of prejudiced comment! and it makes me think Mr Dawkins is not as thorough in his thinking as he would like to project.

  2. Anzalyne: would that dig at Elvis be considered an ad hominem? As in anyone that believes in God is a stupid rube? Such louses also think that way about
    American soldiers.
    .

    I may be truly stupid. But, my brother-in-law earned a PhD in bio engineering and an MD; and he believes in God.

  3. Here’s a video that lampoons Richard Dawkins rather well…actually, it lampoons a lot of things rather well. My sister told me it was “obnoxious” and I’ll warn everyone it is vulgar and worse…but it IS clever and often funny.

  4. “Their lack of belief flows from their lack of empathy, and the questions about the human condition that arise from such empathy.” So very true

  5. Love Tom D’s video.
    .
    BS = Bull $…
    MS = Master $…
    PhD = Piled Higher and Deeper
    .
    The fool saith in his heart, there is no God.

  6. “Compulsory religious instruction of the kind that exists in British schools, it has often been observed, creates a fertile environment for atheism”

    Mgr Ronald Knox has described it perfectly: “I think, then, it should be said at the outset that public schools [the English name for independent endowed schools] are trying to teach the sons of gentlemen a religion in which their mothers believe, and their fathers would like to: a religion without ” enthusiasm ” in the old sense, reserved in its self-expression, calculated to reinforce morality, chivalry, and the sense of truth, providing comfort in times of distress and a glow of contentment in declining years; supernatural in its nominal doctrines, yet on the whole rationalistic in its mode of approaching God: tolerant of other people’s tenets, yet sincere about its own, regular in church-going, generous to charities, ready to put up with the defects of the local clergyman. This religion the schoolmaster is under contract to teach…”

    The substance of the Faith, that man is a fallen creature; that he can be acquitted before God only through a reliance on Christ; and that God, by his Holy Spirit, can alone give him a new heart and fit him for the kingdom of Heaven, was not so much denied, as ignored; neo-pelagian through and through, as the Holy Father would say.

  7. Paul, that video has a lot in it. One favorite line is “If I were dyslexic I’d hate dog too”.

    One of the ‘atheist chorus line’ is Daniel Dennett [the one in the pimp outfit]. Dennett tried a few years ago to push the idea that atheists should call themselves “brights”, as in “Hi! I’m gay and I’m bright!”. I recall seeing him at an atheist conference in the People’s Republic of China; in the video he argued that governments should license the procreation of children and deny such licenses to religious believers – I’d assume he would be in favor of forced abortions to enforce such a policy. The Chinese atheists must have deemed this too radical for their tastes.

  8. Evolution needs God’s creation in which to evolve. Man’s physical being evolves. Man’s spiritual being, his soul, cannot evolve. Only physical, material, can evolve or change. Man’s immortal soul can only change, grow or shrink, through his act of free will. Man’s free will is the image of God.
    .
    Without man’s free will, the image of God, man is a beast of burden to the state. The state must then be constituted by other beasts of burden, then as all men are created equal in equal Justice.
    .
    Therefore, It follows that atheism imposes itself on all men to man’s (the sovereign individual) to all man’s demise.

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