Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Why Dawkins’ Anti-religious Polemics Should Scare His Fellow Atheists

Over at Subversive Christianity is a great post on why even atheists should be frightened by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  There have been skeptical challenges to Christianity at least since the 2nd Century and challenges to belief in God even longer.  We should not fear them.  Sometimes our apologetic responses have been brilliant–far too often they have been considerably less than that.  But apologetics of all kinds can foster the intellectual equivalent of warfare rather than dialogue and debate.  This is true whether the apologist is a theist or, as with Dawkins, an atheist.  As a scientist, he is brilliant. As an apologist for atheism, considerably less so. And, as the linked post suggests, his crusading, anti-religious polemic is very intolerant and disrespectful. Atheists ought to worry, because, if that generates a like-minded response, well, they are outnumbered!

But we who are Christians should be concerned too, because the cause of truth will not be served by either an intellectual war or a social one.  Let’s find a better way of dialogue–and even vigorous debate, a non-crusading path. 

April 21, 2007 - Posted by | atheism


  1. Thanks for the link, Michael!

    Comment by Kerry | April 23, 2007

  2. I have not read The God Delusion, but I have read The Selfish Gene where in the epilogue Dawkins talks about the danger of faith, which is his main argument against religion, as I understand. His argument against faith is mostly an argument against Christian nationalism, which is a good message.

    On one hand, atheists often de-emphasize the positive aspects of a religious community and sometimes take Bible verses out of context. On the other hand, the Christian right often has an inflated view of the good within their religious community and also misinterpret Bible verses.

    Atheists are trying to battle Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism is the number one problem in Christianity. Generally, atheists do not create atheists, Christian nationalism creates atheism. Even the most hardened atheists, including Dawkins, say that if Christians followed Jesus, there would be no problem. Some atheists become so horrified by Christian nationalism that they start to believe that all Christians are Christian nationalists and interpret Jesus in this light. Atheists try to subvert Christian nationalism in any nonviolent way they can, even if they nonviolently destroy religion. Atheists are actually more gentle than the Christian right, because they do not support war as often, favor nondiscrimination more and critique actions more than doctrines.

    Rather than condemning people like Dawkins, it would be better to join Dawkins in his battle with Christian nationalism. Christians like Rob Bell, Jim Wallis, Gregory Boyd, Ronald Stone, Robert Jewett, John Shelton Lawrence and others are actively battling Christian nationalism (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3061/preaching_revolution/). The opposite of Christian nationalism is sometimes called “Prophetic Realism.” Unfortunately, I have not found any prominent “Prophetic Realism” Christians who battle the nationalistic anti-evolution movement. Christians should be more concerned about Christians supporting the anti-evolution movement or being silent, than atheists who rightly oppose Christian nationalism.

    Do you agree?

    Comment by Mikhail Lomize | April 24, 2007

  3. I’m against all forms of nationalism, Mikhail. But Dawkins attacks religious faith itself. Further, he isn’t just wanting to persuade people that God doesn’t exist; he wants to generate popular opinion against religious believers so that there is at least popular prejudice and discrimination, if not legal discrimination. I think that both believers and atheists should worry about Dawkins’ scare tactics.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2007

  4. Are you saying Dawkins opposes the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” by trying to prohibit free expression of religion through discrimination against religious creeds in hiring, etc.?

    Atheists like Dawkins promote the definition of faith as “something that cannot be supported by collaborative investigation.” Even some Christians promote this view. There’s nothing new here.

    Dawkins is correct in his analysis that it is unfruitful to view God as a big man in the sky like Santa Claus. Some Christians erroneously have this view of God. However, the Bible does not describe God as a big man in the sky, but rather describes God as love, truth, etc. Love is the creative life-giving power of God. Truth is the physical and social laws of the universe. In these terms, if a person believes in truth and love, that person by definition believes in God, whether they acknowledge it or not.

    Many Christians throughout history have supported this view by talking about God in terms of ideas that are consistent with science and logic (natural law, prime mover, etc.). Recently, many Christians have lost their way due to the anti-evolution movement.

    As I understand, the way Dawkins talks about faith is not hostile to the idea of faith in democracy, capitalism or that a better world is possible. Faith in a lifestyle can be supported by collaborative investigation. I do not think Dawkins would disagree. Since faith that God is like Santa Claus is not Biblical and this type of faith is easily abused by nationalistic interests, Christians should be more upset with Christians than atheists about the misrepresentation of faith. (Note: the Bible calls for judgement only within the Christian community)

    Comment by Mikhail Lomize | April 24, 2007

  5. Misha, Dawkins is British, so I have no idea how he feels about the U.S. First Amendment. But I have heard him interviewed several times on the BBC. He’s not opposing “Santa Claus” faith. He sees all faith in God as de facto “Santa Claus” faith. He thinks that belief in God should disqualify a scientist, for example. He is very anti-natural law and Prime Mover–and an Aristotelian Prime Mover is very different from the biblical view of God.

    I think you are giving Dawkins far too much benefit of the doubt. Other atheists, like E.O.Wilson, for instance, think that they can teem up with Christians to do useful things like promote evnironmental protections. But Dawkins has said that believers ARE the problem. Period. He makes no distinctions between fundamentalists and more sophisticated believers. In fact, Dawkins’ view is a form of scientific fundamentalism, fully as narrow as anything in the Religious Right. He’s a mirror image.

    And, I have not “judged” him. I have warned folks that his views are dangerous–and to his fellow atheists as much as to Christians.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2007

  6. You’ve made a good case.

    Comment by Mikhail Lomize | April 24, 2007

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