Friday, July 13, 2007

"The God Delusion" - my reaction (3)

It wasn't surprising that Dawkins' writing in "The God Delusion" upset religious people. However, Dawkins was apparently taken by surprise by the fact that a variety of atheists - who he would probably have counted on to fall in line behind him - weren't impressed with his book. In the preface to the paperback edition, Dawkins is apparently seeking to respond to their reasons for challenging him.

"You always attack the worst of religion and ignore the best." By "the best", Dawkins means exponents of "subtle, nuanced" religion like Tillich and Bonhoeffer. I don't know whether that was the sort of person the critics had in mind - or even if that is a fair summary of the point being made by reviewers, not having the offending reviews to hand.

It matters little. As far as Dawkins is concerned,
the kind of understated, decent, revisionist religion is numerically negligible. To the vast majority of believers around the world, religion all to closely resembles what you hear from the likes of (Pat) Robertson, (Jerry) Falwell or (Ted) Haggard, Osama bin Laden or the Ayatollah Khomeini. These are not straw men, they are all too influential, and everybody in the modern world has to deal with them. (The God Delusion, paperback edition, p.15)
Well, they certainly aren't straw men in the sense that they are real people. And people like Tillich and Bonhoeffer may be few and far between. But a reality check (as the McGraths often say in The Dawkins Delusion?). Are most "religious people" that you know threatening to overthrow civilisation? Certainly the ones I know aren't - and I'm one of those dangerous evangelical Christians. It's not the case for Christianity in the US either, as far as I know - yes, there are squeaky wheels, and doubtless they have more influence than Dawkins might like, but they are far from being a majority. Yes, mainstream Christians may have political opinions in the US that we consider wacky - but their Christianity is only one of their defining characteristics. Political conservatism is just as significant.

What Dawkins says in this paragraph is simply wrong. There may be few people like Tillich and Bonhoeffer - but there are also few people like the "crude rabble-rousing chancers" that he nominates, and the majority of people live their lives with little reference to their views. Arguing that literally hundreds of millions of religious people who just quietly get on with their life believe that religion is what is presented by extremists is either paranoid, badly informed or deliberately misrepresentative.

(Or evil, but I'd rather not consider that.)