Monday, March 23, 2009


“So then, you are inexcusable – every man of you who judges. For in what you judge the other, you’re condemning yourself, for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).

The deeper Dawkins gets in his argument against God, the farther he leaves calm reason behind. Reminds me of the story of the preacher who, at various points in his sermon outline, placed this note in bold print: ARGUMENT WEAK HERE. SHOUT!

In chapter 7, “The ‘Good’ Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist,” Dawkins attacks the Bible, any ethical code derived from it and those of us so foolish or ignorant as to attempt to live by its ethics.

He tells us that “there are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living. One is by direct instruction … The other is by example.” That makes sense, but then he goes on to tell us “any civilized modern person … would find … this system obnoxious” (page 269). Then he says, “Those who base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it” (page 270).

I suppose Dawkins uses his ad homonym arguments to protect himself from ever having to have a dialog with anyone who takes the Bible seriously. He does like some “Christians” whom he refers to as those “whose beliefs are so advanced” (page 269) that most of us wouldn’t recognize them as such. Dawkins is a bit inconsistent here, as elsewhere he deplores people who use such god-talk.

In the section on the Old Testament, he takes off on some hilarious rants, not only against the Scriptures, but also against modern-day prophets who try to read the Old Testament into present day disasters. I tend to agree here, as well as with some of his parodies of the morals of Old Testament saints.

What Dawkins doesn’t seem to understand (or care to) is that the Old Testament gives honest reports of the exploits, moral and immoral, of the saints. Not every act of Noah, Abraham or Lot is commended in the Bible. They are rather "examples of grace." The problem is that many Christians don’t understand this either.

Dawkins can’t understand God’s jealously, which he says “resembles nothing so much as sexual jealousy.” However, I disagree when he says, “of the worst kind” (page 276). Dawkins refuses when critiquing the Bible to take its perspective – that God exists and that man continually strays from Him. Dawkins judges from what he calls “our modern sense of values” (page 279). A jealous God of course, makes no sense to one who doesn’t believe in any God at all.

He states his thesis over and over “that modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible” (page 279, also pages 267, 283, 284, 289). He’s right about that! But the morality of many does!

When he gets to the New Testament, Dawkins gets even more spiteful. He seems to sympathize somewhat with Jesus’ ethics although he dislikes Jesus’ call to exclusive discipleship, which, of course, couldn’t make sense if Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be (page 284).

Dawkins really lets his venom loose on the doctrine of the atonement (page 284) which, of course, he says, “no good person should support.” It is a “new injustice, topped off by a new sadomasochism whose viciousness even the Old Testament barely exceeds” (page 285). He can’t understand why “a religion should adopt an instrument of torture and execution as its sacred symbol …”

So what’s new? Dawkins isn’t alone in this, nor should we expect anything different from him. Paul replied to these rants nearly 2000 years ago, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God … But we preach a crucified Christ – a stumblingblock to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks …” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23).

He really shows his ignorance of Scripture when he takes off on the commandment to “Love thy neighbor.” He claims this “meant only ‘love another Jew’” and that “Jesus limited his in group of the saved strictly to Jews …” (page 287 ff). This is, of course, an interpretation from ignorance. Apparently Dawkins has never read the Bible he claims to refute. The command is given in Leviticus 19:18 and is specifically extended to non-Jews in 19:34. Jesus applied it in this way in His parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-19). (See STRANGERS AND ALIENS.) I must confess I chuckled at a quote “Jesus would have turned over in his grave if he had known that Paul would be taking his plan to the (gentile) pigs …” (page 292). Well – no! (1) Jesus sent Paul on that mission and (2) Jesus wasn’t in the grave anyway!

I don’t wish to deal with all Dawkins’ rants. I’ve heard many of them before from people I’ve talked to. One doesn’t have to be a brilliant scientist to rail against God – anyone can.

On page 298, Dawkins shifts gears to the “Moral Zeitgeist,” which he tells us on page 301 is German for “spirit of the times.” Dawkins really seems to be sincere when he tells us that “there is a consensus about what we do as a matter of fact consider right and wrong: a consensus that prevails surprisingly widely” (page 298). He seems to believe that there is a constant movement toward improvement, at least in what he terms “enlightened societies.” Apparently Mr. Dawkins doesn’t read his newspapers or watch the TV news. I don’t see much, if any improvement in people’s moral behavior. Possibly he’s thinking about statements of morality and not actual behavior, as with his ethical dilemmas in the previous chapter. There is a big difference between what people say and what they would do.

In the last section of this chapter, Dawkins attempts to answer the question, “What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren’t they Atheists?” His answers are full of irony, even laughable. He really wants to believe that every day and in every way things are getting better and better, especially as we move farther away from a belief in God. Hitler and Stalin represent “some appalling reversals” in this progress (page 308). He admits that those guys “were, by any standards, spectacularly evil men” (page 309).

His solution is that even if they were Atheists (and Stalin certainly was), they didn’t do their nasty things because of their atheism (as religious people do nasty things because they’re religious).

But wait – maybe Hitler was a Christian! If Dawkins can demonstrate that, then there’s no problem here. Hitler’s language was ambiguous, sometimes sounding religious, sometimes irreligious. While Dawkins elsewhere berates those of the religious right for claiming our founding fathers as Christians, here he wants to claim Hitler as one. Elsewhere Dawkins claims Jefferson as an atheist despite his religious talk, but here he claims that Hitler was a Christian despite his irreligious talk. It seems that Dawkins, like those preachers he condemns, plays fast and loose with history in order to place people on whatever side he chooses. You can’t eat your cake and have it too, Richard.

I have three more chapters to read. I hope I make it!

Bill Ball

1 comment:

Canadian Atheist said...

You should give Sam Harris's book The Moral Landscape a read. I think you'd probably like it and he's a neuroscientist.

Good job. Lots of parts I disagreed with you on, but I like your style. Nicely done, Bill.