The Measured Rationalism of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins on the Pope

from "Papal Visit: Is Richard Dawkins Turning into Ian Paisley"
Jenny McCartney

And yet something about the style in which Dawkins has been pursuing his campaign reminds me of Paisley in the vehemence of his youth. Of late, Dawkins has moved away from the defence of science, and towards attacks upon religious belief. The reckless showman in him is outstripping the ardent rationalist, just as in Paisley it regularly held the theologian hostage.

Earlier this year, Dawkins described Pope Benedict – among other, worse accusations – as “a leering old villain in a frock… a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part”. He added that he was the most appropriate head for an “evil, corrupt organisation”. There was later some talk, mercifully abandoned, of performing a citizen’s arrest during the visit to Britain. . . .
I am neither a creationist nor a Catholic, but the Pope-bashing jars. As a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I abhorred the Paisleyite stunts, not least because they caused distress to many decent people, and fanned a dangerous climate of hysteria. The same arguments apply today. Dawkins’s views are both defensible and debatable, but the means in which they are delivered does his acute intelligence little credit, and increasingly suggests “a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part”.

A couple of years ago, Dawkins lent his name to the oddly constructed atheist slogan: “There is probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” There is enough doubt in that “probably” to warrant at least dropping the hectoring tone. Perhaps Mr Dawkins should take a lesson from Mr Paisley, learnt so very late in life, and turn down the volume.

Yes, that certainly sounds like the coolly considered thoughts of a rationalist.  And evil?  From an atheist.  It would seem to me that evil in an Dawkinsian atheist context is an extremely difficult concept that really boils down to, "what I don't like."

Now,  I'm no great fan of Pope Benedict XVI.  I find him too distant and too chilly at times.  But then, that is in comparison to his predecessor and not really a fair and objective evaluation--just an impression.  Nevertheless, I am impressed with his intellect, his spiritual focus, and his ability to lead through the dark waters of this present difficult time for the Church. And I find Dawkins so over-the-top that I wonder whether he isn't enacting some sort of bombastic satire, proclaiming things that not even he can believe for effect.  But alas, I think it is not so.

I have no beef with atheists--those who believe there is no God.  Their faith is as stunning and as profound as those of us who hold that one does exist.  But how is this sort of hate-mongering any better than what he claims for religion itself.  Wouldn't the rational approach be to model how the church should behave--to point out the grave moral flaws and rational lapses in all charity and in the spirit of kindly atheist love and humanity?  The truth is, that there is something in faith, pro or con, that tends to bring out in some people the very worst aspects of who they are.

I encounter atheists and agnostics daily who are smart, thoughtful, kind, and gentle people.  Naturally, I think they would be better off if they believed in God, but I also think that they model how all people of faith should work to interact with one another.


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