It is child’s play to denounce a subject by pointing to the myriad ways in which it may be misapplied; misuse and misapplication are rife in all areas of human understanding: politics, science, education, medicine, religion. But it is faulty logic to conclude that this is necessarily the fault of the set of ideas being traduced. I attended a primary school where the strap was still applied. Does it follow that I should not have attended primary school? Is psychiatry a bad thing because schizophrenics were once made to take bromide?
Next the seraph gently takes Dawkins to task for his breezy disregard for – some might say ignorance of – serious theology. You cannot criticise a theory until you have made some proper attempt to come to grips with it, and Dawkins hasn’t; or doesn’t show us that he has tried. He overlooks the big theologians altogether in favour of some pretty low-key, unknown figures.
His account of the Bible is equally undiscriminating. For a start, only religious nutcases take the Creation story literally; it is not a new or radical supposition that even the first readers of Genesis would have been aware of its symbolic nature – or rather, would have distinguished between the fact of fact and the fact of fiction, a distinction that escapes Dawkins, who appears to have no concept of the “reality” of a thought, and only a very immature concept of the “reality” of a play, novel or poem. (As I used to ask students, is Hamlet real?)
Nor is the Bible “a book” but, as the affable seraph points out, a miscellany of stories, letters, polemic, histories, fables and certainly some great moral teachings, as well as some outmoded and unacceptable social prejudices.
Therefore, it is perfectly respectable to “pick and choose” when reading the Bible, something that Dawkins takes Christians to task for. As for the pseudo-history of the Gospels: “history” wasn’t invented when they were written. “History”, as we know it, is a wholly modern concept. For the ancients, a history would be a mixture of reportage, received wisdom, narrative and story.
The life of Jesus is told in a series of stories to convey the essence of a life that, however you look at it, was demonstrably an influential one and continues to be so. (Where would Dawkins be without Jesus’s extraordinary impact on the Western world? Quite a bit poorer, for one thing.)
Monday, September 17, 2007
An Angelic Response to Dawkins' God Delusion
~Here's a book to put on your reading list: Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Response to the God Delusion by John Cornwell. Salley Vickers has a a book review in The Times Online