I finally began reading a book that has been sitting on my shelf for several months now. “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins is possibly his best known title, but not because of its attention to detail or the water-tight argument lovingly cradled within its pages.
First off, I must admit that Richard Dawkins is a masterful storyteller, and a great writer. His artistry on the page makes for a somewhat pleasurable reading experience. I can even admire the passion with which he lays out his argument that God, the supernatural deity most of us associate with either Judaism, Christianity or Islam, doesn’t exist. Never has and never will. It’s easy to see why this particular book, has been able to stir up more bad blood than we’ve seen interjected into the faith debate since the KKK were still buying sheet sets in bulk.
I get that Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in God. I get that he doesn’t even like the idea of God. But I don’t think it is necessary for Christians to reach for the garlic and a wooden stake just yet.
I’m not convinced that books such as The God Delusion will ever be serious threats to the truth of Christianity. It was only a few short years ago that The Da Vinci Code had some people believing that the Jesus cult, almost twenty centuries old was teetering on the edge of irrelevance. And what happened to Dan Brown and his master thesis after all the hype? Exactly.
Like every other Jesus conspiracy theorist before him Dawkins revels in his ability to raise the hackles of the faithful. But he has about as much faith-busting DNA in his entire argument as you’ll come across at most atheist java stand gatherings. And the unfaithful have an aversion to regular gatherings. Atheists, don’t get gold stars for showing up, and they most certainly don’t get candy for bringing a friend.
One of Dawkins stated motives for writing The God Delusion was to assist those vast hordes of wavering believers, mired in the hope of a redeeming plan for creation, shed their shackles of messianic expectation. Better to party in the glow of sardonic despondency, suggests the author, than drown in a morass of toxic holy water. He even suggests that adults who attempt to strap spiritual water wings on their children, and teach them to navigate the currents of faith as infants, should be tried as child abusers. Personally, I enjoy all the splashing about and scrambling for finger-holds that accompanies this thing called faith. Believing isn’t supposed to be easy, unless you are a seven year old, in which case it’s perfectly natural. It isn’t until we get older that we forget how to float.
If I have one problem with Delusion it’s that I can’t narrow down which of Dawkins diatribes to take aim at. Early on he rails against Stephen Jay Gould, a fellow biologist and self-proclaimed agnostic (a closet atheist, according to Dawkins, without the spherical intestitude to “come out”) for suggesting that spiritual matters cannot be adjudicated under the authority of science. Then, only a couple of pages later, Dawkins asks brazenly “What makes you think that theology is a subject at all?” Bizarre behavior coming from an author reaping the earthly rewards of writing such a noisy book on that very subject.
His unabashed whining against the sincere writings of St. Francis of Assisi and C.S. Lewis among others only seems abrasive until he takes a deep breath, fills his lungs with oxygen and angst and lets loose on the Almighty:
“Yahweh: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
And they said the Hindenburg was incendiary.
Dawkins achilles heel (highly evolved and imperfectly designed though it may be) is his inability to recognize that while he may be a celebrity in science circles, his authority as a biologist doesn’t extend into the hallowed halls of the faith conversation. That’s not to say that as a theological hobbyist his views are less legit than mine or anyone elses. I’m only saying that Dawkins focus on the laws of natural selection and genetic mutation don’t guarantee him a pass in other disciplines. If I want to know why most of the animal kingdom produces vitamin C internally, and I need to get mine out of a bottle, I ask Richard Dawkins. However, if I wish to locate the source of this prideful arrogance that keeps me from admitting I’m not God – well, I think I’ll keep looking. I’m not sure Mr. Dawkins can help me.
This isn’t the only Dawkins book on my shelf. “The Greatest Show on Earth”, his more recent work, is a wonderfully entertaining explanation of the workings of biological evolution. But while Greatest Show allowed me to scratch Richard Dawkins from my ever-morphing list of most unlikable humans on the planet, The God Delusion may result in him ending right back on my dart board next to Donal Trump’s hair stylist.