The faithful are rejoicing. Praise be that the arch nemesis is on the road to Damascus! For Richard Dawkins has said at the Hay Festival 2014 that he is a secular Christian:
“I would describe myself as a secular Christian in the same sense as secular Jews have a feeling for nostalgia and ceremonies,”
Before we start suggesting this is a journey to religion or signs of the professor going dotty in old age, he has described himself in this way ever since he started his Foundation. Here for example in 2007:
Prof Dawkins, who has frequently spoken out against creationism and religious fundamentalism, replied: “I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions.
“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.
“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.
“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”
The blogger His Grace prior to this [story in Daily Telegraph] has tried to suggest that Dawkins, by belatedly adding his signature to a letter denouncing David Cameron calling Britain a Christian country, was two faced:
Not so much the attention-seeking redaction or desperate retrospective inclusion, but the fact that the eminent Professor Richard Dawkins has put his name, rather sadly, to a letter which states unequivocally that “Britain is not a ‘Christian country'”.
Because previously he has said – equally unequivocally – that Britain most assuredly is a Christian country.
Did you hear that?
[Dawkins in video:] “(The Bishop is) absolutely right – this is a Christian country: historically it’s a Christian country..”
Taking out of context what Dawkins was getting at. The extent to which we have a christian legacy impacting our politics, culturally by language, music and literature, we can describe the country as culturally Christian still. David Cameron was suggesting that our ethics and sense of morality are framed and understood by Christianity; his Easter message was one of sectarianism that has the cross in one hand and the flag in the other. That was what the letter criticizing him was getting at. Tom Holland points out that there is no real coincidence that secular countries in the world were almost exclusively Christian countries prior:
as the historian Tom Holland pointed out recently, even our secularism is, in a way, Christian: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; the separation of Church and state is an idea that first gained strength in Christianity, even if several centuries’ worth of popes weren’t too keen on rendering anything to anyone. The letter-writers are absolutely correct to say that “Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces”, but it’s silly to deny that Christian thinking has been the largest single religious/philosophical input over the last millennium and a half or so.
Lastly the above photo is from an article by Dawkins “Atheists for Jesus” in 2006 which you can read here which tries to see if we can take the niceness of Jesus without the supernatural. The photo is missing there but I managed to find a screenshot of the article from an old post by someone here. My own essay on when is a christian not a christian can be found here.
I can only assume that the recent heatwave made the media have an early silly season. The idea that atheists are so fundamentally opposed to spiritually that holy water will scold them, the crucifix will make us cower, and a carol service bring on a brain hemorrhage is ludicrous.
Update Magnetic Pull
Talking to Tom Doran on twitter after posting reminded me of this gem from Damian Thompson’s (aka @Holysmoke) article in The Daily Telegraph “Richard Dawkins Is Moving Towards Christ” where he states:
His comments may explain claims from friends in Oxford that they’ve seen someone looking remarkably like Richard Dawkins sneaking into services. But he goes a bit further. As our science correspondent Sarah Knapton reports:
Dawkins, 73, also said that he believes humans are destined to take a certain path in life, and that if they veer from it a “magnetic pull” will bring them back to their fate.
Gosh. Is this “magnetic pull” explained by the theory of evolution through natural selection (which I accept completely, by the way, having been convinced by Dawkins’s brilliant Blind Watchmaker 30 years ago)? It doesn’t strike me that way. It sounds as if it’s inspired by the Christian teaching that human beings are endowed with a conscience.
This seems to be a misquote from Dawkins’ autobiography where he uses the term discussing whether genes, education or environment had an impact on whether the man he is and things he would do:
But perhaps life has a tendency to converge on a pathway, something like a magnetic pull that draws it back despite temporary deviations. As a biochemist, might I have eventually returned to the path that led to “The Selfish Gene,” even if I had then given it a more molecular slant? Perhaps the pull of the pathway would have led me to write (again biochemically slanted) versions of every one of my dozen books. I doubt it, but this whole ‘returning to the path’ idea is not uninteresting and I shall . . . er . . . return to it.
Taking on board the contingent frailty of the event chain that led to our existence, we can still go on to ask – as I did a moment ago – whether the course of a named individual’s life is sucked back, magnetically, into predictable pathways, despite the Brownian buffetings of sneezes and other trivial, or not so trivial, happenings. What if my mother’s joking speculation were really true, if the Eskotene Nursing Home really had muddled me up with Cuthbert’s son and I had been brought up as a changeling in a missionary household? Would I now be an ordained missionary myself? I think geneticists know enough to say no, probably no.
If you read the extract from Dawkins “An Appetite For Wonder” you can see this is again a reporter trying to make up a story by misquote, with a lack of context for a sensational “revelation.”
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
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