Take That, Richard Dawkins!

Like Richard Dawkins, I don’t “believe in” the JudeoChristian God. Unlike Richard Dawkins, however, I do recognize the JudeoChristian God as a powerful psychological reality – for 2000 years, the most potent shaper of the worldview we have come to know as “western.” Like Richard Dawkins, I am no longer a devotee of any religion as conventionally understood; but unlike Richard Dawkins, I recognize religion, too, as a reality, as a real behavior performed by real human beings. Unlike Richard Dawkins, I have taken the time to study God the Symbol and the religion which has grown up around him. Not surprisingly, I have come to very different conclusions about religion – beginning with its definition.

[I]n Dawkins’ precise [sic] definition, religion entails “believing in some kind of supernatural, intervening consciousness. If you let go of the supernatural, then it is not religion.” (Chris Floyd, A Trick of the Light: Richard Dawkins on Science and Religion, in Science and Spirit)

But why should we take Dawkins’ definition seriously. By his own admission, he knows nothing about religion. He has not taken the time to study it – either religion in general or the particulars of his own culture’s specific religious system (Christianity) — the one, by the way, which has provided the worldview which has made science possible and which has had a hand in forming his own psyche. But in his infinite arrogance born of infinite ignorance, he, Richard Dawkins, can tell us exactly what religion is (a belief in “some kind of supernatural, intervening consciousness”) and what it is not (“if you let go of the supernatural, then it is not religion”).

Of course, there have been many religions which had no belief in the supernatural, but Dawkins wouldn’t know that; he’s never looked into it. All pagan religions, for example, more or less understood creation as a birth from the womb of an immanent nature – the creation being “of one substance with the mother.” The move from a worship of immanence (material reality) to transcendence was one of the big hurdles the Hebrew cult had to get over. And no Christian theologian has ever been able to explain how a Spirit God created a material world. They just gave up and declared that He did it – ex nihilo.

At any rate, most theologians and other students of religion define religion very differently from Dawkins: For example, in an effort to explain communism as a type of religion, Paul Tillich defined religion as one’s “ultimate concern.“ Others define religion as a system of belief or a set of morals. Still others as a “worldview.” At any rate, since all human societies we know anything about have had religious systems at their core – whether or not a supernatural entity was or is involved – it should be obvious that religion plays a critical, if yet unknown, role in the formation and establishment of human social systems, making it a far more complex and challenging subject of study than Dawkins is willing to admit.

Given the fact that humanity is causing so many problems in the world and human nature is still such a mystery to us humans, God and religion, both being artifacts of human nature, could therefore provide keys to its mysteries. It seems to me a forgone conclusion that both religion (and God) should be taken seriously and looked into, not cavalierly dismissed. Given the number of its adherents and the zeal with which people believe, religion is still possibly the most powerful social and psychological force at work in the human species. Therefore, it would seem the rational approach would be to want to understand religion; it would seem that that famous scientific curiosity would drive scientists not to dismiss religion, not to ridicule it, but to understand the source of its power – and in doing so, perhaps learn a little about themselves and their culture. But, I’m afraid, something less noble is at work.

The fact that scientists such as Dawkins are acting so irrationally, so unscientifically, leads one to believe that they have a dog in this fight – that it is not humanity’s propensity to generate systems of values which they disagree with, but a particular system of values, a system of values which threatens their own beliefs, which enrages them. Bottom line, the whole controversy comes down to a matter of power and control. For science itself and scientists themselves want to be the new priests, the new uberdeciders of what is right and what is wrong and how humanity ought to live. This, in spite of the fact that science has almost nothing to offer us in the realm of human relationships – whether it be male female relationships, relationships between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, intercultural and international relationships, the relationship between the human animal and non human animals, or the relationship between humanity and the earth.

In the past, the rules for human relationships have been the proper province of morality – and morality has been the province of religion. However, because of dramatic changes in the human social and physical environments, the moralities of yesterday no longer offer any help in solving today’s problems. On the contrary, they seem to exacerbate them. It is therefore clear that we need a new system of values to help us get ourselves out of the mess we have created. And science just might be able to offer us some help along the way. But if science, the self-proclaimed avatar of logic and reason has so little desire “to know itself” –to understand human behavior – and so basic a human behavior as religion – how can we trust it to be our guide?

In addition, Dawkins, in is righteous indignation, needs to be reminded that science is as frequently wrong as it is right – and it, too, like religion has done incredible harm. Think Hiroshima and Nagasaki, think Dresden and Cologne, think napalm, think climate change, think hormone replacement therapy. Without science, there would be no nuclear weapons, no weapons of mass destruction, no global warming, no air, water, and soil pollution – and if I had believed in the conventional wisdom of medical science and taken HRT when it was offered to me 15 years ago, I might not be alive and writing this today – but just another breast cancer statistic (but, fortunately, I have a strong sense of self preservation and I am skeptical of both science and religion). And it is not the fault of science itself which has brought these horrors into being, but the ignorant arrogance of scientists who make the mistake of religious leaders and actually believe that they alone are dealing with ultimate reality, when they, like the religious leaders they condemn, are only and always merely dealing with their limited, human, perception of reality at a given time and place. To dismiss religion out of hand as not worth their time or energy is not uncharacteristic; neither is it likely to expand their horizons.

Richard Dawkins — and his flying spaghetti monsters — is doing us all a great disservice. With some 85% of people in the world taking part in one kind of religious community or another, and the powder-keg effects of globalization (itself an artifact of science and technology) provoking explosive confrontations by bringing together opposing societies with opposing world views and opposing value systems, Dawkins, on his soapbox, calling all religious people idiots is not a positive or productive force in the world – and I am disappointed in him. I expected better.

Note: And just because you, dear reader, or I (or Richard Dawkins) no longer consciously buy into the prevailing religion in our society only demonstrates the success with which religion has so thoroughly distributed and integrated its values into all our social institutions. Our psyches have been so completely infiltrated that our social values are second nature to us. We therefore no longer need the authority of the church or an archetypal symbol like God the Father to make us toe the line.

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