Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is Richard Dawkins a tad confused?

I've avoided commenting on the whole "Christianophobia" debate thus far, mainly because I think protesting about "wintervals" and the demise in school nativity plays is the kind of thing that makes Christians look slightly absurd - in much the same way as I regularly despair of that group of people in the Church of England who think the biggest issue facing Christians today is not injustice, or poverty, or climate change, but homosexuality.

However the recent intervention on the issue by the UK's most well-known atheist Richard Dawkins has finally compelled me to put finger to keyboard.

Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, claims to be a "cultural Christian" who, far from wanting to marginalise Christian traditions and "purge our society of its Christian history," is quite happy to take part in some of them himself.

He then comes out with the quite remarkable statement, for someone of his stated views: "I like singing carols along with everybody else."

Let's look at the words of some of those carols for a moment. How about:

"Christ by highest heaven adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord"
(Hark the Herald Angels Sing.)


"Not in that poor lowly stable
With the oxen standing by
We shall see him, but in heaven
Set at God's right hand on high."

(Once in Royal David's City)


"Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning,
Jesus to thee be glory given,
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing....
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord"
(O Come All Ye Faithful)

There is no doubt what all these carols are saying - that Jesus is the Lord of creation, or in the words of St John, the eternal Word who was not only with God in the beginning, but who was God.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that Richard Dawkins likes singing carols, glad that someone who has been as militantly anti-Christian as he has even celebrates Christmas at all.

But as he sings them again this Christmas, I hope he can reflect on what they really mean - and maybe ask himself again the question "....and is it true, this most tremendous tale of all?"

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The Secret Person said...

I am sure Dawkins is convicted enough in his atheism to be able to sing songs, traditional songs he grew up with, and enjoy them, without believing what they say. Despite claims that atheists are as dogmatic as the religious Dawkins won't feel he has blasphemed against any atheist principle just through uttering these words.

It is good that he has admitted to being a cultural Christian, we all are. Pretending that we atheists are some how more logical and cleverer and not a product of a historically Christian society is crazy.

Happy Christmas

Toque said...

I'm an aetheist and I like Christmas carols.

But then I also like singing Under the Bridge by the Chill Peppers and I'm not a heroin addict.

I also like Baa Baa Black Sheep even though I don't have anything against King Richard III's 1275 export tax on wool.

I would suggest that most people who hear or sing Christmas carols (most songs actually) reflect very little upon the meaning of the lyrics.

The Secret Person said...

Baa Baa Black Sheep, Toque? That's not very PC.

Paul Linford said...

It's also not Richard III - at least not in 1275.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

I'm afraid I think it more likely that Dawkins was just trying to sound moderate and reasonable to appeal to his audience. He has a long history of changing his position to appeal to whoever he is talking to, David Cameron-like.

While it would be nice to think that he could have his "Road to Damascus" moment, I don't think it very likely.

Still, as Jesus once said, "With God all things are possible!"

Anonymous said...

Sorry to interrupt, but there was a festival in the middle of winter long before Christianity, so I don't think anyone here can claim first dibs.

What next? Dawkins is partial to the odd Easter egg, but isn't having any of this crucifixion and resurrection malarkey?

That's probably just as well. The goddess Oestre and her followers would be terribly upset at such a display of hypocrisy.

Toque said...

Via Google I learn that is was Edward I.

Which just goes to prove my point - we don't have a clue what or who we're singing about most of the time.

Anonymous said...

I think it was the "Sally" Army who said "Why should the devil have all the go songs"

Similarly I think Dawkins could make a similar argument here.

Better than that useless cow Polly Toynbee having a go over Denominational Schools at the weekend. Nu Lab screw up the secondary schools and it as to be somebody else fault.

Letters From A Tory said...

Like Dawkins, I'm not remotely religious but some of my values are very similar to the Christian faith - importance of marriage, focus on the family etc.

Christian traditions have formed the spine of this country and despite not being Christian, I would still defend those values.

James Higham said...

Dawkins is a complete and utter f-wit. Excuse my French, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Unusually for a scientist, Dawkins does not go on to ask why does he enjoy singing carols? Memories of happy childhood Christmases, or answering a deeper spiritual need that lurks even within him?
I wouldn't go quite so far as to call him an f-wit, but The God Delusion was a confused, hysterical rant - even having a pop at agnostics for not going the full atheistic mile. I think he was trying to write the book Douglas Adams would have written - hence the leaden attempts at humour.
If anyone is looking for a suitable Christmas present for the atheist in their life, try God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens - far better written and more cogently argued, although he still takes the occasional cheap shot at the Abrahamic religions.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't say I'm an athetist - it implies I have a relationship with the concept of God. It would be like me defining myself as a unicorn denier.

I'm not saying its a good thing, but I think a lot of people's lives have no spirtual side whatever. I couldn't ask any of my friends about their religious beliefs seriously, and if I did I think they would all say they didn't think about it.

I still think I can enjoy a carol though!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Above deleted comment was this one with a crucial word omitted!

Don't you think you're reading just a tad too much into this? If you sing a song it hardly follows that you believe in (or even agree with) what you're singing! I take it you've never sung along with 'Santa Claus is coming to town' ;-)!

Cyberleader said...

Toque -

"But then I also like singing Under the Bridge by the Chill Peppers and I'm not a heroin addict."

The comparison for me is that its more like a Glasgow Rangers fans singing about his love for Celtic.

I think as Pauls highlighted its the lyrics that make the difference.

I think Dawkins has let the side down here.

Anonymous said...

Let the side down? Maybe he missed a memo from Atheist Central.

This is not new, for several years Dawkins has patiently explained that decorating a tree and wishing a genial Merry Christmas is not a sign of back-sliding into theism - just normal joining in with the mid-winter festival without making am ideological issue of it.

Apparently some people just can't see that.

Merry Christmas to all.

Anonymous said...

Great to have Dawkins after having those all those thousands of religious folk whose want us to believe in coming back to life floating up to heaven, virgin births etc lead by men of course making rules that suit them ...excluding women from power, wives galore, doing as your husbands wants or let him rape you as he requires, cover up or stoning people to death and you are making fun if Dawkins?