Thursday, 4 February 2010

Dawkins is right, Dawkins is wrong (part 2)

One of the issues here is quote mining - the searching out of quotes to back up an agenda even if they are taken out of context or the wider context ignored. In doing this Dawkins is applying to theology exactly the same techniques that Creationists apply to evolutionary biology.

Why wouldn't he, for example, use any of Luke 13? It's because it doesn't fit in with his agenda:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Here Jesus is saying the exact opposite of what Dawkins is trying to suggest (and indeed the Rev). The point is that in a general sense our mortality is a result of our wrongdoings BUT that doesn't mean we have the right to label people as worse sinners because they have suffered more.

Or how about John 9? Why didn't Dawkins make reference to John 9?

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Sorry Richard, but you're wrong again, and here is the reason why faithheads who weep Christian tears are indeed living out their calling. The Christian response is to weep and mourn over suffering, but it goes further than that - to try and bring comfort, help and support. Jesus healed the man and demonstrated to the discipes how to bring light into the world.

This is where Dawkins' comments stop being an interesting argument and actually become distasteful. It is widely acknowledged that Christian aid agencies are amongst the most efficient, caring and quick to respond NGOs you can find. It is also a fact that the Christian faith is all round the world motivating millions of people to offer aid in whatever means they can. What kind of person would sneer at that?

Finally, a quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks following the Asian Tsunami:

The religious question is not 'Why did this happen?' but 'What can I do to help?'


  1. Charles, thank you for another interesting post.

    I don't accept the idea that "our mortality is as a result of our wrongdoings," as you say above. All living, dies. As far as we know, there is no external connection between the suffering we receive and our actions. Meaning, God is not looking down on us to judge and direct the outcome of this or that, based on our good or bad behaviour. If a tragedy occurs, we are speaking in ignorance if we suggest that "you must have deserved that". Hence we should not be pointing at the Tsunami or Haiti and saying it was God's wish.

    Enough statements have been declared in the Bible and throughout history about God's wishes for the destruction of others. Because the sum of these statements is only harm, we conclude they are incorrect statements, and the general principle of God speaking about the harm of others is not to be accepted as the voice of a higher moral authority. Rather, it is the voice of a tribe, at a time in history.

    The position of Biblical literality becomes weaker over time as hard knowledge increases and the Biblical view of God looks increasingly like a bronze age interpretation of "why bad things happen to tribal people". They heard the heavens rumble and they ran to their tents. They prayed they would not be gored by wild beasts. They sacrificed to the heavens in the hope of rain so their primitive harvests would not fail. They were glad if their children lived. Morality developed out their sense of conscience and they projected it upwards to a higher original moral authority in the heavens.

    It is the exclusivity of faith that needs to be excised. The interpretation of this or that story, held as sacred, and insisted upon to the point of rejecting others as evil, is counter to true religion. True religion is looking after widows in their distress. True religion is not hating others to destruction because they don't hold your viewpoint and God approves their end. The Christian faith is as confused as any other: it promotes the doing of good, but places centre stage this violent, God-authorised bloody sacrifice of its most important child (a curious enactment of the very practices God declared as detestable among the Gentiles in the Old Testament).

    How will Jesus determine the infidels to destroy at his coming? If my right-doing was under the shady tree of Buddha, will I be ok?

    Despite very different viewpoints, we come to the same conclusion - which is that helping others is the right thing. It is a merit in its own right, not related to any present or future reward. Let's hope that we have moved on from our tribal nature somewhat.


  2. Fred, I would totally recommend Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

    He directly looks at some of your fairly convincing statements above.

    He talks about doctrines and beliefs being springs like in a trampoline, that you have to test and stretch or they aren't doing their job. He talks of the bible being a living book because the stories within it are our stories as much as historical stories. It makes a lot of sense, you really should try and get a copy. (its free on kindle and nook this week and if you get a kindle reader for your iphone / ipod touch or a kindle emulator as I'm sure there must be one, you don't even have to pay for the book.)

    You might also find my own comments on sacrifice interesting / helpful as I believe it seems that some of what you say above comes from an understanding of God and 'sacrifice' that misses some really crucial things.

    I also think that we must be careful not to dismiss the spiritual element to helping others and 'good deeds' as purely "a merit in its own right, not related to any present or future reward" That would be "a form of Godliness but denying its power".
    Without a Relationship, that God calls us to, there actually becomes no point in altruism, it has no benefits to us, all Hope is lost. If you have nothing left but still have hope, then you are not completely lost.
    The Beattitudes speak this truth - 'fortunate are those that are so desperate that they must depend on God alone'.
    So We do 'good deeds' and help others to gain reward? Not at all. Personally, I do these things out of Joy, response, love and passion for people that comes because of God's love for me, not so that he will love me.
    He wants something FOR me, not FROM me.
    I live FROM his love, not FOR his love.
    Altruism is my response to God, not my earning or placating God.

    Please, try Velvet Elvis, if nothing else it will inform even better, grittier, more grounded debate.

    On another note, I agree that exclusivity should be excised. Christ was an invitation to God, not a prohibition from God for the people in the 'wrong club'.

    I could go on but think I've said enough.

    Thanks for sharing though, it definitely is good to wrestle with these kind of questions.


  3. Hi Fred
    We're agreed that *in general* any suffering we face can't be linked to any specific wrongdoing of ours (or anybody elses) but I still think that pain etc is a result of sin.

    What I mean is I think that the whole of the Universe is built around two key events: the fall of Adam & the sacrifice of Christ. It doesn't matter when these happened because God isn't bound by time. The point is that everything was created with these in mind.

    I also allow God the right to bring about judgement where He thinks it is right. In the end it is righteous to harm evil people (but don't think I'm a fundamentalist! I leave that decision to God, certainly not any man!) To leave the guilty unpunished & allow evil to prosper would be wrong in itself.

    Neither do I make judgments on who Jesus will call on his return, but I do say that he is the way, the truth and the life i.e. if you want to know God, get to know Jesus.

    Regarding orphans and widows: absolutely

    Thanks for the interesting discussion!



  4. Fred

    I came across a great quote from Gerard Kelly today.

    "If you see what God is really like then you will really like what you see."

    I think that when we are uncomfortable or don't like what we think we see God to be doing / not doing it's because we aren't really seeing Him for who he is.

    I'll be the first to take the blame for a lot of this on behalf of the Christian faith as we are supposed to be reflecting God and what he is like and over the years, we've done a pretty shoddy job.

    Like me, there are many people working hard to open themselves up to the spirit of God working in them to rectify this sad state of affairs and show a more accurate picture of what God is really like.

    This week's sermon from Trinity Mennonite Church by Shane Hipps also sheds some light on this idea!

    God Bless your journey (and mine)