I've been reading with interest this week a feature on the BBC news site regarding Richard Dawkins (maybe you've heard of him...?) and his support for banners on buses, saying "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life".
Jason Clark, my pastor, wrote a good blog on this, but I have felt I need to add my response here. I deliberately waited a few days before responding, so that my response was an emotionally driven one without consideration or thought. That would just play into the hands of the sceptics.
I want to look at the quotes of Richard Dawkins in particular and the banners itself, to analyse what they are saying exactly, discussing the validity and truth of it, finally my overall response to what they are saying.
Here's the quote in full...
Professor Dawkins said: "Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride - automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children.Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion."
I find these comments very interesting.
'Thinking is anathema to religion'.
In other words, religion is opposed to, dislikes and likes to seperate itself from thinking.
I have no problem if people want to be atheists. It their free choice to decide what they believe. In some ways they are people of great faith. To believe that this is all some random accident and there is no god of any kind whatsoever anywhere takes a lot of faith.
But Richard Dawkins is effectively saying here, in language not all will understand, that religion is opposite, different and totally opposed to thinking.
What a naive, ignorant and ill-thought out comment. I find it hard to respect someones opinion when it so poorly thought through and researched.
There is great irony in what he says. Richard Dawkins is starting to effectively be made a representative of all atheists on the world, the symbol of atheism. He clearly implies there is nothing religious about atheism at all.
True, atheism is not an institutionalised religion. But the people who believe in the docterines of atheism are effectively religious.
I looked up the definitions of the word 'religious'. One of them is the following...
"A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion"
The cause? Atheism. Principle? There is no god whatsoever and this is all there is. Activity? Promoting this idea and living according to its values.
So in that sense certainly, atheism is a religion. In all seriousness, did the clearly intelligent Richard Dawkins not know that? Can he not see the irony in a prominent atheist saying that thinking is anathema to religion?
It makes no sense to me.
No, thinking compliments religion.
For example, as a Christian I ask questions of the Bible. I study it, and I listen to what God is speaking to me through it. I think about what it means here, today, now in our culture. I talk to God honestly and frankly in prayer about what He's saying to me, and engage with Him not just emotionally and spiritually, but also intellectually.
The mind is as much a place to interact with God as the emotions, and this is what Richard Dawkins fails to see.
The other point on this is that I don't actually believe that following Jesus is about religion. That misses the point. Jesus calls us to a way of life, a set of values, to orientate our lives around the type of culture, values and way of life He showed us and taught about, and is taught about in the Bible.
Religious might a way to describe it. But following Jesus is bigger and better than any religion.
Richard Dawkins is being very ignorant with his comments in my opinion, clearly only seeking publicity and attempting to cause controversy. His comments display a lack of knowledge and total ignorance of what religion, including and especially true Christianity, is all about.
Then there are the comments about 'unearned respect'. Who respects the church today? Its is less respected, valued, loved than ever before. It is more marginalised by our consumer culture than ever. Only 1% of people in this country are regular church goers, and Christians are constantly under attack or victims of cynicism.
Yes, the church is not entirely without blame here, dividing and arguing publicly over issues which aren't the most important, rather than uniting behind the ones that matter and unite us. But 'unearned respect'? Its just another ignorant and poorly thought-through comment.
Just because he wrote a best-selling book on atheism and on why the idea of god isn't real, he appears to see himself as the prominent 'expert' on all things religious and atheist.
That he isn't, not judging by these comments.
The idea of brainwashing children is even worse. We as Christians all know this is not what happens, and it displays callousness and ignorance on an even grander scale. Its controversy for the sake of publicity, and it displays unbelievable ignorance.
The question appear to be, is it really worth our time and energy even engaging with a man like this?
Yes it is.
Because God loves this man and wants him to know Him. We're called to do the same. We need to engage with him, challenge him, face him with the reality of God and ask him to allow himself to be spoken to by God.
There is hope for everyone.
As for the banners, well, to be honest, I think the idea that we can relax because there's probably no God is a total lie.
For me, and I suspect a lot of non-religious people deep down, the idea of there being no God at all to cry out to when things are at their blackest, nowhere else to turn to when all is lost, is scarier than the idea that there might actually be a God.
That is an argument atheists might use against religious people. That its a crutch because we're too scared to live with the truth.
I disagree, its not because I'm scared to live with the idea that there is no God, there's plenty of evidence to support it if you want to believe that. But because I don't want to live a life without God, when there is plenty of evidence to suggest there is - from the Bible, from science, in creation, from my own experience and those of people I know.
There's much more to fear and worry about if there isn't a God, than if there is. Especially if you are a follower of His.
May we all know that following Jesus and thinking are complimentary, that thinking is part of being a follower of Jesus.
May we understand that following Jesus is a way of life, much more than a religion.
May we realise that the idea that there isn't a God is much scarier than the idea that there is.
Let us remember that we are not alone.
God is with us.