Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dawkins 4 the Holy Spirit

I’ll confess to changing my mind about Dawkins a little as I’ve read The God Delusion. See what being exposed to the facts will do to you? If only he’d reciprocate ...

Anyway, I haven’t thrown the book across the room out of irritation, as I was expecting I might; he’s successfully convinced me he has a sense of humour and might be quite fun to talk to; and many of the points he makes are good ones that Christians should consider.

In fact there’s only been one point where I almost did throw the book across the room, because he talks from so far up his bottom that he needs to stand up to be heard clearly (assuming he hasn’t had a full meal). He makes the ludicrous, absurd, utterly preposterous claim that Jesus intended his ministry only for Jews. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.

How does he get there? By stages. First, the claim that the Ten Commandments – and indeed the entire load of OT law – were taken as just applying to Israelites; thus, ‘thou shalt not kill’ becomes ‘thou shalt not kill your fellow Israelites,’ which isn’t quite as universal. Well, fair enough; there certainly seem to have been times when the followers of the law took it that way. Then, he points out that the disciples were all Jews. Well, fancy; Jesus lived in a land that was 99.9% of one ethnicity; he never travelled on anything more advanced or faster than a donkey for short distances; and his closest followers were all local men? Astonishing. And anyway – from there, Dawkins goes on to make his claim. Jesus, the man who preached the parable of the Good Samaritan, who incurred the wrath of the establishment by his frequent mixing with gentiles ... no, I can’t even finish the sentence.

It’s a regrettable lapse, because Dawkins is actually quite complimentary about (most of) Jesus’s ministry, if only because it’s a nice contrast to the God of Wrath in the OT about whom Dawkins is not complimentary at all. Dawkins’s God of the OT isn’t – to put it mildly – very nice.

It’s another telling argument; Dawkins points out that the OT seems to tell one long story of relentless genocide in the name of a God who just loves the smell of burning blood sacrifices. How can this God possibly be a good one? Again, fair enough. Some of the OT is just horrible. No other word for it.

And I can’t explain it. No one can ever really convince me that entire nations had to be slaughtered, down to the last woman and child. It apparently happened and I’ll believe there was a purpose, but I won’t even try to explain it and I’ll look seriously askance at anyone who feels they can. But I’ll take a different path from Dawkins, who goes on from this to write off the Bible as a moral source, and God as any kind of power for good. Dawkins has cleverly indicated why we need the Holy Spirit so much.

He does, rightly, say that many Christians point at various passages as symbolic, many as factual ... but how (he rightly asks) do you pick and choose? How do you know which is which? And even while the story of Noah might be mythical and deliberately written as such, something like the fall of Jericho and subsequent extermination of the inhabitants is plainly written as history. (That last sentence was me, not Dawkins, but I think he would agree.)

So, imagine I wanted to compile a book about you. I follow you around every day of your life, with a notebook in hand, writing down what you did. Ultimately all I’d end up with would be a list of details, subject to endless interpretation. I might chuck in some correspondence with you, relate a couple of anecdotes I had heard others say ... but even so, anyone who wanted to get to know you based solely on my book would probably get it wrong. And it would probably be full of apparent glaring contradictions – ‘how could the person who did this, do this?’

And that’s a book about one human being from a specific culture at a specific point in history. Now imagine a book about an entity vastly more than just a human being who transcends human conceptions of time, space and culture. How complicated will that book be? And how baffling to those who weren’t around at the time of writing? You’ll never understand it, so don’t pretend to yourself, or insult my intelligence by claiming, that you do.

The only way to really get to know someone is to meet them. Chat to them. Strike up an acquaintance. A friendship, even. That is why, as someone I recently read commented, it’s not Father, Son and Holy Scripture. It’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and then the Bible.

Dawkins makes the point that what was so distinctive in Jesus was that his teaching didn’t come from just blindly following the scriptures. Jesus appeared to apply a bit of thought. Dawkins is very close to the truth there. In fact, Jesus got it right where so many of the religious leaders were getting it wrong because he knew the Father first. He knew what the book was likely to be saying.

I don’t know why those horrible passages are there. I find them repellent and can hardly bear to read them. But I know that like everything else in the Bible, they have to be taken in the context of everything else in the Bible. And you cannot base a morality on the Bible alone, because then you end up with the Inquisition and slavery and holy wars and ... so on. Spirit first, then Scripture – it’s the only way to go.

Concluding thoughts will come in another post, because this is already long enough.


  1. i'm sometimes frustrated by your non-commited attitude when it comes to some of these issues, but i have to say you analysed this one magnificently.
    fantastic analysis of the christian faith, and dawkin's attempt at understanding it.

    i won't try to explain the horrid passages, but having read the OT up to the psalms i have to say i've found the God of the OT is nothing but love. :)

  2. Very impressive analysis. I have to say I agree with a lot of what you wrote.

    With a bit of prompting Dawkins could have the making of a 'go for it' Christian.

    We'll have to see happens though and trust it to God.

  3. A very thought provoking series Ben. I look forward to the final instalment.


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