"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Richard Dawkins: one can only gawk

As a small penance for my sins, I have now finished viewing atheistic scientist Richard Dawkins' two-part PBS television series on religion: The Root of All Evil? Not all the negative reviews have come from people whose religion I share or even from religious people. But outside the choir to which the show preached, the reviews have been decidedly and deservedly negative.

Perhaps the deftest is that of Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus, University of Oxford and currently lecturing at Gresham College, London. Mind you, I'm not crazy about Ward's theology; for a variety of reasons, I consider him a heretic. But I could have written Ward's review myself and wish I had.

It concludes as follows, having made the observations necessary to support the conclusion:

So why can Professor Dawkins only see the bad in religion? Why is he incapable of making an objective, “scientific”, study of it, in all its diversity? Why is he unable to make distinctions between the many different forms of religious belief? I do not know the answer to these questions, but I do know this apostle of reason, when confronted with the word “faith”, suddenly becomes irrational, careless of truth, incapable of scholarly analysis. I really think it must be some sort of virus, and I wish my colleague a speedy recovery.

That's what the show is: "irrational, careless of truth," and utterly lacking in "scholarly analysis." So why does a reputable intellectual like Dawkins think he can indulge himself in such an exercise with his reputation intact? As I've already implied, he's preaching to a choir, one that consists mostly of people with an education like his, who are largely clueless about the alternatives. He reminds me of the late film critic Pauline Kael who, upon Richard Nixon's election as President in 1972, said: "I can't understand how he was elected. I don't know anybody who voted for him." Well, there is no argument against fact.

The fact that Dawkins seems too well-insulated to grasp is that many very intelligent and humane people espouse forms of religion that do not fall prey to his criticisms. Regarding my own religion, a quotation from the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen would be apt: "Millions of people hate what they believe the Catholic Church to be. Hardly anyone hates what the Catholic Church actually is."
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