Culture: Thoughts on Dawkins and Pell
For those not distracted by the Twitter ticker (take home phrase: "ideological cosmos"), last night's Q&A offered some insight into the thinking of two men: Catholic Archbishop George Pell and scientist and atheist/agnostic/non-theist/non-believer Richard Dawkins.
I found the program discombobulating, particularly as the Catholic views held by Pell are conflated with Christianity as a whole and they don't necessarily equate. Protestant thought is quite different to the Catholic rule of thumb, though we both believe in the same God and His son.
But my disappointment reached a crescendo when Katherine Shen dared to ask Dawkins, "As an atheist, do you believe that people should believe in God for emotional support, even if temporarily? After all, research has proven that people who believe in God has a better chance of surviving serious illnesses such as cancer and those that attend Church live longer. Couldn't believing in God be beneficial for our physical well-being, even if God is an illusion?"
The question was immediately dismissed as trivial.
And therein lies the problem with so much elitist discussion and Dawkins' snobbish brand of public discourse: it strips away at the dignity of the human being. It is rude and irritable and dismissive and oppressive and smug. It shuts down conversation and shuts out anyone whose intellectual mettle is not up to scratch, centralising its power in the hands and minds of a self-satisfied few in which they stew.
And, yes, it really is quite like the priestly nature of the Catholic church, and any church in which power is protected for its own sake or wielded to laud it over others thereby elevating a few, or one, over the rest... where priest does not tread the boards at the level of his parishoners, where pastor thinks himself too holy to associate with his congregation.
Jesus railed and raged against this state of affairs, incorporating laymen into his ministry to make that point quite clear. Faith in God is no scapegoat for the grandiose and self-important; that's "religion".
It's a terrible shame that this debate between Christians and atheists might be reduced to point-scoring and suspicion and mutual loathing instead of a civil exchange of ideas, which could benefit mankind as a whole. Understanding is the key to a peaceable and respectable humanity, after all. Why this obsession with winning? Who really benefits from that?
We have reason to respect and learn from those who have extraordinary abilities in all fields of life. Dawkins' sheer intellect is a marvel (and I'd say a reason to think on the possibilities for the mind as created by God and also of science, through which we come to know more about creation and of God). I am not familiar enough with his concepts to critique him on his body of work, but I appreciate that he is a man of significant achievements.
But to bring oneself – and one's work – into disrepute because you despise what others think, or think it not worthy of contemplation, is to cast a cloud over your own work. Perhaps this is a post-modern predicament; a necessary evil of the age of the 'talking head' whereby a man or woman's work is not permitted to stand on its own but is tainted by the man's faults and lesser attributes.
Moments of lucidity and understanding break through the clutter to deliver all of humankind with great benefits, such as Einstein's theory of relativity. But, as Dawkins himself notes, there are uncertainties, inexplicables that cannot be explained away by the reasoning of men, more particularly those with agendas that stray from goodness in its essence. Thus depending on them to "deliver us" is unwise (see Pol Pot, Hitler...). Men are fallible; God is not.
That "Why?" is a stupid question, as Dawkins posited, is also very odd. Curiosity, the wish to know and understand and reason, is a driving force for humanity; it speaks of our integrity. The ability to find things out for ourselves is one of the most satisfying aspects of being human; our personal 'evolution' from infant to adult, is what propels us forth (though, yes, some of us do have the occasion to get stuck). To learn, to grow, to think are all God-given things.
But knowledge for its own sake can be dangerous (think nuclear weapons). The thirst for knowledge is what drove Adam and Eve to betray God, thus leaving behind their humble and happy existence with the creator in exchange for a world they could not comprehend; one that will confound us to the end but whose challenges also create opportunities for us to get up out of bed.
Why do anything, indeed? Because in each of us, if it has not been stamped out by other men or deadened over time by worldly woes, is this will, this necessity, to survive and further ourselves and usher in a more pleasant world. That is part of the Great Commission. And it's a fundamental part of Christianity: blind faith would fly in the face of an almighty God who wishes for us to know Him and to know ourselves.
The Bible has maintained its authority and integrity, though men have abused and manipulated its contents for their own gain over the past 2000 years. Christianity, when unhindered by the motives of men, is ordered, logical and life-giving, like God himself.
It does not laud it over us but invites everyone in – tradesman, academic, student, scientist – to use their reason, their common sense, their imagination, all their human faculties, for the getting of wisdom, the furthering of the Kingdom and simple, joyful daily living.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these," said Jesus, knowing full well how maturity can rob us of the simple ability to believe what we do not see. "Daughter, be of good cheer! Your faith that has made you well," he told the woman who touched his robe.
"Couldn't believing in God be beneficial for our physical well-being, even if God is an illusion?" Yes, Katherine, it could.
Bruises all round in Pell-Dawkins street fight by Neil Ormorod @ Eureka Street
Questions without answers in a Kingdom of Whatever by Scott Stephens @ The Drum
Faith built on belonging, not debate by Scott Cowdell, The Australian Financial Review
Girl With a Satchel