I was reading Chapter 2 last night and I was very frustrated by it. Ultimately I stopped reading about half way through the chapter because I just wasn’t getting what Dawkins was trying to say.
And let me be perfectly clear… It wasn’t that I disagreed with what he was saying, I didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. The chapter is titled “The God Hypothesis” and it’s broke down into subsections titled “Polytheism”, “Monotheism”, “Secularism, the Founding Fathers and the religion of America”, “The poverty of agnosticism” and that’s as far as I got. So I figured he’d be laying out what the basic hypothesis of polytheism, monotheism, secularism and agnosticism were, so that he could pick them apart.
But he does nothing of the sort.
The polytheism section was mostly about Christianity, trying to show how it was at least in some ways polytheistic. The monotheism section was mostly about the tax exempt status of churches (specific post on this topic coming shortly) and the secularism was mostly a bunch of quotes of selective founding fathers scoffing at religion.
And I feel bad summarizing it that way because he said a number of other things in those sections, but it’s ALL over the map. He doesn’t stick to a single point long enough to drive any meaningful point home. I didn’t much bring it up in the preface and even in Chapter 1 because I wanted to be forgiving of it since it’s common early in a book to lay out a little bit of everything and then get into each point in more detail later.
We’re in the meat of the book now and he’s still unable to stick to a single point for more than a couple sentences and I have to tease out some meta point from amongst the jumping around.
If that weren’t enough to be frustrating, those here today gone tomorrow points are often grossly misleading. I’ll give two examples:
1. In the section on polytheism, he speaks of all the names we Catholics give Mary. Our Lady of Lourdes, our Lady of Fatima, etc. and then suggests that this is an example of the polytheistic nature of Catholicism. But yet their just different names for the same person. They’re ALL MARY!?! That’s not even to get into the reality that Mary isn’t God in Catholic teaching, yet another point that he bungee jumps in and out of without any meaningful defense of his position. One could attempt to make the argument that Catholics treat Mary in a godlike fashion and, although wrong, at least have some credibility to the argument. But the splitting out of the various names given to Mary, and citing it as an example of polytheism, that’s just stupid.
2. He also speaks of the Arian heresy. For those not in the know, Arian was one of a number of heretics who didn’t believe in the Trinity and specifically that Jesus was fully God and fully Human. Again, a reasonable argument could be made against the Trinity (and Dawkins does scoff at the Trinity, but just like other topics, doesn’t make any coherent argument for why it’s wrong other than to scoff) or the dual nature of Christ. But Dawkins doesn’t even attempt to do that. All he does is characterize the Arian heresy about being about disagreements ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. While those words are indeed used in the debates over Arian heresy, it entirely misses the larger point of the theological discussion.
I guess my overall point is that it’s very hard to follow a book that’s all over the place to begin with but it’s even harder when he’s not being intellectually honest about what he’s refuting.
But I shall persevere. I think I re-start from the beginning of Chapter 2. Perhaps my reading of the table of contents had me expecting something else than what he gives and that made it harder for me to follow.