TGD – Frustrated by Chapter 2

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.

5 Responses to “TGD – Frustrated by Chapter 2”

  1. Deacon Nathan Allen Says:

    The ‘polytheism of Mary’ argument really is silly, isn’t it: it would be as if someone were to assert that Britain and the Commonwealth have many different sovereigns because there is a Queen of England, a Queen of Scotland, a Queen of Canada, a Queen of Australia, a Defender of the Faith, a Duke (not Duchess) of Normandy in the Channel Islands, a Lord (not Lady) of Mann on the Isle of Man, and so forth. But all refer to the same person, Queen Elizabeth II. In the same way, Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, and so forth are all the same person. It’s such an elementary mistake it becomes hard to take anything such a person writes thereafter seriously.

  2. Brian M Says:

    1. I think you missed the point here, obviously Catholics do not consider Mary, angels, or their many Saints to be actual deities- but to a religious outsider who is not indoctrinated, that is obviously what they are. Deities most commonly refer to supernatural beings with special powers- given this common understanding of the term, the father, son, holy spirit, Mary, hundreds of saints, thousands of angels, Satan and demons are all deities. So Catholicism is really a polytheistic religion, unless you redefine deity to whatever special definition Catholics use to sidestep this blunder (which is not a legitimate reply to the above criticism by the way, radically redefining terms to suit your argument is a logical fallacy).

    About your other comments concerning the composition of this chapter, I must agree- he was ‘all over the place.’ One important thing to keep in mind is that he’s approaching this from the perspective of a scientist, and is therefore largely unconcerned with the intricacies of theology. He wants evidence, evidence, evidence- not linguistic or mental gymnastics. So from that perspective, the idea of trinity is so incomprehensible and unsupported as to warrant immediate dismissal.

  3. Ken Crawford Says:

    Brian, the Catholic view is that all power comes from God. Mary has no special powers other than the power of prayer that every human has. The same is true of the Angels. So by the definition of deities you’ve provided, none of them are deities.

    You’re welcome to comment further, however, one caution: there is no value in using the word indoctrinated, so please stop. It’s a statement presuming intent/understanding of others, a fools errand. While it has a more refined definition, in practice, it’s little more than a way to call people stupid.

    Argue the particular points you want to make and how Catholics are incorrect, but stick to the points, not to attacking someone’s intellect, and I will do the same.

  4. Brian M Says:

    Apologies Ken.
    -Unless I’m mistaken, the divine powers of angels are documented in several cases throughout the Bible. In the old testament they wiped out entire armies, in the new they were mostly content to glow. As it’s commonly used, deity doesn’t necessarily mean ultimate power (or even significant power). In Greek Mythology, Hestia kept the fireplace on Olympus warm- not really that awesome. But people prayed to her and revered her nonetheless, just as Catholics do with Mary and the Saints. I guess my question then is, what is the difference between Hestia and Mary? How is one considered a deity, and the other isn’t (try to do this from an outsiders perspective, as if you were merely categorizing the two, then I think you’ll see Dawkin’s point).

  5. Ken Crawford Says:

    Brian, I know very little of Hestia or most of Greek Mythology, so I’d have a hard time answering that question as it is asked, but let me try to address the larger question of what separates polytheism from Christianity.

    In polytheism, each deity is independently minded. They can act independently and with different motives. There are stories of them joining together and stories of them fighting each other. They are independent of one another.

    In Christianity there is only one God, so all the power of God is unified in nature. The fact that the Angels wield that power is entire at the discretion of God… it is not the Angels’ own power and they can not wield it without God’s agreement.

    Similarly, the Trinity, although spoke of as three entities that can in some way be separated, their will can not be separated. They are of one will and one power. They are one. It is by definition impossible for them to be in conflict because they are one.

    And to reiterate the point, Mary has ZERO power that your average human being doesn’t have. She can hear prayers as any human in heaven can and can pray herself. It is merely her closeness to Christ that makes it that so many wish her to pray for them.