TGD – Chapter 7

As much as I have disagreed with Dawkins conclusions up until Chapter 7, I’ve found most of it to be a reasonable read. He’s been working through reasonable points, addressing relevant rebuttals, making at least some of the necessary concessions. All in all I’ve been impressed, particularly chapters 3-6.

But in Chapter 7 Dawkins loses all of his built up credibility and goes off the deep end.

For a man who’s clearly as intelligent as he is, he’s remarkably blinded by his rage against religion and how it compromises his intellect and his integrity. While he was discussing topics about advancing atheistic thoughts, as was the majority case for chapters 3-6, he was rational and reasonable. But in Chapter 7 he returns to picking on the religious and frankly falls into a rage filled tirade that is neither rational nor reasonable.

He starts off the chapter with two sections on scripture, one on the old testament and one on the new testament. These two sections are either the results of massive ignorance on his part or a purposeful desire to be deceptive. Frankly, either scenario is a discredit to him. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse when one is writing a book on the subject.

His point is that no one actually follows the moral lessons of the bible because it teaches lessons that everyone from the religious to the atheist finds abhorrent. He then cherry picks passages, both taking them massively out of context and making entirely the opposite conclusion on the lesson to be learned from those passages. At first I had intended to rebut all of them but he chose to use a shotgun approach and the work to rebut all of them is more than I care to invest. Instead I’ll pick on just one: Abraham and Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the value of obedience, even when it seems abhorrent to do so. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his cherished and only son to see how loyal Abraham is to God. When Abraham makes it clear that he’ll follow through on the command, God tells him to stop and tells Abraham it was a test that he passed.

But the key point as far as discrediting Dawkins is that sacrificing a son is fully understood to be an abhorrent thing in the scripture. I would go so far to say that this act was chosen for the story specifically BECAUSE it was abhorrent. So while Dawkins is off claiming the Bible says it’s OK to sacrifice one’s son, that exact story shows how the Bible says nothing of the sort. In fact, it reinforces the opposite.

The whole section is full of these kinds of deceptions that to the scripturally uneducated may sound plausible when they are in fact utter deceptive refuge. From confusing stating what happened with moral approval of the events to purposely misstating the point of the lessons, Dawkins shows himself to be amazingly in error. To show an example from the new testament:

Dawkins suggests that Christianity is anti-family based on the passage that states, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and siters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Now ask yourself, is Christianity anti-family? Of course not. Just by a casual observation of Christianity it’s clear that it is very pro-family. Instead of Dawkins being willing to admit that this is not the case and asking a Christian what to make of a passage like this (of which the point is that love for God must be above everything, not that we aren’t to love our families), he just continues on a rage infested tirade of deceptiveness.

I plead of all who don’t know scripture well to not take ANYTHING Dawkins says about scripture, particularly in this chapter as representative of what Jews and Christians make of scripture. Instead ask one of us who know. Feel free to leave a question in the comment box if need be, but whatever you do, don’t take his HIGHLY biased view of scripture as at all reflective of what scripture actually says. What he says is just garbage. He’s both completely wrong about what scripture says and then mistakenly assumes that means we don’t follow the bible (since it in his opinion says things it clearly doesn’t).

Don’t take his bait. Ask someone who knows.

Moving on, the third section of the chapter is titled “Love Thy Neighbor” and it starts off with a few more ridiculous scriptural examples that I think shows that Dawkins just couldn’t stop when he wrapped up his sections on the topic. But then he calms down a bit and gets to some more interesting points.

He starts off talking about religion being a divisive force but then makes a few concessions about a fair number of religious conflicts really not being about religion but about politics. He sites the example of the long lasting conflicts in Ireland. It’s an important concession, although based on future statements in the chapter I don’t think he fully absorbs the point himself.

What he goes on to say is that religion allows us to label one another and that’s one significant problem with it. He talks about how religious schools do that in particular and points to this. He admits that labeling would probably happen anyway, but still sees it as problematic. Then he goes on to talk about pressure to marry within the religion and how this furthers it.

There is some truth to his point about labels, but as he said, we’d just find different labels (and in fact we do as one can see how the “red state vs. blue state” thing works out in the US). Nevertheless, I wanted to spend a second and suggest why it is still a wise thing for people to marry within their faith. Marriage requires two people who are on the same page about so many things. Interfaith marriages, and to be clear, I mean truly interfaith, where both people believe and live by different religious convictions and not just too people who are more secular than religious but happen to come from different religious backgrounds, are without a doubt some of the most stressed marriages. I would always suggest to someone of faith that they marry within their faith, not because I’m trying to win some identity and loyalty war, but because I want people to enter into marriages where neither of them are put in a position where they must violate either their religious tenets or the vows of their marriage, which is what a true interfaith marriage will almost always require.

Having built up this crumbling foundation of “the religious don’t even follow the bible”, he continues on to his next section, titled “The Moral Zeitgeist”. His point is that morality, since based on the foundation he laid he can safely show it doesn’t come from religion, comes from society’s general consensus of the era. His proof of this is two-fold: First, that atheists share a common set of beliefs about what is moral (basically a re-statement of what he said in the previous chapter (and my rebuttal)). Second how morality has changed over time.

He talks about how things have changed. How we’ve gone from a world with slavery to a world where women can vote and are treated as equals. He spends a fair amount of time showing examples of this, but since we all agree that things have changed, I feel no need to elaborate on those examples. He is of course right that there have been many changes, but his conclusions are wrong. Despite his futile claims in the chapter that voices of the religious like Martin Luther King were no more important than “non-religious” voices like Jackie Robinson, he’s entirely wrong. Both the slavery freedom movement and the black equality movement in the 50′s and 60′s were faith driven movements and history bears this out. The woman’s right movement is a bit more nebulous, but their appeals to equality derive entirely from the Christian ideal of equality of everyone “slave or free, jew or gentile, man or woman.”

He wraps up the chapter with a section titled “What About Hitler and Stalin? Weren’t they Atheists?” and it’s a defense of the charges I made in my Chapter 6 review of the evils done by atheists, particularly in the 20th century.

His defense is that one has to not only determine whether they were atheists but also whether they were motivated by their atheism, which is true enough (in fact I wish were more willing to make the same analysis/conclusion in regards to supposedly religious evils). But oddly, he then goes on to admit that Stalin was both an atheist and also motivated by his hatred for religion, so I’m not quite sure why the above premise helps his cause.

He spends far more time on Hitler and toys with the idea that Hitler was really Catholic and pulls out some collaborating quotes. Then he backs away from it, knowing the absurdity of it. He’s used this technique a number of times now, where he suggests an idea, puts out some quotes to justify it and then backs away from it saying something like “nobody knows for sure” or “I’m not saying this was necessarily the case” and it’s as tiring as it is wasteful of his reader’s time. How about not advancing a point you’re freely going to admit can’t be justified later?

But I think it points to a bigger issue, Dawkins ability to use quotes to be deceptive. When he can drag out quotes that seem to support an idea that even he won’t support, that sound as convincing as they do, shouldn’t that make you question all the rest of his quotes?

The key point to make however is that Hitler was most definitely motivated by a popular scientific motive of the era: Eugenics. No matter how much Dawkins can try and wiggle around it and toy with the idea that Hitler was Catholic, the fact is that his largest horror was motivated by the idea of racial purity, an entirely scientific ideal of the early 20th century that was a corrupt out-growth of Darwinistic thought, that entities like the Catholic Church condemned from the get-go. I encourage anyone who wants to know more about Hitler, eugenics, WWII and the Catholic Church read “Hitler, the War, and the Pope” by Ronald J. Rychlak. It’s meticulously footnoted, backing up all of his footnotes (quite unlike TGD, by the way) and very informative. After reading it you’ll have a much better understanding of the relationship of Hilter and the Catholic Church and you’ll realize how much Dawkins is “toying” with an utterly absurd idea.

I fear for what Chapter 8 will be like as it is titled “What’s So Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?” There’s no doubt he is hostile. I just hope his explanation isn’t as ignorant and deceptive as Chapter 7.

12 Responses to “TGD – Chapter 7”

  1. Brian M Says:

    1. The Abraham Story
    You are right in saying that the story is a lesson on obedience- even Dawkin’s would probably agree with that. The reason it is a distasteful story is precisely because it teaches obedience even when the actions are abhorrent. I’m actually really perplexed that you can’t fathom Dawkin’s disgust- even while I was a believer I was rather put-off by this particular tale. Are you really saying that its ok for people to be obedient to god, even when the consequences are horrific? This is the sort of reasoning that has led many individuals and societies to commit horrific acts “in god’s name.” (and yes, I know not every Christian is terrible, ect ect. I just think that we should both agree that people should never commit sacrifice or any other bloody act, even if they think god is telling them to.)

    2. Other Scriptures
    I’ll be the first to agree that Dawkins is unfit to critique the Bible on it’s own terms. However, there are some unquestionably horrible things in that book that appear to be sanctioned by god.
    (good starting place, see this)

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.html

    I have never heard acceptable explanations for many of these passages, and that is probably the point Dawkins was trying to make- the bible has good stuff, but also a lot of terrible stuff.

    3. History of Religious Atrocities
    I agree with you here; the history of religiously motivated violations of human rights does not necessarily apply to anything outside of those circumstances.

    4. Hitler, Eugenics
    Hitler did not instigate the final solution because of Eugenics. He did not use experimental data to conclude that Jews really were genetically inferior, and his writings/speeches make it very clear that racism (irrational prejudice) was the culprit in the holocaust.

  2. Ken Crawford Says:

    Regarding the Abraham story, the key thing to note is that in the end God didn’t have Abraham kill Issac. The God I know would never ask me to do something abhorrent. If I got the feeling that he was asking me to something like that, it would make me greatly question whether that command was indeed coming from God. And I have confidence that if he’s truly asking me to do something, it is not abhorrent.

    And I’ll make a powerful and important concession here:

    There is no doubt that God’s request for obedience to the level that we should follow him even when it seems that what he is asking is abhorrent (key word “seems”, because as I said above, if he’s actually asking it isn’t abhorrent) has caused many otherwise good people to commit unthinkable atrocities. The Muslims who committed 9/11 were motivated by this very thing. They thought they were being obedient to God and their knowledge that God should be obeyed even when it seems abhorrent to do so, made it all the easier for them to commit their crimes.

    It’s a great tragedy, and it is a question I have for God as to why he allows it to be so… but the important underlying point, it is NOT them following God, but them abusing/perverting a commandment of God into something it is not.

    Nevertheless, it’s not a God problem, it’s a human problem.

    Moving on to #2…

    While I didn’t read the whole list link, I made a sizable dent into it and I’ll say this: As far as I got, each example could either be explained as it not being God’s Will for it to be done or it’s a case where those being struck down have disobeyed God. God has always reserved the right to punish those who don’t obey him, although he’s proven time and again to be more forgiving and charitable than anything else.

    #4:

    I completely agree that Hitler was motivated by bigotry… I spoke poorly. What I intended to say was that he cloaked his motives in Eugenics, as were most of the racial purity movements.

  3. Brian M Says:

    “Nevertheless, it’s not a God problem, it’s a human problem.”
    -I agreed with a lot of what you said up until this. God supposedly chose to allow this story to become part of the holy book that characterizes his relationship with humans. When I was a christian, I heard this story taught at least once every couple of months- and I heard it used as justification for refusing to think about the moral implications of god’s commandments (or more accurately, what Christians perceived as god’s commandments). If god existed, it seems he was either irresponsible or ignorant to have allowed this story to become canonized- unless you care to argue that believers should be encouraged not to think critically about what they think god’s commands are (which is what Abraham did, which is why he was rewarded, which is the moral of the tale).

    2.
    Being god’s will is not an excuse to commit atrocities. Presumably, an all powerful god could have enacted his will through less horrific means, which means he CHOSE to pursue it through suffering. This indicates that god is evil. Or, if hes not all powerful, hes really incompetent. In either case it is not a god who is dependable and worth worshiping.

    If I were god for instance, I probably would not have turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Soddom. I might have scolded her afterwords, maybe even thrown a few thunderbolts for effect. :p

    He may reserve the power to punish (nod to passage about potter/clay), that does not mean he is above moral scrutiny. An absolute dictator is capable of gassing his people and torturing them in underground bunkers to establish his oppressive regime- that does not mean that his victims and those who witness the atrocities he commits will not hate him and judge him.

  4. Ken Crawford Says:

    It’s a human problem because it’s not God who’s giving us the errant commands. If we chose to not use our critical thinking skills and put what we believe to be the word of God to appropriate scrutiny, that’s not God’s fault.

    Where your (2.) argument goes wrong is failing to look at the entirety of God’s reign. He’s not a oppressive regime, he’s a loving God and the vast, vast, vast majority of his actions have be loving and forgiving of human sin. That he chose in certain instances to take a more hard-line does not negate his overall message. Just as parents are usually forgiving and tolerant there are times they are reasonably far more harsh in ways that seem odd to the children, when in fact the parent’s wisdom to treat them harshly in that moment are justified.

  5. Brian M Says:

    1. How is it not god’s fault that his holy book stresses mindless and immoral obedience over critical thought?

    2.”T hat he chose in certain instances to take a more hard-line does not negate his overall message.”
    -How does it not negate it? Your god’s narrative is that he’s a loving father, right? How is that not negated by his tendency to eradicate people who disobey him (even by accident, dude who touched the ark)? It isn’t hard to be a better parent- you just have to keep yourself from killing your kids when they make mistakes. Also relevant, hell. What do you believe about hell if I might ask?

  6. Ken Crawford Says:

    The Bible does not stress immoral obedience nor mindless obedience. It stresses intelligent yet comprehensive obedience. The lesson of Abraham is one of the comprehensiveness. There are other aspects of scripture that warn us to be wary of false prophets and other such things, to use our intelligence.

    As for his wrath, it’s not a “tendency”, it’s a rare occurrence, one that existed mostly in a specific era of the development of mankind.

    Also, you have to remember that there is an afterlife and someone’s death does not mean the end of them. He might have been quite charitable to them after death.

    As for hell, I fully believe it exists, although I think the often used imagery is weak. Hell is defined by the Church as eternal separation from God. When I look at people in this life who are completely untethered from God (and BTW, I believe many atheists are somewhat tethered to God, despite their denial of him… their actions are more influenced by Him than they think) I see people who’s lives are hell. I think movies like “The 6th Sense” provide an interesting insight into the possibilities. How hellacious would it be to not know you are dead? While I don’t think that’s exactly how it’s going to play out, I suspect there will be a similar lack of recognition of their state or at least won’t see it for what it is.

    Of course that’s speculation on my part, I don’t really know, but I’m convinced it exists.

  7. Brian M Says:

    1. According to the bible, Abraham did not question god’s horrific command, nor hesitate to carry it out. This is commonly referred to as “mindless obedience,” and Abraham was rewarded for it.

    2. Tendency or not, the old testament god’s violent actions are disruptive to the narrative promoted in the new testament, no? You seem to keep hinting that his actions were necessary, and therefore excused. An all power being is not limited by any necessity. He could have taught his followers the lesson of obedience through a vision- or better yet, just designed them to be mindless zealots in the first place. Heck he could have done it with bubblegum. No limits, no excuse.

    3. It seems clear from the imagery that hell is an unpleasant state/place, regardless of anyone’s specific interpretation. And it lasts forever, without chance of reprieve (see Lazarus story).

    One of the basic principles of morality is that the punishment must fit the crime. Even the old testament god understands this, albeit in a barbaric, unequal, and literal sense. An infinite amount of suffering/unpleasantness cannot possibly be considered fair judgment for a finite amount of crime. Even if I killed and raped every day of my long life, eternal punishment would be too much. What is your justification for your god’s tendency to deal out wildly disproportionate punishments in the afterlife?

  8. Ken Crawford Says:

    Brian, we can go in circles about this stuff for ever…

    I honestly wish I could communicate to you the overly simplistic and limited view you’re taking to things. You’re bringing God down to a human level and trying to justify his actions based on the limitations of human thought, not based on the eternity of God’s experience.

    BTW, that also means my understanding is incomplete, I’m just human as well… so I don’t really get it all either. But what I have that you don’t is the big picture vision of God’s love for us. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is a defining moment in salvation history and should not be overlooked.

    That means when I look at these events I see him punishing us for our own good. That he makes example of people for the rest of us. Considering that he may have been charitable to those people in the afterlife, there’s no way to know how horrible his punishment may have been.

    But the overall point is He wants us all to come to him… those who go to Hell do it of their own accord. It’s far less a “punishment” and far more a decision that each human makes.

    Is hell unpleasant? Yes it is. But there’s plenty of people who live hellacious lives of their own accord, whether or not it’s God’s desire for them.

    And how you’ve phrased your final question shows just how much of a chasm exists between the way you view things and the way a knowledgeable would. You assume that God gives wildly disproportionate punishments and want a justification. A Catholic asks an entirely different question. We desire to to understand why what seems like a harsh punishment is in fact not, because we know it comes from a loving God, as the Cross shows us.

    That mindset has us look at scripture in an entirely different light and illuminates a very different understanding of those passages. Instead of the Abraham story being about a harsh God, it’s about God’s desire for fidelity. We know in advance that he doesn’t want us to kill our children so it need not be said in the passage.

    I don’t know how to cross that chasm to share that vision with you so you could see scripture in the light we do. I’m sorry, I truly wish I did.

  9. Brian M Says:

    “BTW, that also means my understanding is incomplete, I’m just human as well… ”
    -Then your first paragraph was irrelevant, as we are both dealing with the same supposed ‘limitations.’

    “The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is a defining moment in salvation history and should not be overlooked.”

    -This is worth its own thread, but someone who was not raised in the church would not view a god dying for three days to partially prevent his own wrath against his creations as particularly loving or noble.

    “That means when I look at these events I see him punishing us for our own good.”

    -This conclusion comes from the same sort of mindless obedience that is demonstrated in the Abraham story. As I said in the last comment, an all powerful god could accomplish his will through totally nonviolent means, which means his punishment isn’t “for our own good” (our own good could be brought about in any way god wished). This begs the question why would god dole out unnecessary punishment? I would suggest its because he isn’t real, others might say he just has a mean streak.

    “We desire to to understand why what seems like a harsh punishment is in fact not, because we know it comes from a loving God, as the Cross shows us.”

    -So you’re dismissing textual evidence that disrupts your narrative of god because it conflicts with your narrative of god? That doesn’t sound like something a “knowledgable” (sic) would do.

    “I don’t know how to cross that chasm to share that vision with you so you could see scripture in the light we do. I’m sorry, I truly wish I did.”

    -Here’s a pro-tip. Don’t automatically assume that your brand of reasoning is categorically different from everyone elses, in that it doesn’t require evidence or internal logic to withstand scrutiny.

  10. Ken Crawford Says:

    Here’s a “pro-tip”, don’t assume you’re a pro and the person you’re talking to is not… I wasn’t assuming anything about my reasoning, only that clearly you see the world through a very different lens.

    I tried to end with a big picture view of how I and other Christians look at the world. Your dissection is juvenile-minded and either ignorant of the nuances of what you’re attempting to pick apart or just plain mean-spirited.

    I wish you and Patrick would spend just a minute to absorb some of what I’m saying instead of just repeating the same things you’ve effectively said.

    By way of example, I made it quite clear in earlier comments that our separation from God is our own doing, that he welcomes all who are willing, so it’s not “punishment” in the traditional sense that people are in hell, it’s of their own choosing. He did not “(die) for three days to partially prevent his own wrath against his creations”. You seem to show little interest in understanding the way Christians view the Cross.

    Furthermore, it’s not “mindless” to know that God’s wisdom is far greater than ours. It’s proper respect. Do we do our best to try and understand it? Yes, we do. Does that mean we understand every event and why it had to go down the way it did? No, we do not. You’re picking on just a few stories and acting like that’s the meat of the Bible when it’s not. Some of these things do confuse us, but the big picture is pretty clear and it NOT AT ALL like you’re suggesting.

    Finally, and this is really just another angle to the above statement, there’s a big difference between putting an event in context and “dismissing it”. I dismiss nothing. I admit it’s difficult to understand. But when put in context, it’s not nearly as troubling as you suggest.

    I’ll wrap up by asking, why are you here commenting?

    I don’t say that to make you leave, you’re welcome to continue commenting, but to honestly assess your motives. Is your hope to change my mind? (You’re not going to, I’ve had this conversation many times and have talked to many atheists (you’d expect that from someone who read TGD as a faithful Catholic, wouldn’t you?)) Are you hoping that the occasional rare person who stumbles across the blog will see what you have said and so not be convinced by me? (that seems like a waste of time for you)… so, what is it?

    Most people who read a blog hope to get something from it, and I don’t see you or Patrick as having any interest in gaining from my perspective, because you don’t seem to be spending any effort to absorb what I’m saying, just to try and rip them apart.

    I’m open to continuing to discuss these matters, but not if you show so little interest in truly discussing things, not just shotgunning your way through things without spending the time to give my thoughts some reasonable reflection.

  11. Brian M Says:

    In answer to your last question, I was honestly hoping for a more interesting discussion.

  12. Ken Crawford Says:

    Well, I apologize for not being able to provide it. I don’t know enough about you to know if we could have an interesting conversation over a beer, but this forum is a tough one for good dialogue when two people are of such different minds. A common framework is very difficult to establish from which to build from.