Standing in the pulpit of the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Richard Dawkins introduced his “sermon” this way:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.1
The 600 people in attendance laughed and applauded, clearly excited to hear the author read from his new book, The God Delusion.
Dr. Dawkins has come to America to promote his book and expand the ranks of the “new atheists”—those who unashamedly “come out of the closet” to proclaim their atheism. According to Wired magazine's Gary Wolf, they are “a band of intellectual brothers … mounting a crusade against belief in God.”2
If you find this disturbing, you are not alone. As we’ve pointed out many times on this website, Dr. Dawkins’ intellectual assault—against all religions, but anti-Christianity in particular—is both scathing and relentless.
But on this trip to the US, Dawkins is not concerning himself so much with Christians. Instead, he is taking a different approach—one we would recognize as evangelism and discipleship: “I’m quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism,” Dawkins explains.3
According to Dawkins, there are about 30 million non-religious people in the United States, a sizable minority—that would be more than the entire Jewish population of the world. Dawkins wants those non-religious persons to become more vocal and open about their atheism. He states, “I think we’re in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people had the courage to come out. I think that’s the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes.”4 Similarly, in an interview with the BBC, Dr. Dawkins admitted that there’s a “big middle ground of people who haven’t thought about it much … and I really hope they might be changed.”
Dr. Dawkins has a strong American ally in Sam Harris, who has written two books: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (which he began writing on September 12, 2001) and Letter to a Christian Nation. His second book is described as a manual on how to talk to Christians about the incongruities of faith and science. “We [non-believers] stand dumbstruck by you as well—by your denial of the tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God.”5 He believes that a great global change, perhaps the most important cultural change in the history of humanity, will occur out of sheer intellectual embarrassment.
Harris believes a world without God would instead have a
religion of reason. We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously—a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer . . . .6
It is a prayer. Wolf summarizes the atheist prayer: “[T]hat our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.”6
These are smart, intelligent, well-spoken men who truly believe what they’re saying—and people are listening. 270,000 copies of The End of Faith have sold in the U.S.
There are a number of interviews with Richard Dawkins available on YouTube. He is articulate, careful, and very clever in his arguments. We advise caution, however, as some of the comments are inflammatory and vulgar in response to the videos on the site.
It is interesting to hear some of the arguments the new atheists use in their attempt to eradicate religion (specifically, Christianity) from the world:
- Rejecting of the authority of God—many are humanists to the core and want nothing to do with any God who would hold them accountable.
- Holding a view of history that sees religion as the motivator for most of the world’s violence throughout the centuries (as opposed to fallen man’s sinful nature).
- Pointing out the hypocrisy of so-called “believers” in the way they live (listen very long to any of the new atheists, and you’ll hear this message resound loudly and clearly).
- An absolute reliance on materialism and the scientific method.
There are many articles regarding Richard Dawkins on this site. I would encourage you to read the following:
- In Praise of Darwin This Sunday … In Hundreds of Churches!
- The Root of All Evil?
- Is There Really a God? How Would You Answer?
So How Should Christians Respond?
- We must know what we, as Christians, believe. There are hundreds of resources on this site to help you understand your faith and know what you believe and why. You might also consider taking one of our online courses.
- We must clean up our act. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s what non-believers see all too frequently: “Christians” who don’t really act out what they say they believe. Obedience to Christ is the light that shines to a generation that doesn’t know Him.
- We must be prepared to give an answer. Don’t be quiet about your faith. There are great answers in God’s Word for the questions the world asks—so don’t just know what you believe; speak up about it (1 Peter 3:15)!
In America today, with a population of 300 million, there are only 2,500 members of “American Atheists.” Richard Dawkins, on his current tour, hopes to boost that number by a significant margin.
They loved him in Cambridge. How would he do in your church?