Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lump Your Enemies

Matthew Parris on Tony Blair:

How many viewers, watching the inquiry yesterday, noted his answer to a very early question? He rolled together in a single two-word phrase two political groupings in the Middle East who were in fact bitterly opposed to each other: “these people” was his collective term for Baathist nationalism and internationalist Islamic fundamentalism.

Worlds apart, surely? Forgive the italicisation, but this cannot be overemphasised: Tony Blair believes that all bad people are on the same side.

Richard Dawkins on Christians:
Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads fell over themselves to disown Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.

What hypocrisy. Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition.

Terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists don't make distinctions between Christian, Muslim and atheist, male and female, adult and child, American and Iraqi. All the bad people are on the same side.

Bono: "Choose your enemies carefully, for they will define you." I wonder if both Blair and Dawkins, in their different ways, have become like those they most fear.


  1. Spot on Mr Keen

  2. Isn't Dawkins simply pointing out the same dilemma you did on the 27th Jan? i.e. If someone is truly Christian then is it reasonable to disown certain distasteful parts of the Bible as the zeitgeist suits? His opinion is clearly that it isn't. I am not a theologian but the examples he gives seem to be fair to me (I guess you could argue that they aren't relevant?), but his central point remains as does yours of the 27th i.e. what is a "true" Christian and how do the rest of us know who is sincere and who isn't?

    You have to admit most religions are horribly fragmented and become more so with the passage of time, this is a fact, and the different shards can't all be "right" so rather than a dig at the person who points this out, why not tackle your disagreement with his core argument?

    As for Blair, in a word, evidence..

  3. brilliantly unpacked - thanks Dave

  4. Steve - I'd say that the mark of a 'true' Christian is that they are like Christ, 'full of grace and truth'. None of us manage it of course, Gandhi is reported as saying he'd become a Christian if he could actually meet one. Jesus is the yardstick, and by that yardstick I'd say that folk like Desmond Tutu encapsulate much more of what a 'true' Christian should be like.

    Dawkins has picked a bogeyman, and is arguing that all other Christians really are like Pat Robertson, but we're trying our best to keep it a secret. That's simply untrue, and it's far too simplistic. I'm increasingly distrustful of people who think that the world is a simple place, and that people can be simply categorised.

  5. Steve

    I don't see the issue in treating the Bible in the way it needs to be handled. We're dealing with a book that evolved over a millennium or even more, and certainly far more when we include oral sources.
    The trasditional Christian view of the Bible isn't that people wrote down like automatons what God dictated. It's seeing a disparate group of people, some of whom would have actually been opposed to each other theologically, writing an account of their and their people's encounter with God. Israel literally means "one who wrestles with God" and that's a good description of the history of the Old Testament.
    In the New Testament we see a similar pattern - multiple genres, multiple viewpoints, a diversity of backgrounds, both religious and ethnic. There are even theories that the different Gospels arose in different communities, that themselves may have disagreed. You can't interpret that properly without understanding the differences - you can't just read off rules out of the text. Well, you can.....but I wouldn't!
    By recognising the diversity of the sources, we can treat the issue of genre properly, and try under the Spirit's guidance and the traditions of Israel and the Church to see what it means for us today.
    The so-called science-religion debate seems to me to be locked around about 1910 - when a group of Americans coined the term "fundamentalists". Their worldview was less nuanced and less able to interpret Scripture allegorically than anything that had gone before. If you read (I know, it's unlikely you will) the kind of allegory that Alexandrian Christianity threw up in the early centuries of the church - it's light years ahead of the literalist numbskullery of fundamentalism. And the "scientific" view that fundamentalism opposes is likewise locked into the Newtonian/Darwinian worldview of the end of the 19th century.



  6. Not just the secular nationalists and the Islamists -- Tony Blair also lumped in the North Koreans. At that point he sounded like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, and yet a man with such dangerous delusions was making decisions on his own, against advice, that cost a huge amount of money and thousands of lives.

  7. David, I think you are a bit guilty of attacking the "image" of Dawkins and not what he actually says, he's asking who are the "true" Christians, i.e. is it Robinson in his little cocoon of literalism or is the the more nuanced seemingly sophisticated theologians who avoid the awkward questions by appealing to poetry or allegory etc. He's not saying that all Christians (or indeed any religion) are the same, quite the reverse, which is kind of his point and I think the dilemma you also touched on.

    Hi G! :) I agree with you up to a point, yes the literal adherents of America provide much ammunition for non-believers like Dawkins because most of it is so demonstrably wrong. However, I think the point here is the underlying one, not of simplicity, but the opposite i.e. chaos. If the core messages of any religion become so diluted and altered over time because of natural evolution in the cultures it resides in then surely you have to ultimately accept that these constructs are more likely man made. I think that is essentially the point here, i.e. it's not about atheists wanting to simplify the obvious divergence, actually its the divergence which is more of a problem for believers to wrestle with IMO.

  8. Steve - half agree. Dawkins generalises in the article that 'the religious mind' thrives on human suffering and therefore a) Robertson is the true Christian and b) anyone less objectionable than Robertson is a hypocrite. It's a neat way of kicking every Christian onto the planet into the 'despise' category. And just in case we don't get it he drops in plenty of perjorative language about 'bleating, befrocked' clergy. 'Faith heads' is another good lumping-together category. I see no room in Dawkins argument for recognising that a Christian who understands and expresses their faith through love and service is actually genuine and commendable.

  9. Hi again Steve - but if organisms evolve why can't religions? The great strength of Christianity hasn't been a dogmatic attachment to a long list of propositions. It's been the ability to inculturate. Is that man-made? Well, to a degree - it's also environmental. But while sticking to a core set of texts, Christianity has cheerfully felt free to adapt its interpretation, change its reasoning and discover new truths, in the light of the world where it finds itself. It's been (shamefully) a persecuting, totalitarian religion; a suffering religion of the underdog; and now I hope maybe once again it's becoming the sub-culture and alternative to dominant culture that it evolved as. I like it that way. I hate certainty.

  10. David, I agree with you, his tone is aggressive and unnecessary in order to make his point in this article. I guess its more intended for an American audience in a "shock-jock" style, over here is comes across as "shouty" even to a fan like me. Dawkins does actually say what you suggest though, in his books and lectures he explicitly refers to the kind of believer you mention and acknowledges the stance the CofE specifically on this literal vs. allegorical issue, particularly in relation to evolution.

    G, No reason, I'm not suggesting they don't (I wish more would, Islam for instance!) I'm just pointing out the problem that such genetic "drift" gives to the concept of absolutes, like morality etc.

    If we look at the history of religions we see this process clearly, it involves a kind of hype-cycle as the meme establishes itself, reproduces, diverges, converges and evolves, just like languages (spoken and machine ;) and culture. All fascinating and culturally important of course but the process says nothing about the veracity of the underlying ideas, just the fitness of the meme IMO.