Good God, here we go again! Rowan Williams, formerly a “sophisticated” Archbishop of Canterbury, now bearing the appropriate title of Lord Williams of
Mealymouth Oystermouth, is still kvetching about Richard Dawkins and his supposed New Atheist posse, and on two grounds.
First, Dawkins (and we) damaged Christianity, and it needs to be repaired.
Second, New Atheists don’t know jack about theology.
As to the first, I say “GOOD FOR US! Christianity needs to be damaged, for it’s harmful and delusional, and enables the vice of belief without evidence—in other words, faith. As to the second claim, I’ve dealt with it many times before (it’s gone under the name of “the courtier’s reply“), and address it here only briefly.
Here’s the short article from The Tablet. Click to read, and shake your head about the lucubrations of poor Lord Oystermouth:
A few short excerpts:
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams of Oystermouth, has made a scathing attack on Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists”, while cautioning that their negative impact on religious faith could still take time to repair.
“Many people who aren’t religious believers regard writers like Richard Dawkins as extremely bigoted and authoritarian, and I think their writings are less popular now,” Dr Williams told Polish Radio in an interview.
“But secularisation has also meant a lot of ignorance, and there’s a suspicion towards religion, sometimes intensified by anxiety about militant Islam. It’s as if every form of religion is the same and the local parish priest would like to cut your head off or impose some alien law on you.”
The 69-year-old theologian and poet, who was 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 2002 to 2012, said he planned to engage in a new debate during 2021 with Professor Dawkins, whom he viewed as a “very good biologist and absolutely brilliant writer”, but also as a “very bad philosopher” with virtually no knowledge of theology.
He added that a “rash of books” a decade ago by Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and other “New Atheists” had damaged Christianity, by fostering an assumption that “the consensus among intelligent people was anti-religious”. [JAC: This is getting truer and truer every day.]
. . . He said: “The bad aspect of secularisation is that people forget what religious doctrine really is, and become subject to distortions and charicatures. It’s as if people have a very trivial picture of what religion is and why it matters.
I have news for Lord Oystermouth: yes, New Atheists damaged Christianity by turning people away from that delusional faith (is “delusional faith” a tautology?). But no, Christianity will not be repaired. All over the West, and especially in the UK, Christianity is waning rapidly—so rapidly that I needn’t look up links to document its disappearance.
Further, none of the New Atheists named above think that all religions are the same, or are identical to militant Islam. Has Oystermouth even read Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris? None of them say that all forms of religion are the same and, in fact, all say that different faiths are indeed different. In their writings they make distinctions between more harmful and less harmful faiths, but always emphasize that faith itself, as instantiated in nearly every “religion”, is not a virtue but a vice.
And bad philosophy? Who’s a worse philosopher? Who’s a bad boy? A guy who spends his life touting a deity for which he has no evidence, and bolstering the idea that it’s fine to believe without evidence, or a guy who simply points these things out? That’s not philosophy, but empiricism. For surely all theology, even Oystermouth’s “sophisticated”® brand, must begin with the proposition that there is a God of a certain sort. If you can’t even buttress that first assumption, the rest is commentary, and ridiculous commentary. As Dan Barker likes to say, “Theology is a subject without an object.”
Look: Here’s Oystermouth blathering on about the certainty that there is a deity, and, in fact, a deity of the Anglican persuasion (my emphasis):
Asked about the prospects for Christianity across Europe, the retired archbishop said he was “completely confident” the faith would survive.“The Church exists because God wanted and wants it to exist, so we shouldn’t have any anxiety about its disappearance,” Dr Williams said. “Despite the New Atheists, people are not hostile to the Christian faith, nor do they regard Christianity as their enemy or as something completely ridiculous. They want to know and learn, and I think we have to be out there, arguing, persuading, doing what we can from a place of basic confidence.”
See? Some readers have defended the claim that bad things happen because “we don’t understand God’s ways” by saying, “Well, see, that’s just like what scientists do! What’s wrong with saying ‘We don’t understand?'” We had one of these commenters today.
But the difference between scientists and believers, my brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, is that scientists say they don’t understand in a uniform way, not pretending that we understand some stuff but not other stuff, when there’s no evidence for either. Yet Oystermouth blithely tells us that he knows not only that there’s a God, but that God wants the Anglican Church to exist, so it won’t go extinct. How does he know that about God?
I get peevish when I read stuff like this, so I can’t resist commenting on his eyebrows, which have always freaked me out, making me fear that he’d take off in a high wind.
h/t: Enrico, Barry