Battle of the God covers

In a previous post today, I referred to Time and Newsweek competing with each other for the best religion-centered cover story last week. Newsweek offered a package of articles (here’s the mainbar) about the Religious Right, while Time offered a more tightly focused debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins.

Newsweek clearly would win for the week if the effort were judged by comprehensiveness. But Newsweek‘s package offered fewer cases in which a reasonably informed reader will mark the text because it contains some new information or insight.

Some reporters find it difficult to write big-picture articles about the Religious Right without making ridiculous generalizations. For instance, a photo caption on p. 37 of Newsweek purports to show a racially mixed congregation in Philadelphia standing and applauding — upon hearing of the nomination of Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Somehow I think the moment consisted of a bit more than that.

Michael Gerson writes a fine meditation on how evangelicals want to engage social issues more than is generally recognized, and Sam Harris issues his familiar warning that any mixture of faith and politics inevitably leads to barbarism.

I highlighted only two portions of the entire package.

The first highlight was for this silly dismissal:

But there is clearly discomfort with the movement’s apparent obsession with sins of the flesh.

The second highlight involved entertaining wordplay from former Rep. Dick Armey, speaking of his new nemesis, James Dobson:

“It’s painful to have him angry at you. . . . He responds in a manner that’s damaging. You know, he’ll say, ‘I’m leaving, and I promise you, I’m taking a lot of people with me.’ Well, elected officials know what that means . . . I think we call it a Dobson’s choice.”

Time brings greater firepower, especially in the person of David Van Biema. In setting up a lengthy dialogue between Dawkins the atheist and Collins the Christian (by adult conversion), Van Biema writes of how most Americans aren’t really comfortable with the winner-take-all approach to debating evolution and religion:

Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science’s strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRIs and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony — that, indeed, science is of God.

Once Dawkins and Collins begin engaging each other, Dawkins resorts to his patented aggression, calling Collins’ positions cop-outs (one is even “the mother and father of all cop-outs”) and trotting out another variation on his “flying spaghetti monster” strawman:

DAWKINS: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

COLLINS: That’s God.

DAWKINS: Yes. But it could be any of a billion Gods. It could be God of the Martians or of the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri. The chance of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishingly small — at the least, the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case.

At least he resisted the temptation to compare Collins to Joseph Goebbels — a temptation he did not resist as his opening salvo when greeting Ted Haggard at New Life Church, as part of his documentary on religion, The Root of All Evil? (See a six-minute excerpt courtesy of YouTube.)

Collins stays patient through most of the exchange, and finally offers this marvelous bit of understatement amid Dawkins’ rhetorical fireworks:

DAWKINS: What Francis was just saying about Genesis was, of course, a little private quarrel between him and his Fundamentalist colleagues …

COLLINS: It’s not so private. It’s rather public. [Laughs.]

DAWKINS: . . . It would be unseemly for me to enter in except to suggest that he’d save himself an awful lot of trouble if he just simply ceased to give them the time of day. Why bother with these clowns?

COLLINS: Richard, I think we don’t do a service to dialogue between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names. That inspires an even more dug-in position. Atheists sometimes come across as a bit arrogant in this regard, and characterizing faith as something only an idiot would attach themselves to is not likely to help your case.

Well, thanks for trying, Dr. Collins.

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  • Eric W

    In his books, Richard Dawkins provides a compelling case for atheism (e.g., THE SELFISH GENE, THE BLINDWATCHMAKER). But in his person, Richard Dawkins provides a compelling case against atheism a la Romans 1:20-22.

  • Deborah

    What was the video link, anyway? It says it’s “no longer available.”

  • Deborah

    Oops — sorry — question withdrawn.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “But there is clearly discomfort with the movement’s apparent obsession with sins of the flesh.”

    I don’t think it is the EVANGELICALS that are “obsessed with sins of the flesh.”

    They may be obsessed with pointing out that sins of the flesh are still sins… which I guess makes them “Sexual Counter-Revolutionaries” or something like that.

    But I think the true obsession with sins of the flesh comes from those who are made so terribly uncomfortable by the Evangelical’s call to restore traditional standards of sexual morality.

  • Dustin A

    Evangelicals are obsessed with making everyone follow there own views of sexual morality. Those views are based upon their religion. Not everyone shares those same beliefs. Should evangelicals be able to limit other peoples rights because of their religious beliefs?

  • mjbubba

    Dustin, most Evangelicals long ago gave up trying to make everyone follow our views of sexual morality. We do insist that some actions are sinful, and that there are serious consequences associated with immoral behavior. Your sweeping implied dismissal of morality because it is based on religion is the sort of thinking that seems to lie behind some of the worst of the media reporting on Evangelical positions.
    Evangelical Christians object strenuously to having public policies, school curriculums, court decrees, and media reporting that assert that immorality is perfectly acceptable, and that we are out of line to notice the sexual obsessions of the greater culture that we live in. We want our children to understand the nature of sin and its consequences. Go wreck your own life, but do not teach my kids that a life of sexual sin is perfectly acceptable behavior for all people, and do not legislate that I have to tolerate such a perverted influence.

  • Dustin A

    Your right. Lets get rid of sex ed. No children will acquire sexually transmitted diseases if we tell them just not to have sex. Also, there will be no homosexuals if we just ignore it.

    No one said that everyone should be a homosexual. You just have no right to tell others that their sexual orientation is wrong just because you are a christian and it goes against your beliefs. Live and let live.

    If you want to teach your children to be bigots, that’s your perogative. But don’t tell others how they should live their lives.

  • Eric Weiss

    Dustin A wrote:

    No one said that everyone should be a homosexual. You just have no right to tell others that their sexual orientation is wrong just because you are a christian and it goes against your beliefs. Live and let live.

    If you want to teach your children to be bigots, that’s your perogative. But don’t tell others how they should live their lives.

    On what basis or authority are you telling Christians how to live their lives?

  • Dustin A

    No one is telling christians how to live their lives. It is christians who are trying to interfere in everyone elses lives with govt legislation. This country was founded on separation of church and state. Religious governments always lead to opression. For instance, in Saudi Arabia the only legal religion is Islam and bibles or crosses are a basis for arrest. The GOP has been trying to distract the Religous right by scaring them with the thought of homosexual unions. Why, are they all going to leave their wives and start having sex with male prostitutes? They (GOP) have consistently avoided the real problems such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because they are more concerned with concentrating their followers on gay bashing and anti-abortion while simultaneously cutting most public aids (who do you think have abortions? the wealthy). Get real, quit looking at the world based on a myth and do something to make the world better instead of worrying about who is sleeping with who. Join the military and go fight to protect your country. I may see you over there as I am one of this country’s many citizen soldiers. I want to see a resolution of our real problems and am sick and tired of seeing all of this BS on soft issues.

  • St. Dubiety

    I doubt that Sam Harris’ warning against mixing faith and politics has much chance of success. Not because what he rails against isn’t dangerous, nor because he himself tends toward the barbarism that he alleges to be the product of such a mixing. His warning is doomed because he, intelligent as he is about so many things, doesn’t know much about “religion.” It isn’t something that those who have it can leave at home when they go out into the political world, or any other world for that matter. Religions are worldviews, frameworks for understanding everything else. They may be neutral with respect to many things (like the rules of racquet ball, for example), but not the things in life that are value-laden, like politics. “Leave your religion out of your political decision-making” is like saying “leave your basis for political decision-making out of your political decision-making”! The issue is not whether religion and politics should mix, but how.

  • Shinigami

    Hi, living in the UK, in what can be described as a post religious society, church attendance (for Christians) is falling. However, this does not negate God, on the contrary, Spiritualism, Deism and the like are very healthy. I myself am a former atheist (now a Deist) and was never religously indoctrinated by my parents. I’m a post-grad so reasonably intelligent (I think), but the point I’m making is that the likes of Dawkins and his rabid tirades against religion- blaming parents for brainwashing kids and equating faith with stupidity- is grossly offensive, patronising and a condescending to not only the fundamentalists, but the moderate constituency (like myself) to whom his arguments should be persuasive. Even atheists acknowledge he’s becoming a liability. Why has he become so confrontational? Perhaps he realises that his cause is lost, and rather than swallow his pride in the face of compelling scientific evidence (in fields that he is not expert), unlike Professor Flew, he has dug himself into a pit he can’t get out of.
    Well, dig your pit deep Dawkins, ’till we can’t hear your rants and insults anymore…………and don’t disturb any fossils.

  • St. Dubiety

    To Shinigami,
    Your criticism of Dawkins’ “rants and insults” is well-taken, but here in the U.S. it is a bit more understandable. The loudest and most persistent form of Christianity here has been a right-wing totalitarianism that inspires rants and insults. And I doubt that the situation is getting any better. Let me explain: Right-wing Christianity became a totalizing force in the U.S. because some decades ago moderate and progressive Christian leaders abandoned the public airways. In the absence of any “sane” Christian voice the Christian right gained center stage–indeed, the whole stage! Understandably, secular progressive concluded that religion is by nature regressive and therefore to be disdained. After the 2004 elections, however, progressive Christians finally began to speak out. Scores of progressive groups emerged to complement the voices of progressive denominations. They still exist on paper and in fact, but their future is dim. It is dim because progressive Christians do not have as allies the same kind of financial support that the right wing had and still has. There are secular liberal philanthropists just as there are secular right wing funders, but the liberals are still dubious about religion and so are not supporting progressive religious groups in a manner remotely comparable to the support right wing groups receive. And in the U.S., in religion as in politics, money drives media and media drives opinion. At least two of the most effective national “progressive religion” groups are about to shut down for lack of funds, and a third is trying desperately to re-invent itself in hopes of avoiding the same fate. Unless political progressives, including secular funders, quickly get more serious about religion as a driving force in the formation of public values, the right wing will once again provide the dominant, if not sole, definition of religion and Christianity.

  • St. Dubiety

    To mjbubba: I do understand the concern of some (perhaps many, but not all) evangelical Christians that immoral lifestyles are being modelled in front of their children. But that is a problem all moral people have. Other Christians, for example, believe that your condemnation of homosexuality is itself unfaithful to the biblical message and, in fact, a sin! (They also believe, sincerely, that teaching of “intelligent design” as science is dishonest.) The fact is that none of us can protect our children against alternative points of view, except through our own teaching and example. And one thing we must teach them, if we value democratic pluralism, is the value of giving to others the freedom to live in ways that we regard as being sinful.