Dawkins talks 2.0, and Anglicans just can’t catch a break

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There he goes, there he goes again.

At the moment, the Rt. anti-Rev. Richard Dawkins is — logically enough — in full-tilt, set-on-stun PR mode for his new book, “An Appetite for Wonder: the Making of a Scientist.” The goal is to make headlines and move volumes and, as the old saying goes, a headline is a headline.

You may remember that big-headline story the other day, the one in which one of the world’s most famous atheist evangelists said he thought that recent scandals linked to the sexual abuse of children had been overblown and that he found it hard to condemn the “the mild pedophilia” — his term — that he experienced as a child while in school in England.

In my earlier post, I asked if this statement was automatically a “religion story” and, if so, why didn’t journalists ask other atheists what they thought of his stance on this issue.

That was then. Now Dawkins has spoken out again, this time on his views about the role of the Church of England in British culture and, strangely enough, in his own life as an atheist. The bottom line: With friends like Dawkins, the Anglican prelates really don’t need enemies.

Here’s the headline in The Telegraph, riffing on quotes drawn from The Spectator:

Richard Dawkins admits he is a ‘cultural Anglican.’

And a few of the key paragraphs, with the elements of British newspaper style left intact:

Prof Dawkins admitted he would consider going into a church, and would miss ‘aesthetic elements’ such as church bells if they were gone. And he said he was “grateful” to Anglicanism which he claims has a “benign tolerance” — enabling people to enjoy its traditions without necessarily believing in them.

He told the Spectator: “I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do … I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green.

“I have a certain love for it.”

Now, this time around there is no question that we are dealing with a religion-beat story. Right?

So here is my question about this Dawkins shot over the bow of the religious establishment: Why didn’t the journalists at The Telegraph ask some mainstream Anglicans for reactions to this view of their church? At the very least, one would need to know what the low-church Anglicans and the liberal establishment thought of this “benign tolerance” perspective (which, truth be told, sounds like the old pronouncements that true Anglicans find unity in the words of their liturgies, not in their doctrinal content).

This is not, of course, the only spicy quote from this interview. Dawkins believes that British schools should include Bible classes, since students need to learn the history of — well — all of those European wars. Speaking as an Oxford man, he also thinks that some people are going a bit too far in bashing religious people.

Prof Dawkins, while cautioning against what he perceived as the dangers of faith, acknowledged there is also a danger that religious people can be put in the same group as those, such as suicide bombers, who take faith to an extreme. He said he was living in a post-Christian world in Oxford where he found it was rare to meet someone who was religious in academic life.

All very interesting. Perhaps the editors didn’t have the time or space in the online edition that day to allow some worthy, articulate Anglicans to critique this rather world-weary view of their church, their liturgies, their doctrines and, yes, the impact of all of that on life in postmodern England.

If Dawkins was an academic skeptic in Greece and said things like that about Eastern Orthodoxy I am sure that these words would not be seen as compliments by church leaders and many among the faithful. I would sure want Orthodox leaders to have a chance to respond. Thus, I think Anglican leaders deserved a chance to address Dawkins’ comments.

Now, as our own Father George Conger might say: What think ye, GetReligion readers?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • RayIngles

    the Rt. anti-Rev Richard Dawkins

    For a site that insists on accuracy about the legitimacy of “Womenpriests”, it’s interesting that you’re willing to apply an anti-title with little hesitation.

    Aside from his fame, what precisely qualifies Dawkins as a spokesperson for atheism, anyway? Can you imagine anyone being the spokesperson for theism in general? Or even just monotheism?

    Along with some Anglican commentary, a different atheist perspective or two (or three, it wouldn’t be hard to find that many) would benefit the article considerably.

  • Mikegalanx

    The ideal “GetReligion” news story:

    “The First National bank on Main Street was robbed yesterday afternoon.

    The manager is Thomas Bradie . Mr. Bradie has been a deacon of the African Methodist Church for 20 years, though he has lately had some differences with the leadership over the ACA’s expansion of contraceptive coverage.

    Directly confronted by the intruders was Gladys Johnson, an attendee of Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy Church. Mrs. Johnson has been on record as supporting the appointment of Archbishop Sartain to correct the radicalism of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

    One of the perpetrators, Arthur Wells, was formerly a member of the Hillside baptist Church, but reportedly left due to disagreements over pre-Milleniarism.

    Some people were killed and some money was stolen.”

  • Mark

    As a British atheist, I think Dawkins is horrifically wrong about the impact of child abuse. I’m not sure if it’s a defence mechanism for him to claim it never did him any harm, but he’s wrong to try to universalise his experience. Child abuse has harmed many other people and deserves to be taken seriously.
    As for his remarks about anglicanism, I don’t find it very tolerant, what with the management dragging their heels over women bishops, fighting against equal marriage, and sniping at atheists every chance they get. I think Professor Dawkins has been blinded by nostalgia for his childhood. We’d be better off without the Church of England.
    They could have asked anglicans for comment. I suspect, based on similar stories in the past, that the anglican top brass are more than happy to endorse even lukewarm compliments from Professor Dawkins. I seem to remember the former Archbishop getting cozy with him on a chatshow once.


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