(from atheism to agnosticism and back) [I]
[Alister McGrath şi Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, translation by Mihnea Gafiţa, Curtea Veche, Bucureşti, 2010.]
by Ştefan Bolea
translation from Romanian by: Iris Butnariu [MTTLC student]
click aici pentru versiunea română
1. Denouncing the belief as delusion and pleading for the exclusive choice either evolutionary biology or religion, Dawkins prepares the road for his own theory to be detered and branded as a new delusion by biologist and theologian from Oxford Alister McGrath (who writes in collaboration with his wife, Joanna Collicutt McGrath, a researcher in the psychology of religion). Unfortunately, McGrath himself operates in a corrupt field of arguments, based on the principle: Dawkins is an atheist, therefore he is mistaken. Although McGrath denounces Dawkins for his fundamental atheist conviction, I am certain that he would not denounce him if he were a (Fundamentalist) Christian.
McGrath’s operational argument could be rephrased as follows: If Dawkins were a Christian his conviction would have been less wrong (which would amount with the thesis of the Inquisition: the faith in God makes us untouchable). We get a binary game between plus and minus. If you are at plus, you tend to accept activists, your fellow Christians and to dismiss the enemies at minus. McGrath was to situate himself in the „tolerant” grey zone (a zero with tendencies of plus), but from a Dawkinsian perspective he is much closer to the strong plus of the Christian Fundamentalists. In short, Dawkins would be worth quoting from the McGrath’s point of view if he were a Christian, despite him denouncing Fundamentalism.
2. Many times, we get a game of mirrors, a fight between atheism and Christianity and the arguments of one camp are simply reversed by the other. Both camps have a secret agenda: if Dawkins is misinformed, superficial, does not have theological or philosophical training, McGrath is not always honest, in spite of his so called temperance of his peacemaker rationalism and his good person aura. To say that Dawkins has followers and echo only because of his (aggressive) rhetoric is like re-editing the false matchup between Socrates and sophists (a fairytale duel of the history of philosophy, that ignores the fact that Socrates was a sophist as well).
Looking at things from this perspective, McGrath possesses real rhetorical talents, with his ability to manipulate facts and antagonizing evolutionary Dawksinian epistema with a small conceptual system. With its drawbacks, Dawkins is the main character in this business: McGrath’s book would not have existed without him. To be the antivirus of the virus of atheism is more than a job, it is a way of life. Accepting the thesis according to which Christians (+, +) must thank Dawkins (– V – –) because he makes atheism look bad (although he probably fakes the repressed fury of the Christian Taliban), McGrath (+V ++) must be grateful to Dawkins, because he invented and spread the cancer for which the British theologian had prepared an antidote long before.
3. Umberto Eco re-edits the magnificent Kantian argument in favor of agnosticism: You cannot prove God exists. Therefore, you cannot prove he does not exist. Un undecided game. Actually, proving the divine existence is a vulgar matter, not to mention the fact that a God of reason is a monstrosity of logic. A God without spirit is „deader” than the one in Gaya scienza. To paraphrase Eliade, one can have religious experiences, in spite of being an atheist. And the question who are the prayers for? is answered by Kierkegaard: „The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
4. McGrath’s fixation is to plead in favor of the thesis of a rational faith (to counteract Dawkins’ idea, for which faith is a delusion or even a virus). Maybe faith is a rationalization (I am talking here about subjects, who accept the religious persona, in order to have certain advantages, sometimes of psychological nature), but can we really talk about the reason of faith? It is like saying that the spirit includes (and cancels) the soul. Reason and faith belong to different categories: if it were otherwise, we would be forced by logic to believe in God. The believer who does not have moments of doubt is a false believer, warm, spiritless and indifferent. I prefer Stavroghin’s bolder position, of the believer, who does not believe.
5. One thing McGrath holds back. „… [I]t must be emphasized that much of Jesus’ teaching upheld family values and relationships.” However (Luke 14, 26) Jesus said: „If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” No comment.
6. McGrath’s argument that atheism caused as many victims as religious fundamentalism is weak: Nazism and Communism were pagan transcendences before they were atheist, according to Umberto Eco and as you can deduce from one of Orwell’s works; „The Great Dictator” was actually promoting an idea like: God is dead, I am God. And I do not like how the Crusades and the Inquisition are always excused on the principle that: „you acted wrong as well…” This is exactly the truth, that a Christian who acts like a demon is more frightening than an atheist, because his deed is doubled by hypocrisy, which makes the initial vice greater: I killed him because God wanted me to…
7. Quoting Dawkins, I realised what I did not want to be: a militant atheist. It is an attitude that is as wrong as the opposite missionary. Don’t be a Taliban, either religious or atheist.