In an interview published on The Spectator on Saturday, Richard Dawkins, the man known throughout the globe as a leading mocker of the faith and a staunch defender of evolution, made some rather interesting revelations; the kind of revelations that lead one to wonder if, maybe, Dawkins privately is wrestling with the idea that there is, in fact, a God after all.
Richard Dawkins, arguably the world's leading 'atheist' (although he's often referred to himself as an "agnostic"), is not getting any younger. At age 72, and now retired, Dawkins probably grapples with the reality that he, too, will soon cross that threshold that all humans must cross, that transition from life to death. Though publicly, Dawkins asserts that the idea that there is a God who reigns over the heavens and the earth and who is solely responsible for the existence of our universe, is a foolish one, Dawkins nevertheless seems to have a soft spot for his Anglican upbringing.
In his interview with The Spectator, Dawkins expresses a nostalgic longing or yearning, and appreciation for the "Anglican tradition". Dawkins says, "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."
He makes it clear that he appreciates the "cultural" aspect of Anglicanism, though not the spiritual aspect of it. He is not expressing faith in God. Yet, he nevertheless expresses a "love for" the tradition. Why? What can possibly be so calming, soothing, and pleasing about evensong to the world's most famous/infamous "atheist"?
Later in the interview, asked what it would be like if there weren't any churches around, Dawkins admits that he would miss them. "Yes, I would feel a loss there. I would feel an aesthetic loss. I would miss church bells. That kind of thing."
Again, he is not expressing "faith" but a longing for certain church traditions which appear to soothe Dawkins' spirit.
But, things get a little more interesting later in the interview when Dawkins opens up a bit more. Asked how he felt, not only about the idea of churches disappearing, but the fear many express about the possibility of losing their religious freedoms and traditions, Dawkins offers another surprising answer.
"Yes. I sort of understand that. I certainly would absolutely never do what some of my American colleagues do and object to religious symbols being used, putting crosses up in the public square and things like that, I don't fret about that at all, I'm quite happy about that."
Surprisingly benevolent and embracing of people's religious freedoms, Dawkins then takes it a step further. He actually acknowledges that not all religions are the same; something that American atheist, Bill Maher, also recently spoke about.
"But I think I share your Anglican nostalgia, especially when you look at the competition."
In other words, Dawkins recognizes that not all religions are the same. There is an important distinction to be made. In fact, Dawkins commits what many would probably consider an act of atheist blasphemy, by suggesting that people should be educated in the bible.
"I am thoroughly in favor of educating people in this country in the bible. So you know where phrases like 'through a glass darkly' come from," he says.
But, when asked if educating the country in the bible would automatically require that all other religions be taught as well, Dawkins, again, walks down the dangerous path of political incorrectness.
"I don't think you have to, actually. Because if the justification for it is a literary one - since in this country we are on the whole not studying Arabic literature - it's enough to know the King James Bible, like you have to know Shakespeare."
As it relates to European history, Dawkins expressed that certainly learning, for example, about the "perennial hostility between Catholics and Protestants" would be appropriate, but not if the bible is merely approached as a literary work.
But, he nevertheless rejects the notion that all other faiths would have to be included.
"But I don't buy the feeling that because we have Christian faith schools we therefore have to have Buddhist and Muslim and Hindu faith schools as well."
Although the interview does not point to the likelihood of Richard Dawkins renouncing his atheist faith any time soon, it does - for whatever reason - reveal a warmer, more embracing, gentler Dawkins. Why that is? Well, only Dawkins know for sure. It certainly appears to mark a possible, gradual shift, that is unfolding as Dawkins gets older.
Ultimately, what is Dawkins' hope?
"I would absolutely hate anybody to take what I say as a sort of ex-cathedra pronouncement on how they should behave, I just want people to listen to the arguments and judge for themselves, that's always been my goal."
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." - John 3:16
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