Wednesday, 28 October 2009

After Fry and Hitch, Dawkins takes on the Catholic Church

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly):

Last week, I wrote about the debate I attended on whether "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world", in which Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens, presenting the case for the prosecution, comprehensively battered their way through Anne Widdecombe and Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan's feeble defences (money quote goes to Hitch, who called the Church hierarchy "a small band of sinister virgins").

Now it seems Richard Dawkins didn't fancy being left out of the game, as in his contribution to the Washington Post's On Faith column, he picks up where Fry and Hitchens left off. Offering his views on the Vatican's offer to disaffected Anglicans, he begins:
"What major institution most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world? In a field of stiff competition, the Roman Catholic Church is surely up there among the leaders. The Anglican church has at least a few shreds of decency, traces of kindness and humanity with which Jesus himself might have connected, however tenuously: a generosity of spirit, of respect for women, and of Christ-like compassion for the less fortunate. The Anglican church does not cleave to the dotty idea that a priest, by blessing bread and wine, can transform it literally into a cannibal feast; nor to the nastier idea that possession of testicles is an essential qualification to perform the rite. It does not send its missionaries out to tell deliberate lies to AIDS-weakened Africans, about the alleged ineffectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV. Whether one agrees with him or not, there is a saintly quality in the Archbishop of Canterbury, a benignity of countenance, a well-meaning sincerity. How does Pope Ratzinger measure up? The comparison is almost embarrassing."
He continues in a similar vain, and I urge you to read the full piece. Dawkins, of course, has a point (admit it, if you had to choose, you'd join the C of E rather than follow Benedict and his boys), and he's very funny with it, especially when he states that, in opening its doors to Anglicans, "the Roman Catholic Church, is dragging its flowing skirts in the dirt and touting for business like a common pimp". His tone, however, has not impressed Catholic Herald editor and Telegraph blogger Damian Thompson who, under the heading "Richard Dawkins's latest attack on the Catholic Church is vicious and crazy. The man needs help", declares:
Richard Dawkins’s latest attack on the Catholic Church is worthy of a dribbling loony on the top of a bus. He calls the Church “the greatest force for evil in the world”, “an institution where buggering altar boys pervades the culture” and describes it “dragging its skirts in the dirt and touting for business like a common pimp”. (Pimps in skirts – that’s a new one.) And all in The Washington Post.

The peg for this piece? The Pope’s offer to make special arrangements for Anglicans converting to Rome, a matter I would have thought was none of Prof Dawkins’s business. But I’m not going to bother to argue with any of his points, because these are the ravings of a man who appears to have lost all sense of proportion. Seriously: is there something wrong with him?

Fortunately, the irony of Thompson referring to an opinion piece as "vicious and crazy" was not lost in the blogosphere, with the Heresiarch (I think that's his real name...), who runs one of my favourite blogs Heresy Corner, articulating what anyone who knows Thompson's work was thinking. Here's a sample:

Thompson's house style of triumphalist, sneering, ultra-papalist camp - in which he is joined, day after day, by a claque of equally mean-spirited groupies and hangers-on - does more damage to the image of Catholicism than Richard Dawkins ever could. I've never been as offensive about any Christian as Damian manages to be, virtually every day, about his fellow Roman Catholics who happen to have different views to his about the liturgy, or politics, or the status of Joseph Ratzinger as the greatest being to occupy the throne of St Peter since the days of Gregory the Great. His reaction to the prospect of Anglo-Catholic defections to Rome has been very much in character: catty, obsequious towards the Vatican, vainglorious, snidely dismissive of both Rowan Williams and the "liberal" (by his standards) Catholic hierarchy in England, and crudely self-promoting.

Great work - pay Heresy Corner a visit and read the rest.


valdemar said...

The Dawk's still got it. And what a snide little Onanist Damian Thompson is.

Anonymous said...

The whole ballgame (knowledge and understanding) is about to go through a major expansion, understanding a brand new (and traditional) view of our worlds. For doubters, it is a scientific approach, taking a theory and checking phenomena to see if that theory makes them more understandable.
Fellow Seekers of Truth: using the logic of science, we check phenomena to see if they are explained by theory. If many phenomena can be explained, we then hold that theory to be true.
Edwin Abbott, writing his book 'Flatland' to humorously explain contiguous dimensional worlds, shows us a logical explanation for worlds superior to ours. 'Techie Worlds' uses the Flatland Concept to examine far-out Christian teachings such as Trinity, soul, Resurrection, Judgment, etc. While quite preposterous from a 'material-world-only' view, these teachings make rational good sense in the Flatland context.
Mankind has long been plagued with reports of the spirit world: miracles, ghosts, possession, pagan gods, witchcraft, occult, devil worship, black masses. Materialists classify all such as superstition and overactive imaginings. Christians shy from such, holding them unnatural because Jesus taught us to love. But the materialist position involves an act of faith that 'the material world is all that there is'. Their act of faith cannot be proved. Certainly, science cannot possibly experiment with the spirit world. Techie Worlds' (available from shows the belief in higher worlds, also an act of faith, is logical and considered, and shows these strange Christian concepts to be logically possible.

sushiguru said...

Holy crap. It's the grand unifying theory.

I'm off to phone the physics department and tell them to get on it. I can see the opening of the new 'ghost department' with associated EPSRC funding just around the corner.

No wait - that'll be the GETRC (Ghosts and Ethereal Theory Research Council)...

[koff koff].

Andy said...

Anonymous (just in case you're serious):

"For doubters, it is a scientific approach, taking a theory and checking phenomena to see if that theory makes them more understandable."

Er.. no, the scientific approach would be to ask what concrete predictions this theory makes, what would disprove it, and then test it by trying to disprove it. If you can't think of anything that might disprove what you're saying, then it might be an interesting idea, it might be consistent with what we know, but it isn't science.

Greg said...

Georgeric says

"the materialist position involves an act of faith that 'the material world is all that there is'. Their act of faith cannot be proved."

Interesting, or not actually. Calling observation, hypothesis and testing "faith" is a pretty big stretch of your imagination. Suggesting that (your words);

"Certainly, science cannot possibly experiment with the spirit world."

Why is that? You suggest this as a given, why? Why do you presuppose that science can't? I'm betting is so you can claim to be some sort of self appointed expert in the supernatural and sell a crappy book to gullible, crystal wearing, new age spiritualist.

Unfortunately, you've missed the point of flatland. Just because some portion of the universe exists outside of our normal perspective, it doesn't mean that it is unknowable, simply that the universe is more complex than our simple perception might lead us to beleve.

Richard Eis said...

If science can't detect a something...neither can you. You can believe in it, but then i've got a lovely collection of teapots circling the earth to tell you about. They are really there....believe me.