by Matt Lefebvre


(This is Matt’s final article in his series on The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  What Matt has done is profound. Dawkins is perhaps the most famous proponent of the New Atheism movement nowadays. His recent book The God Delusion has sold millions of copies and is already a best-seller. In it Dawkins viciously criticises religion and especially Christianity for being the source of practically every evil in the world.  If you are a Christian who wants to understand this current attack on Christianity, please take time to read Matt’s first article where he explains Dawkins’ arguments in some detail. You can find it here. In his second article called When The Sun Has Risen Part 1 Matt takes on the first 5 chapters of The God Delusion and wrestles with the ideas presented there. It is a good read for those who wish to uncover Dawkins’ questionable presuppositions and be able to answer some of the popular attacks on Christianity. What you have below is the final piece of Matt’s critique. I personally have found this article to be both enriching and helpful. I wish you would be as blessed as I have been by reading it. As always, your comments and questions are welcome! God bless you in your journey of reasonable faith! Dima)

What’s Wrong With Religion?

”We want a God without wrath who took man without sin into a kingdom without justice through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  In this second part of responding to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I feel this quote from The Kingdom of God in America by Reinhold Niebuhr says a lot.  What I brought attention to in the first part was the fact that even atheism involves presuppositions and that where you start plays a very significant role in where you end up.  While I hold this true for arguments concerning the existence of God, it also plays a large role in considering the implications of such a belief, and conversely, the implications of not believing it.  The quote illustrates that there is an expectation upon God, which carries with it the notion that the one who has this expectation has determined his criteria to be true or satisfying, or both.  However, in regard to truth, is the criteria realistic, and in regard to satisfaction, what factors have been considered?  An atheist can say that God is possibly the most unpleasant character in all of fiction, as Dawkins has, first assuming some kind of criteria for deciding His unpleasantness and then labeling Him fictional.  From there, he moves on to it being a good thing that God is fictional, because of the unpleasantness, and that the world is a better place without Him.  So on the one hand, the evil in the world is taken as inexorable evidence that God does not exist, and on the other hand, it’s a good thing God does not exist, because otherwise we would not have it so good.  That is a very simplistic statement and I am not saying that all atheists effectively reduce the answer to that.  However, the big question is two-fold, namely “What are we basing our morality on, and that being the case, what are the results of that?”; and what I gather from the statements of certain atheists, including Dawkins, that is very difficult indeed.  So before anyone can pledge undying devotion to the Dawkins philosophy, I think it is best to examine his critique of the alternative, and while we are at it, his answers to his own questions.

In terms of morality and the question of God, Dawkins seems to get questions inquiring as to how a person can be good without God or even want to be.  In response to this, as I pointed out in my summary of The God Delusion, Dawkins feels that morality that is only strong in the presence of policing is not much of a morality, that the claim of taking morality from a holy book is not taken into practice, and that not doing what the holy book says is a good thing.  Now I agree with him on the first point, but from a Christian perspective, I do not agree with him on the second and third points.  I will not attempt to defend the holy books of other religions, one because I do see examples of violence being sanctioned unjustly and two because the brunt of Dawkins’ critique is against the Bible, which is the book I hold as the word of God.  However, I will concur with what Alister McGrath states on page 46 of The Dawkins Delusion?, “Yet is [religious violence] a necessary feature of religion?  Here, I must insist that we abandon the outmoded idea that all religions say more or less the same things.  They clearly do not.”  McGrath goes on to mention the fact that Jesus was totally opposed to violence and was even the object of violence, for He was crucified, in spite of the fact that He had done no harm to anyone.  Dawkins is not oblivious to this and certainly considers the teaching of Jesus to be an improvement on the Old Testament.  However, he does show himself quite oblivious to how the Old Testament is to be properly interpreted and to the meaning of Jesus’ statements about it.  Far from disagreeing with the Old Testament, Jesus proclaimed that He was in fact the fulfillment of it.  What He spoke against was not too dissimilar from Dawkins’ first point stated above.  The religious leaders at the time of Jesus were only concerned with outward obedience to the law and that to the tiniest detail, but missed the bigger picture.  Matthew 23:23 describes how they would tithe dill, mint, and cumin, but neglect justice, mercy, and faith.  They were concerned with how they looked and not with changing their hearts, or in other words, they were so concerned with all that they were not supposed to do, they did not think about what they were supposed to do.  They were those only moral in the presence of policing, but this was not the teaching of Jesus, nor even the teaching of the Old Testament to which they clung so tightly.  So while the first point may be true, it is not the biblical perspective, and thus, Dawkins’ notion that people like this represent mainstream Christianity will require further examination still, also illuminating the second and third points regarding whether Christians get their morality from the Bible and whether or not this is a good idea.

Since Dawkins has suggested that those who want to base their morality on the Bible have

either not read it or understood it, I think explaining how we are supposed to understand it will do a lot of good.  The Old and New Testaments are another way of saying the old and new covenants, which might bring to mind a question like “What is new about the new covenant?”  Reading Dawkins, it might sound like everything is new and that Jesus was very critical of the old covenant, when in fact, He was merely illuminating and bringing to completion all that the Old Testament spoke about.  Among other places, Matthew 5:17-20 describes this, in that Christ was the fulfillment of law and the prophets (the Old Testament), and interestingly enough, verse 20 says that the righteousness of those of the kingdom of heaven must exceed the righteousness of the religious leaders.  These are the same religious leaders who appeared righteous outwardly, but inwardly were unrighteous to the core, culminating in the eventual execution of Jesus on false charges.  So, if we have the Old Testament presented as something that is clearly not fulfilled until Jesus comes and actually ended up leading some to think they were righteous when they really were not, a further question might be “Why then the law?”  This is exactly what Paul answers after describing that the righteous man is righteous by faith and not the law in Galatians 3.  From verse 19 to verse 29 there is a description of the law being added because of our failures and being a tutor until Christ would come.  As the quote at the beginning said, there is a lack of understanding about why Christ is needed, not least in the mind of Dawkins.  The concepts of sin and justice are either treated as abstract or not even realities at all.  If we experience this lack of understanding now, it would certainly be the case for the nation of Israel.  Though the law was never meant to be God or become more important than God, it was meant to show people who God is: holy, just, loving, merciful, powerful, etc.  Dawkins gets it wrong by thinking that we base our morality on some holy book written by men who lived a few thousand years ago.  Our morality is based on who God is.  The Bible is what God has revealed to show us who He is, both the Old and New Testaments, though it does not include every situation that will ever come up.  The Bible is a guide to knowing God and morality comes out of being like God in the sense of emulating His character, such as goodness, love, and mercy.  However, even though God remains the same, He has revealed Himself in different ways.  The old covenant was a very physical covenant, involving sacrifice of animals, gathering for feasts, and maintaining outward purity.  In understanding these physical things, there was some basis for understanding the spiritual covenant that the new covenant was.  For example, in light of sacrificing a lamb at Passover, Jesus’ disciples could understand what His sacrifice meant, His death even coming during Passover.  So the old covenant prepared the way for Jesus, but even though He fulfilled all the law and the prophets, the Old Testament was not thrown out.  1 Corinthians 10:6-11 and Romans 15:4 describe how the Old Testament gives instruction, both to show us what not to do, but also to encourage us and give us hope.  So when Dawkins talks about the Old Testament as if Christians are supposed to be doing these things, he is not considering the proper way to interpret the Old Testament, nor the original situation into which these things were written.  Though the Old Testament helps Christians to appreciate Jesus more and to understand God more, it is not binding on us, and even the obscure things that Dawkins labels as just plain weird make a lot more sense when placed in their cultural, historical, and literary context.  Dawkins includes some examples from the law and then an example from Judges 11.  Since I have discussed some of how we view the Old Testament law, I will talk a little bit about Judges 11.  This is the story of Jephthah and how he makes a vow to sacrifice to the LORD the first thing that comes out of his gates if he gains victory.  The implication that Dawkins is giving is that if it is taken literally, Jephthah is a horrible role model, and if it is taken to teach a moral, it would be a bad moral.  Sadly, this seems to represent Dawkins’ cursory reading of the Bible, for if he had taken the whole book of Judges as one book, which it is, and thought about what the author’s intention was, it would save a lot of misunderstanding.  The book of Judges is full of bad role models, but that is the whole point of the book: the evil state people would drop to if they ignored God and went unrestrained to their own desires, not following the law.  The whole book is cycling downward and the book ends with the phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  In Dawkins’ New Testament analysis, he says that “Love your neighbour” really meant to love another Jew and that this was an “in-group” versus “out-group” development common to religions and possibly part of the reason it survives in a Darwinian framework.  Well, first of all, Jesus commended and commanded out-group affirmation, as Alister McGrath points out on page 54 of The Dawkins Delusion?, quoting Matthew 5:44 which describes loving your neighbour and your enemy, and even the concept of the neighbour was extended beyond the Jews in Luke 10 with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Secondly, even in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 10:17-19, we have an excellent example of morality based on God’s character, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  Do Christians get morality from the Bible?  Yes, though in that view we are ultimately made in the image of God and have a sense of morality built into us, so the Bible then leads us closer to God.  Should we get our morality from the Bible?  Yes, but the Bible needs to be properly interpreted and God’s character to be considered for the things not specifically mentioned.

I think it might do Dawkins some good to read a book like Judges and see what happens when people just do what they want to without any moral guidance.  I bring it up, because while an atheist will often blame religion for atrocities in the world, he will think atheism to be different.  A common argument is that atheists can be good without God, but there are a few things that can be said about that.  First, I have already said that I believe God made us in His image and therefore, we have a personality like Him, being able to choose and make decisions.  Sadly, the consequence of being free in making decisions is that we will not always choose the right way, but that does not mean we have no concept of right and wrong.  The Bible says that some people suppress the truth and ignore the revelation of God’s divine nature, instead going after impurity rather than the glory of God (Romans 1:18-25).  Second, the atheist concept of autonomous or independent morality can be largely attributed to the borrowed values of their society with obvious exceptions.  Murder is a crime in most cultures, though not all, but atheists and Christian alike would generally agree that it is morally wrong for a human to murder another human.  Third, though atheists can be good without believing in God, the fact that they have no objective point of reference gives them every reason to be immoral, as Ravi Zacharias points out on page 32 of Can Man Live Without God.  He then goes on to say that “Any antitheist who lives a moral life merely lives better than his or her philosophy warrants.”  In thinking about that, it leads me to turn it around and say that I believe that those Christians who live an immoral life live drastically worse than the philosophy warrants.  By Dawkins’ own admission, though absolutism is not always derived from religion, it is usually hard to defend it apart from religious grounds.  What I gather from this is the implication that having absolutes is dangerous and that atheism is immune to this, because there is no objectivity.  To a certain extent I can agree, in that some absolutes are dangerous, but in the case of something like truth, I would want nothing less than absolute truth, or I would not consider it truth at all, but only opinion that works sometimes.  Where I fully disagree is in the fact that atheism is immune to absolutism, but I do agree that there is no objectivity, which ironically puts the atheist in a tight spot.

G.K. Chesterton illustrates this on page 41 of Orthodoxy, which I will quote at length.  “For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is a waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

It was inconsistency that I commented on in the first part of this article and I see it again here.  Dawkins calls God immoral, but on what basis?  He was not up to date with the changing moral Zeitgeist or spirit of the times?  He did not consider popular opinion?  In the case study on general opinion, Dawkins discovered that 90% of people, whether atheist or Christian, would make the same moral choice between saving 5 people by killing one.  However, when the spotlight is turned on God, He cannot take anyone’s life or give laws to punish sin by death penalty.  Since I mentioned how the Old Testament teaches us how to learn from other people’s mistakes, I can give an example.  Dawkins thinks that God should not be so jealous in the matter of the worship of other gods, which did in fact warrant the death penalty.  What is the big deal?  Well, for one, the worship of some of these gods involved child sacrifice, burning the child alive.  Or consider an analogy of a father doing everything for his child and then having the child go thank a chair or a coffee table.  It does not matter how fancy the furniture may be, it is still man-made and made for the purpose of gratified one’s own desires.  Dawkins may still not see a problem here, but I certainly do, and though we will never understand what it is like to be God, He gives us enough emotion in the Bible to give us the picture of the danger and futility of idol worship.  I cannot get my head around how an atheist can accuse God of anything or feel the need to, if His non-existence were to be presupposed.  What wrong has He committed hypothetically?  Who says so?  Dawkins does not feel that the responsibility is on him to say where morality comes from, but that it is just enough to say that it does not come from the Bible.  Well, considering that the moral argument is an argument for the existence of God and that the lack of morality is the cause of many instances of suffering charged flippantly to God’s account, I would say that the responsibility is very largely on the one who says God does not exist to tell me where morality comes from.  Ravi Zacharias captures well the inconsistency of the atheist claims on page 13 of Can Man Live Without God.  “I often remind them that the same type of authority referencing is given by irreligious persons who also provide no defense for why their source has served as canonical for them, be it this philosopher or that movie star.”  This was in response to the Bible being rejected immediately at school as irrelevant, because some Christians feel that all they need to say is that the Bible says so and that is that, but not everyone feels this way.  I like defending the authority of the Bible and I think Christians should look into the historicity of it, but my point is that there is a bias that goes largely unnoticed.  A professor can immediately reject the Bible as authoritative without qualification and present his view as the way people ought to think but as G.K. Chesterton said above “all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind” so where is his from and what makes it superior?  This bias is evident in many places in Dawkins’ book, but I want to focus on one in particular, centered on the evils of religion.

Though I have a copy of The God Delusion I want to present the following quotation of Dawkins from Alister McGrath on page 48 of The Dawkins Delusion?, because he adds italics for emphasis and then follows it up with a couple sentences.  “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca – or Chartres, York Minster, or Notre Dame.’  Sadly, this noble sentiment is a statement about his own personal credulity, not the reality of things.  The history of the Soviet Union is replete with the burning and dynamiting of huge numbers of churches.  His pleading that atheism is innocent of the violence and oppression that he associates with religion is simply untenable, and suggests a significant blind spot.”  It is almost comical to see this going back and forth, saying that Stalin was an atheist, countered by Dawkins saying he did not do the atrocities because he was an atheist, and then this quote that places Dawkins in a bit of a corner.  As it has been put in other words, indeed, they did not use bulldozers…they used dynamite!  It is hard to take a man seriously, who distinguishes himself from fundamentalists who know they are right and that nothing will change their mind, when he is presented with a 20th century filled with atheist oppression, especially against religion, and he still holds to his belief, I repeat, belief that atheism is not conducive to violence.  He has his defense in it being political and not based on atheism, but I do not see how the eradication of religion can be anything but an atheist agenda.  Thinking implicationally how is it that these so-called violent religions are going to just vanish to make lives better?  Dawkins might not be directly encouraging the persecution of Christians, but that is how it has started in the past.  He may not present so many ideas, but maybe he could get some tips from Mao in China or Lenin and Stalin in Russia.  Wait, maybe that will not work, as Ravi Zacharias points out in the introduction to Can Man Live Without God.  “There is no clearer demonstration of this unrelenting hunger than the experiences of Russia and China as each has, in its own way, tried to exterminate the idea of God, only to realize that He rises up to outlive His pallbearers.”  So while Dawkins will not concede the evils of atheism in any form, his critique of religion encompasses not just fundamentalist religion, but even moderate religion, for he thinks it fosters fundamentalism, teaching children that unquestioning faith is a virtue and to this subject of children, he will return with a vengeance.  However, just because atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity (and I do not deny that), I have to question what that has to do with orthodox Christian belief.  I think Alister McGrath says it best on page 49 of The Dawkins Delusion? when he states “The reality of the situation is that human beings are capable of both violence and moral excellence – and that both these may be provoked by world views, whether religious or otherwise.”  Would the end of religion be marked by the end of violence?  I think not.  Christianity, for one, is not blind to the fact that we need to be more like Christ.  In response to an article in The Times of London entitled What’s Wrong with the World?, G.K. Chesterton replied, “I am.  Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”  I feel that this is the key difference, in that we have, as followers of Christ, a standard to follow.  This is the standard of the One that told Peter to put his sword away when he wanted to fight (John 18:10-11) and said that His kingdom was not of this world, otherwise His servants would fight (John 18:36).  This is the One who said to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and not lord authority over anyone, but serve (Mark 10:42-45).  Of all the abuses of Christ’s name, none have been sanctioned by Him, but what about atheism?  What sets that on the right track if it deviates or better yet, what governs it in the first place?  Dawkins does not seem to think he has to answer his own questions, posed to religion, but atheism is not the default position, so if he wants more respect for it, he needs to present it as substantially more satisfying than anything I see him saying.  Moving on to my final point, I want to remind you of the opening quote, saying that people want a God without wrath to take man without sin into a kingdom without justice through Christ without a cross.

It is clear that Dawkins is oblivious to the effects of sin when he puts forward the idea that psychological abuse, in the form of labeling children with the religious beliefs of their parents, can be worse than physical abuse.  This presents a problem, not least because physical abuse is a criminal offense.  Now, in his own words, Dawkins seems to be disinclined to think that God should care what you do with your genitals and from his Darwinian standpoint, it makes sense, since he views sexual desire as nothing more than a by-product of the need to procreate for survival of a species.  However, this is not the biblical view, which he makes fun of by citing some of the different sexual prohibitions in Leviticus, saying who or what to not have sex with.  The reason for these prohibitions would be that people would do this kind of thing and it was both unhealthy and against nature.  It is easy for a naturalist to say that there is no morality, so do whatever you want, but it not so easy for him to provide answers for the ensuing problems.  Sex before marriage can lead to unwanted pregnancy or eventual unfaithfulness in marriage, which in either case can quite naturally lead to divorce, if the pregnant couple even end up getting married at all.  I do not know of many people who would say that relationships are not central to life, but in a society where anything goes, we show by our actions that we really do not care about them.  Kids grow up without both parents and their eventual commitments are not commitments at all, but simply self-serving gratification until it runs out.  In a satirical poem on the modern mind called Creed, Steve Turner had this to say, “We believe that everything is OK as long as you don’t hurt anyone, to the best of your definition of hurt, and to the best of your knowledge.  We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.  We believe in the therapy of sin.  We believe that adultery is fun.  We believe sodomy is OK.  We believe that taboos are taboo.  We believe that everything’s getting better despite evidence to the contrary.  The evidence must be investigated and you can prove anything with evidence…We believe that man is essentially good.  It’s only his behavior that lets him down.”  Do no harm to anyone is a great motto, provided you have a solid definition of what you mean by harm, which we actually do in the Bible in Romans 13:8-10 among other places.  However, where does the atheist get his definition from?  Of course the atheist would very easily avoid the form of child abuse describe, for he has no religious beliefs to shove down a child’s throat.  However, what does he have?  He has evidence, reason, logic and empirical investigation.  Dawkins brings forward the noble suggestion that he would want to not tell his kids what to think, but how to think.  This sounds like a positive proposition, seemingly unbiased and objective.  However, how exactly would a naturalist teach his children to think?  “Matter is all there is and you cannot trust anything that cannot be proven scientifically”?  “Do not listen to these fairy tales called religions”?  I defy Dawkins to tell me that he would not openly ridicule religion in front of children as he does in his book.  I am sure he would not use the same language, but I believe the core sentiments would remain the same.  How about right and wrong?  “This is right and that is wrong, because that is acceptable in our society and that is not”?  Or maybe it would not even come up, but there would just be an understanding of things that are less favourable or more favourable.  Whatever the case, Dawkins is not an impartial observer to the actions he criticizes, but must employ morality to postulate anything in favour of one thing over another and he cannot do that arbitrarily, as if not swayed by any other factors.

In closing this article, I would just like to comment on how I started, giving it the title When The Sun Has Risen referring to seeing the world in the light of God, but also the time when the empty tomb was discovered after Jesus’ resurrection.  The death of Jesus on the cross is seen by Dawkins as both indecent and unnecessary, and as I have briefly explored, part of this has to do with him not appreciating the problem of sin, nor the fact that Jesus stands as an example for all.  However, this fact itself is not unanticipated by Scripture, as 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those being saved it is the power of God.  The truth, not least demonstrated in The God Delusion is that there is much evil in the world, and somehow, many people say it is either God’s fault, or He cannot exist because evil does.  There is a lot that could be said about this, but I would like to take a couple quotes from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God to sum it up.  On page 171, he says “The

Ravi Zacharias

cross stands as a mystery because it is foreign to everything we exalt self over principle, power over meekness, the quick fix over the long haul, cover up over confession, escapism over confrontation, comfort over sacrifice, feeling over commitment, legality over justice, the body over the spirit, anger over forgiveness, man over God.”  In questioning why God could not just forgive us if He wanted to, without having Himself tortured and executed, Dawkins shows a few of these qualities, but not least legality over justice.  Why did Jesus have to pay when He did not do anything wrong?  Well, no one else could.  He was the only sinless Person and in His death, all the earthly ambitions and worthless pursuits were put to death with Him.  There was nobody who could earn salvation, because everybody had their own problems.  Imagine the absurdity of one guy on death row offering to take the sentence of another so that other could go free.  You cannot pay for someone else if you have your own debt.  No, Christ was not killed needlessly, for God did not decide one day to be just and holy so this would have to happen, but He has always been and will always be just and holy.  Being just and holy, then, requires that those granted good have done good and those granted bad have done bad.  However, one look at the workings of a human being show that even the best of us have done badly to some extent.  So, what could be done was to give an offering in place of those who were not so good, to not only allow them to not be punished, but also to show them such expression of love as to procure their devotion to the One who lived a life unparalleled.  I will close with three things that Ravi Zacharias goes on to state on pages 172-174 that he sees in the cross, because there really is not only one thing to be seen in it.  I hope this article has been helpful for you to see even a little glimpse of the magnificent wonder it is to know God and search Him out, and to think about how unrealistic and unsatisfying objections to Christianity can be.  “First, I see in the cross the expression of my own heart, for it was the heart’s rebellion against God and the will’s disposition that vented its fury upon the One who was and is the gospel…Second, in the cross of Jesus Christ, I see the marvel of forgiveness as a starting point for rebuilding one’s own life…Finally, the cross sounds forth the message that God is not distant from pain and suffering; He has done something about it.”

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