It was a truly classic moment as the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins, struggling for words during a radio interview, uttered a brief, almost suppliant, “oh, God.” But before we get to that, I must say that I agree with the overall point Prof. Dawkins was making: Most of Britain’s Christians are anything but Christian.
The interview in question took place on February 13th and aired on the Today program in England, where Rev. Giles Fraser and Dawkins discussed the findings of a recent survey conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. As reported by Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph, “The statistics purport to show that most people who identify themselves as Christian turn out, when questioned on what they actually think, to be ‘overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on issues ranging from gay rights to religion in public life’. Dawkins’s conclusion is that these self-identified Christians are ‘not really Christian at all’.”
To be sure, it is absurd to think that Dawkins is the last person who should be making pronouncements on who is or is not a Christian, and Fraser, an ultra-liberal himself, took Dawkins to task, arguing that people who professed to be Christians were entitled to be recognized as Christians.
But is self-identification an accurate measure? Is there no such thing as a religious hypocrite? What about a nominal Christian? And didn’t Jesus tell us that we should judge a tree by its fruit?
According to data from the Dawkins survey, “the research found that fewer than three in ten (28%) say one of the reasons is that they believe in the teachings of Christianity. People are much more likely to consider themselves to be Christian because they were christened or baptised into the religion (72%) or because their parents were members of the religion (38%) than because of personal belief.”
Come again? If more than 70% of them do not “believe in the teachings of Christianity,” how can they call themselves Christian?
But it gets worse: “The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, independently and from choice, for at least a year.” And, “Over a third (37%) have never or almost never prayed outside a church service, with a further 6% saying they pray independently and from choice less than once a year.” Also, “Only a quarter (26%) say they completely believe in the power of prayer, with one in five (21%) saying they either do not really believe in it or do not believe in it at all.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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