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.”
A Christian who does not read the Bible, pray, or believe in the power of prayer?
But it gets even worse: “Just a third (32%) believe Jesus was physically resurrected, with one in five (18%) not believing in the resurrection even in a spiritual sense; half (49%) do not think of Jesus as the Son of God, with one in twenty-five (4%) doubting he existed at all.”
How wonderful! “Christians” who don’t believe their Savior rose from the dead – which basically ends the story right there, the truth be told – and who don’t believe he was the Son of God or, for some, that he even existed. Yet they identify as Christians?
This would be like people identifying as Muslims and yet denying that the Koran was God’s Word, denying that Muhammad was Allah’s prophet, and denying that Islam is the true path to God. Could they rightly be called Muslims?
As strange as it feels to write these words, I must say that, yes, I agree with Richard Dawkins: These people who deny the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith and who evidence no relationship with God cannot rightly be called Christian. And it is therefore not surprising or even noteworthy that, “Three quarters (74%) strongly agree or tend to agree that religion should not have special influence on public policy, with only one in eight (12%) thinking that it should.”
Why should it? If “religion” hasn’t affected their private lives, why should affect public policy?
All that being said, it was Dawkins who was embarrassed in much of the interview, and after he chided professing Christians who could not identify the first book of the New Testament, Fraser asked him,
Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin Of Species, I’m sure you could tell me that.
Dawkins: Yes I could.
Fraser: Go on then.
Dawkins: On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. There is a sub-title with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. (Dawkins actually left out the “Natural Selection” part of the title, even though it is the cornerstone of Darwin’s evolutionary theory.)
Of course, we can’t accuse Dawkins of actually praying during his “oh, God” moment, but it was still enjoyable to hear the world’s most famous atheist have this very public slip of the tongue. Would to God that it would prove to be a Freudian slip.
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.