Monday, May 23, 2011

Dawkins on the unraptured

On this page of the Richard Dawkins Foundation site, commenters respond to the article I wrote about here.

Richard himself left a comment:

I'm struggling to find a reason why American evangelical Christians deserve even a little respect, and I'm not struggling at all to discover that Tim Stanley merits no respect at all. I do feel sorry for the children of Camping's deluded followers. But for the adults, including those who have ruined themselves financially, and those who now feel 'bewildered', or who need 'counselling', I find myself unable to feel anything but withering contempt. Especially when I think of what the hundred million tax free dollars could have been spent on instead of ridiculous advertisements; and when I think of all the good things the 66 radio stations could have been used to broadcast instead of Christian bollocks.

No, no respect, not a crumb of respect, not a grain of pity. Just contempt for utterly stupid, worthless people.


My views differ a little from Richard’s, although I’m strongly sympathetic to what he says.  I thought I should explain why.

First, I agree entirely with Richard on the case of respect for both evangelists and the whining Stanley.  But I am more inclined than Richard to feel sorry for the deluded.  Or perhaps its more accurate to say that I pity them.  If this seems condescending then good, because that’s what I intended.

I guess there are two main categories: people who haven’t been much fazed by their disappointment and who cling to the idea that there’ll be a rapture one day and the problem was down to someone getting his sums wrong; and people who have been troubled enough to ask serious questions about their faith.

I have no sympathy at all for those whose faith has not been shaken by the debacle.  If they listen to the next crackpot who turns up with a prediction, then there’s no hope for them.  We atheists have done all we can and all they have to do is listen.  I can’t feel much sympathy either for those who sold all their stuff or split up their families.  The former case looks like ridiculous ostentation: there was no need to sell their stuff, they did it to prove how pious, holy and sure of their faith they were.  This is not a virtue and they deserve to be mocked.  The latter case, where families have ostracised members who they thought wouldn’t be raptured, is less deserving still of sympathy, for reasons too obvious to explain.

I’m pleased, of course, that some people will have had cause to doubt their faith and would be delighted if the fuss leads a few to struggle away from their faith and live without it’s burden.  But in the meantime they’re going to be lost and bewildered.  It’s not a happy state and I don’t particularly wish it on anyone.  I said ‘struggle’ for a reason.  For many people, giving up faith is a dreadfully hard business.  It can cause much personal angst and problems within families.  I personally know people who have seriously contemplated suicide when they found they could no longer believe.  The message is eventually an upbeat one, however.  I’ve no doubt at all that people are better off without the shackles of religion than with.  But I do sympathise with them over that difficult transition time. 

I have sympathy because these people are beginning to realise that they’re victims: victims of charismatic preachers; of pernicious religion with highly effective barbs; and of child abuse.  Religious indoctrination can so skew a person’s perspective that they destroy their families and livelihood at the flimsiest encouragement.  And there’s no shortage of people around to offer that encouragement and reward them for piety.

My message to people who are losing their faith is to hang in there.  it gets better.  A life lived in reason will be better than one lived for a lie.

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