St Stephen Lewisham
22nd September 2013
The Dawkins Delusion
You’ve probably heard of Richard Dawkins, the scholar who is not only an atheist himself, but appears to see it as his life’s mission being to everyone else to share his belief that ‘there is no God’. That’s exactly what ‘the fool has said in his heart’ according to the Book of Psalms.
God knows (literally!) why someone as intelligent as Dawkins should imagine that doing that is even possible. Political régimes over thousands of years have tried (and failed) to do. In fact, by making ordinary people ask themselves (perhaps for the first time) whether God exists, he’s done us a service by persuading them to use their grey matter, their brains, rather than their feelings to answer that question. A priest said to me this week, ‘Dawkins is my great hero because he’s succeeded in doing what the Church has so lamentably failed to do’.
There isn’t time to deal with all Dawkins’s mistaken ideas. But there’s one particular belief of his which is doing the rounds nowadays, and which is leading many people ‘up the garden path’: it’s the idea that the two words ‘Faith’ and ‘Religion’ mean the same thing as each other. They cannot do so by any stretch of the imagination: so this morning let’s try and get the difference between them quite clear in our minds.
Faith is about facts – whether we believe something is true or false; and its truth or falsehood doesn’t depend on how many (or how few people) believe it. For example, most people believe that the sun is closer to the earth in Summer than in Winter. But they are wrong. The sun is nearly 3 million miles closer to us in mid-Winter than it is in mid-Summer! Because Summer feels warmer than Winter (though not much, one has to say!) they think the sun must be nearer us. It isn’t! Feelings are often misleading! How often have you heard me say that!
‘Religion’, on the other hand, is about what people do about what they believe: and they do very different things. Some go to Church, others don’t. Some practise honesty, kindness, chastity and humility because of what they believe, whilst others don’t. Even we, who really believe the Christian faith, often fail to ‘practise what we preach – we ‘all sin and fall short of the glory of God’. But many imagine that what ‘makes’ them a Christian is occasionally doing some Christian action. But their hearts and minds are still miles away from having Faith in God and His saving grace. Some go to Church because their friends do; some like singing hymns or hearing sermons. Some practise kindness because it makes life more pleasant. Some are generous because it gives them a good feeling. But none of these things makes anybody a Christian: Muslims, Jews and atheists all do the same.
Dawkins seems to think that ‘being a Christian’ should be seen as nothing more than practising some of its virtues in our everyday life. By God, it is not! ‘Being a Christian’ only begins when somebody comes to believe that God has revealed Himself finally and perfectly in Jesus Christ and surrenders their life to Him in Baptism. Then, and only then, they can turn that Faith into Religion by seeking and doing God’s will for them. If God did not reveal Himself in Christ then Jesus was no more than a deluded madman who claimed to be God (as many have done). Whether He is or is not God is a matter of fact (which you believe or you don’t). And as we saw earlier, the fact that many, or few, (or even nobody) believe it to be true, has no effect whatever on whether it is actually true or false.
So the problem facing God’s faithful people today isn’t getting people to be nicer to each other; or even to get them to come to Church. That’s the job of Religion. Our first task is to discover people who’ve begun to think that the Christian Faith is (or may be) true rather than false. Then having found them we must explain what our Faith is, in ways they can understand. Only finally must we persuade them to join us in practising that Faith as their ‘Religion’. You cannot expect people to believe something to be true, without first explaining to them what it’s all about.
And that’s one of the great weaknesses of the present Church of England. Most people who fill in a form and tick the box ‘Church of England’ don’t have the slightest idea what we (or even they themselves) believe, so poor is the standard of teaching and preaching today. Until they (and we) start taking their ignorance (and our own ignorance) seriously – and doing something about it – they’ll follow people like Dawkins ‘up the garden path’ and get further and further away from the only path which leads to God, – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!