Friday 6 January 2012

Resurrecting yet another segment from that Facebook exchange

This Facebook thread (from which I have already quoted) was started by Justin Brierley as yet more disingenuous Dawkins-baiting. I forebore to snap at said bait, and eventually the conversation drifted to other matters. But further down Justin seemed motivated enough to whip it back in line with this bit of peevishness:
Unbelievable? I don't normally get that easily offended by silly things that Dawkins says, but that quotation from the piece struck me as so incredibly condescending and insulting.

Are those who are tortured and killed for their faith around the world "mewling and wimpering at the fear of death"? Are those whose faith have helped them to face incredible, harship, illness and death, "mewling and whimpering to an imaginery deity in their fear of death"?

Its a slap in the face to the sick Pirsoners of War that my grandfather tended to and gave their last rites in a Japanese camp in the 1930s, its a slap in the face to the people my wife visits today on hospital wards in their last hours to pray with and offer words of hope and love and peace.

If you think its an imagined source of stength and courage in the face of death, then you are welcome to that view, but please don't go around with the (there's not other word for it I'm afraid) offensive rubbish Dawkins passed off in this supposed eulogy.
If theists find certain characterisations of their worship of a god offensive, that's too bad. Some atheists find it offensive to be told they have no grounding for morality, and that therefore any moral judgments they make are completely without foundation — when in fact many of them have given moral questions a great deal of thought and come to their views and decisions based on consideration of a wide range of circumstances and consequences.

No-one, however, theist or atheist, has a right not to be offended. As for "mewling and whimpering" — read the Book of Common Prayer to see why such a characterisation is, in some atheist eyes, entirely justified. These were taken more or less at random from the Collects:
"we are sorely hindered by our sins"

"Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace..."

"Have compassion, we beseech thee, upon our infirmities, and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask..."
And particularly relevant to Justin's complaint — from Ministration at the Time of Death:
"We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may
please you to deliver the soul of your servant from the power
of evil, and from eternal death"

Into your hands, O merciful Saviour, we commend your
servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
own redeeming."
But for a wholehearted mewl and a thoroughly downcast whimper I found Confession of Sin:
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,
we have offended against thy holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done,

and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
spare thou those who confess their faults,
restore thou those who are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
It's not as if I had to ferret these quotes out; I simply opened up the book and there they were. Anglicans of Dawkins' generation grew up with this stuff, so it's hardly surprising that "mewling and whimpering" is seen by many as part and parcel of Christianity.

Christians, and other theists, will just have to get used to it. The ring-fence has gone, the free pass has expired, and religion must take its place alongside art, literature, music and food as a fit subject for robust criticism — and sometimes warranted ridicule.

My grandfather would never have been caught "mewling and whimpering". He objected to being cast as a "miserable sinner" — he was willing to accept he was a sinner, but he refused to be miserable.