Please, Professor Dawkins, can I be a cultural atheist?

March 26, 2008 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

I wrote this open letter back in December 2007, in response to Richard Dawkins’ remarks about singing Christmas carols. Richard at Connexions kindly posted it at the time, as I was then blogless.

Dear Professor Dawkins

I think we can agree that this is contextually a post-Christendom country.

And yes, like everybody else I enjoy watching The Golden Compass (or reading The Da Vinci Code, or singing along to that old jazz number It Ain’t Necessarily So, or countless other activities that would seem to reflect a sceptical approach to religious faith and its institutions). Furthermore, at this time of year I’m as likely as the next person to overindulge in mince pies and mulled wine, to get caught up in the commercialism, to drop heavy hints about expensive and extravagant objects of desire that I hope to find under the tree come Christmas Day.

The trouble is, though, that I am a person of faith. You might legitimately say that I am dogmatic in my intellectual rejection of atheism in all its forms.

Am I being hypocritical, therefore, in quaffing so freely from the tankard of post-Christian culture? Is it legitimate, or even possible, for me to “suspend my belief” in this way?

This has been a troubling dilemma for me. I was relieved therefore to read of your own enjoyment in singing Christmas carols, and indeed your magnanimous acceptance of this nation’s Christian traditions and history.

So would it be alright with you if I regard myself as a cultural atheist?

Perhaps we could, in a cultural sense at least, swap places for a while. By all means go ahead and have a good sing about midwinter snow in Bethlehem, and an infant who doesn’t even cry. Meanwhile I’ll book my panto tickets, put an inflatable snowman in the front garden, and sing Jingle Bells to my heart’s content.

But then, I wonder whether we can really disengage our behavioural selves from our intellectual selves in the manner you suggest. If we enter into the practices of a particular culture, then sooner or later don’t we find that something of the spirit of that culture rubs off on us? Don’t we end up preaching what we practise?

So, when Christmas is over for another year and you and I swap places back again, perhaps I’ll find myself wanting to challenge unthinking pietism and the introspective traditionalism to which some religious people can be prone. Perhaps I’ll ask awkward questions of people of faith; perhaps I’ll demand to know how and why the Christmas message of “Peace on earth and goodwill to all” has been transformed into authoritarian dogma and too-ready acceptance of continuing warfare and injustice.

And perhaps you might welcome that.

But I wonder, Professor Dawkins: after you’ve celebrated Christmas, what will you do next year?

Advertisements

Entry filed under: current affairs, faith, satire. Tags: , , , , .

Worship and Irrelevance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Categories

Feeds

RSS Tortoise tracks

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Pages

March 2008
S M T W T F S
    Apr »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

%d bloggers like this: