Monday, October 23, 2006

Dawkins & Harris: correct moral analysis but an unscholarly sociology & exegesis

I agree with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. In terms of their observation that many who wear their biblical literalism on their sleeves turn around and advocate some really ugly things. I heard Sam Harris on a podcast recently where he complained about "maniacs" who not only knew Karl Rove's phone number but also got weekly updates from him. He was of course talking about a certain set of evangelical Christians who have high ranking influence with the Republican leadership in Washington.

In a recent Boing Boing posting, Harris is quoted:
"It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ."
The same article quotes Richard Dawkins' analysis of the same folks:
"The political ascendancy today values embryonic cells over adult people. It obsesses about gay marriage, ahead of genuinely important issues that actually make a difference to the world."
Now in this blog I've ranted as much at the Religious Right as these two guys have. I agree that much of the Right's agenda is a celebration of brutality and greed and exploitation, something that any decent-hearted person would rightly rise against.

But does a belief in an actual and literal Second Coming (there are many flavors of this belief) necessarily require a delight in nuclear holocausts? I don't think one necessarily flows from the other.

The problem is that these two dudes engage in as much sloppy scholarship as the Religious Right. Not only in ignoring that there are a variety of traditions in approaching to the constituitive texts in Christianity (sloppy scholarship in sociology) but also in claiming that the higher view, the more literal reading of these texts requires jumping on the brutality & exploitation bandwagon (sloppy scholarship in exegesis). My reading doesn't take me to where Dawkins & Harris go. And I cannot help but conclude I've read a whooole lot more of what they have of the constituitive texts themselves.

Maybe one could pick out a few verses out of context, but that only makes my point. My conviction is that the sum and total of the biblical record not only offers compassion in the Law's demands of restraint in how we deal with neighbor and enemy, but also offers compassion in terms of Christ's willing to suffer for our sins against neighbor. This total of the biblical record is something entirely different from the total of sermons preached by pastors who subscribed to the Christian Coalition in the 1980's. I may blog more about this if there is interest.

Let me close with a quote from C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity. Here Lewis is talking about the Law, and is trying to convince us of our own sense of sin. But notice the three words he uses to describe sin in this passage. Then ask yourself if these are words the Religious Right would use as synonyms for sin, and whether if a God is good if these items are "issues that actually make a difference to the world."
For the trouble is that part of you is really on [God's] side and agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation."

No comments: