Archbishop Williams' response to Richard Dawkins

I've been wanting for some time to write about the new, strident, atheism typified in Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion. It is a new form of secular fundamentalism that is, at least in its rhetoric, highly aggressive and offensive (like some other forms of fundamentalism, this doesn't necessarily mean that it is potentially violent - Christian fundamentalism has been using aggressive rhetoric for decades in the US with very little violence, on the other hand, Muslim fundamentalism in the Middle East has proved highly violent - but these differences may have as much to do with cultural and political stability, or lack thereof, as with anything else).

My fear is that because this new Atheistic Fundamentalism is secular in nature, it will not be recognized as a form of fundamentalism by the popular mind (the voting and office-holding masses) simply because we have blindly accepted the dichotomy between the "religious" and the "secular" that was handed to us by the Enlightenment as, at best, a mis-understanding and at worst a powerplay (as if secular ideologies were not, broadly speaking, "religious," but were somehow "above all that" [insert appeals to religious wars and inquisitions here as if their evil was anything next to the crusades and inquisitions of the godless ideologies of the 20th century]).

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury who is presiding over the crisis of and, what will probably be, the total transformation of the Anglican Communion, has recently given a lecture, that I highly recommend reading, addressing the critiques of Dawkins and company.

Here is an extended quote that shows Williams' rich grasp of the various - political, theological, intellectual, ethical - issues involved in this debate that are, in my opinion, beyond the grasp of our usual methods of cultural debate (i.e. competing sound bites on TV).

"And because the (broadly speaking) Dawkins-related attitude to religion is gaining ground in, for example, journalistic perception and therefore public perception in our own day, it’s of some practical significance that those who hold religious belief should be able to spell out their dissatisfaction with the critical strategies they’re faced with. But, if I may make just one more observation by way of introduction, I would say that this is not simply a matter of religious believers defending themselves (though it is that, and as you will have noticed, I am a religious believer and I have some investment in this!) but it’s also about the character of intellectual debate, about the politics, the power struggles of intellectual debate, about the need to understand as fully as possible what it is you think you are disagreeing with. And I don’t think I need to spell out in a university context that that is one of the basic principles of academic ethics."

Check it out!

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Blogger Nance said...


I thought the lecture was pretty good; he made one or two points that I expected, but the rest was all new and pretty interesting.
But of course, as you say, I'm afraid we're not going to see these finer--and critical--details addressed in any of the farther-reaching mediums any time soon.

7:22 AM, October 30, 2007  

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