Backup from a Southern Baptist
Albert Mohler the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is so obliging and has saved us so much trouble – at a stroke he has rid us of the obligation to keep answering the charge that “New” atheists are all wrong because they ignore sophisticated theology and are talking about a crude old version of God that nobody believes in anyway.
Mohler points out that the Wall Street Journal paired articles by Dawkins and Armstrong were not articles by an atheist and a theist but articles by two atheists.
Armstrong insists that Darwin really did God a favor by forcing us to give up our “primitive” belief in his actual existence — thus freeing us to affirm merely a “God beyond God” who exists only as a concept. Along the way, Armstrong offers a superficial and theologically reckless argument that comes down to this: Until the modern age, believers in God were not really believers in a God who was believed to exist…She makes statements that amount to elegant nonsense. Consider this: “In the ancient world, a cosmology was not regarded as factual but was primarily therapeutic…” So she would have us to believe that, in centuries past, cosmology was merely therapy. She simply makes the assertion and moves on. Will anyone believe this nonsense?
Oh yes – lots of people – people of an Armstrongian cast of mind – people who get thrills from talk about an indescribable transcendent. Along with them, people who want religion and science to lie down together like the lion and the kid, and people who want to be able to insist from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn that science and religion are compatible. But they are not everyone, and they are not even most people. In some places they are outnumbered by people who think ‘God’ is just a dead idea and of no interest, and in other places they are outnumbered by people who think God is a really real person with real attributes who does real things and will really give you a big hug and some ice cream when you die.
Armstrong calls for the emergence of “a more authentic notion of God.” Her preferred concept of God would be about aesthetics, not theology. “Religion is not an exact science but a kind of art form,” she intones. Interestingly, it is Dawkins, presented as the unbeliever in this exchange, who understands God better than Armstrong. In fact, Richard Dawkins the atheist rightly insists that Karen Armstrong is actually an atheist as well. “God’s Rotweiller” sees through Armstrong’s embrace of a “God beyond God.”
Exactly! This is what we keep saying! This is what we’ve been saying ever since The God Delusion came out and five minutes later people started saying but Dawkins has such an unsophisticated idea of God and what about Tillich and nobody believes in that silly idea of God any more and what about Terry Eagleton’s toaster and God is just a word for all our best impulses and what about apophatic theology and Karen Armstrong could set Dawkins straight in an instant. We’ve been saying what Mohler says – yes but all that is not what most believers mean by ‘God’ so it’s just deceptive to pretend that it is. It’s so helpful of Mohler to corroborate! From now on we can just quote him.
We should at least give Dawkins credit here for knowing what he rejects. Here we meet an atheist who understands the difference between belief and unbelief. As for those, like Armstrong, who try to tell believers that it does not matter if God exists — Dawkins informs them that believers in God will brand them as atheists. “They’ll be right,” Dawkins concludes. So the exchange in The Wall Street Journal turns out to be a meeting of two atheist minds. The difference, of course, is that one knows he is an atheist when the other presumably claims she is not. Dawkins knows a fellow atheist when he sees one. Careful readers of The Wall Street Journal will come to the same conclusion.