Never mind what he did say

And while we’re on the subject of strange readings and stranger arguments, Mark Vernon offers some more of those.

I have sometimes wondered why no enterprising journalist, as far as I know, hasn’t had a dig around in Richard Dawkins’ past in order to find the cause of his revolt against religion. But perhaps there is no need. It is all there in The God Delusion. A little analysis draws attention to three psychoanalytically significant things that stand out in the book. The first, that one can be certain God does not exist. With science, Dawkins has killed him. This, of course, is for Freud an Oedipal slaying of the God/Father.

Except that Dawkins not only doesn’t say ‘that one can be certain God does not exist,’ he says that one can’t. He says that explicitly and at some length. So…what is psychoanalytically significant about Mark Vernon’s misreading, I wonder? No actually I don’t wonder, because I don’t think it is psychoanalytically significant. I think it’s intellectually and as it were politically significant – as yet another example, among a great many, of people – including, bafflingly, atheists – who misread Dawkins in much the same way. Who keep endlessly recycling the same mistakes no matter how many times Dawkins disavows them and quotes what he actually did say in the book.

[I]n the preface Dawkins begins with a reference to his wife (the quote is ‘As a child…’ which is to say that, like the Mother, she is innocent of any actions of the God/Father)…This excessive exercise (twice) in objective assurance (‘a reader other than myself’) from an innocent, consolatory female (his wife) is the maternal figure, and completes the picture in Dawkins’ religio-psychic drama.

That’s a creepily condescending and profoundly silly misreading of the reference to Lalla Ward. That ‘As a child’ is not at all to say that like the Mother etc etc – Vernon makes it sound as if it’s an echo of First Corinthians 13, but it’s just a factual declaration. The full sentence is ‘As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.’ The anecdote is about the fact that she was miserable, her parents never knew, they later asked her why she never told them, she said “But I didn’t know I could.”‘ It’s got nothing to do with evoking innocence or ‘the Mother’ – on the contrary, it’s more to do with the general human condition of helplessness under authority. The ‘I didn’t know I could’ is the key point, and that’s not the point Vernon is giggling over.

And that’s what’s so supremely annoying about this kind of critic – their perpetual refusal to engage with the actual book and its actual arguments, and their insistence on engaging with invented issues of their own manufacture.

There’s an irony there, if they could only see it. The more people churn out silly straw-grasping inaccurate irrelevant retorts, the worse they make their ’cause’ look. They keep adding to the stack of evidence that they simply can’t think properly, or even read carefully. Is that what they want to convey? I wouldn’t think so.

The analysis? Dawkins’ atheism is grounded in a psychological murder of the God/Father…For Dawkins, the Oedipal counter-current manifests itself not in hearing divine voices but in an unquestioning commitment to a new paternal figure/institution, namely modern science (note the element of trust in science that is necessary to make this commitment, since science alone does not disprove God/murder the Father, only makes God’s existence/Father’s survival improbable). Science is Dawkin’s adoptive Father figure now that he has done away with the old one.

Uh huh. Sure. Now let’s ask about the analysis of this goofy exercise of Vernon’s. Let’s note the irony – of the heavy weather he makes of ‘trust’ in science, while at the same time and apparently without noticing it, he trusts the pseudoscience of Freudian psychoanalysis. He patronizes Dawkins for ‘unquestioning’ commitment to a new paternal figure, Daddy Science, while himself trusting unquestioningly in that discredited fraud Daddy Sigmund. Anybody out there got time to do a Jungian analysis of Mark Vernon?

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