LONDON – It’s been a better year for God. After withering literary assaults on the Almighty from the Oxford academic Richard Dawkins, the essayist Christopher Hitchens, and others, believers have hit back.
Best of all has been The Case for God by the brilliant religion writer Karen Armstrong. More important still is the news that more people (certainly in Britain) are going to Christian churches of all denominations. Moreover, the Pope made a very successful visit to Britain in September. We know already about heavy attendance at the country’s mosques.
At this time of year, of course, many Christians who are not regular churchgoers attend the Nativity services. Carols, church bells, and mangers are still at the heart of mid-winter festivities, alongside the consumer binge. This year, however, the “big spend” in Europe may have been inhibited by the big winter freeze and the big austerity programs across most of the continent.
Even in the most Godless households, most children in Western societies probably know the details of the Christmas story. The travelers who can find no room at the inn. The birth of a baby in the stables. The arrival of the wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We learn about all this at the same time as we are told about Father Christmas, his Lapland reindeers, and his sacks full of presents. We rapidly lose our belief in that winter myth. But we tend to retain into adulthood the same views of God that we formed in childhood. An old man with a long beard watches over us, and most of us retain a pretty literal opinion of the stories about his Son told in the Bible’s New Testament.
It is this God that atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens attack. And, with such a target, it is not very difficult to poke holes and pile on the ridicule. Leave aside the fact that you can make an even stronger case against Godlessness – remember the atrocities of atheist totalitarians in the twentieth century – and consider the assault on those whose commitment to literal interpretations of religious texts means that they deny science and reason. To them the world was made in six days; evolution is a fanciful tale.Those of us who think that science and religion dwell in different domains, and who recall that Socrates argued that science did not teach you about morality or meaning, find that our case is undermined by the literalists and fundamentalists in every religion...