Finding books to disagree with is not a favourite pastime of mine. I dislike chucking books across the room (my usual response, if a book is really terrible) and having to pick up the book again to make sure that I didn’t miss something in my knee-jerk reaction. So please understand, I wasn’t trying to pick a fight when I picked up this book. Rather, I wanted to understand what a general atheist might say, so to speak, because I’ve heard Dawkins’ name quoted so often as a force for atheism.
Alas and alack (and I’m sure the title of this post gave it away), Richard Dawkins’ work was underwhelming. Disappointment in Dawkins’ arguments is not a new thing. The fault lies in his logic, as showcased in an earlier book, The God Delusion. He carries much of the same arguments over into his newer book, Outgrowing God (the book I borrowed). And even though he prides himself on logic and questions students if he thinks that they’re using faulty logic, his own reasoning leaves much to be questioned. He asks the tired question, “Why do we need God to be good?” around the middle of the book, and yet by asking this, he assumes wrongly (the point of Christianity isn’t about being “good”) ignoring the presumptions he’s made as well, as in “How do we know that our being good is legitimately good?” and “What is goodness, actually?” In an effort to discredit the Bible, he jumps from one minor quibble to another, not bothering to cite sources (to my great annoyance), pointing fingers at things like the genealogy of Jesus. Look, Dawkins cries, it’s different in two books. It’s as if Dawkins has never heard of people naming ancestors on either side of their family.
Besides the half-based and half-answered questions, there’s an attitude that discourages serious rational discussion. Read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and you’ll see that Lewis does his best to start from the beginning without any assumptions. Indeed, Lewis moves from no god to possibly divine power to the attributes of what a god might look like if it existed before going on to discuss the pragmatics of a Christian God. Dawkins, on the other hand, begins his book with wildly dramatic examples (paraphrased: “I’m sure you don’t seriously believe in Thor / Odin / ancient-god-name-here, so why would you believe in anything, really?”). Dramatic examples, I’ve thought, have almost always suggested that the person espousing them doesn’t have an argument of much substance.
Immediately after, and instead, I read a book co-authored by the late Ravi Zacharias and attorney-turned-apologist Abdu Murray, Seeing Jesus from the East. In many ways I found it to be a fitting answer to Dawkins’ book. Murray and Zacharias tag-team the topic of reading the Bible in context (something Dawkins fails to do), with emphasis on its Eastern traditions. Murray writes of his pre-Christian experience and current understanding:
[S]omehow Jesus’ olive oil quality had escaped the attention of Christians who tried to share the gospel with me. That’s the power of today’s narrative currents that tell us that Christianity is a white, male religion. ‘Familiarity,’ as the saying goes, ‘breeds contempt.’ And in the West, familiarity and complacency have diluted the gospel’s Eastern tang. The curry and cumin of the gospel’s originality has been replaced with the ketchup and mayo of complacency, angst, guilt, and virtue signaling (p. 210).Murray, A. (2020). Why should Westerners care how Easterners see Jesus? Seeing Jesus from the East: A fresh look at history’s most influential figure. Zondervan.
The book is a series of collected thought on how understanding the Bible in its original cultural context greatly challenges Western thought around Christianity today. Indeed, there were times reading where I realized I had missed out on appreciating just how deep Jesus’ parables were, because I read mostly from a Western context. Outgrowing God espouses many misconceptions Westerners have against Christianity and I would say that Dawkins’ great error is in examining the Bible from a misinformed viewpoint, one that mixes faulty argument with a lack of scholarship. I’ll let the last words be said by Kenneth E. Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (and also cited in Zacharias and Murray’s book):
To say that Westerners have a lock on logic, truth, and discovery is the height of arrogance. ‘All the intelligent people were not born in the twentieth century’ (p. 18).Bailey, K.E. (1990). Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes: Cultural studies in the gospels. SPCK Publishing.