Dawkins’ Departure; and so we say farewell to Richard Dawkins and ‘The God Delusion’; thankful for the truths he has forced us to face and the encouragement he provides to ever seek out the truth. A life spent seeking the truth and acting on it would not be a life wasted.
‘The God Delusion’ seems to be missing any spirituality or even awareness of spirituality. The first time you realise that, it comes as a shock, depending, of course, where you are on your own spiritual journey. I felt that there was something missing when I first reached the end of the book but it took me a while to recognize what it was. Dawkins would argue that spirituality is missing because it doesn’t exist. I am not convinced of that, it seems to me that spirituality is so entwined with the question of whether God exists that it deserves a full consideration. For many, experience of some form of spirituality is what persuades us that God probably exists.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has some very interesting theories about spirituality and we shall visit them some time in the future.
The whole issue of spirituality raises an interesting question, is the lack of spirituality and spiritual awareness a fundamental pre-requisite for atheism?
It seems to me that it may well be. Many first generation atheists, those who have actually rejected a religion and a God, appear to do so because of the obvious and extensive lack of evidence for, and indeed, truth in, those religions; certainly that was the case with me.
Religions don’t always teach spirituality; certainly the Catholic Church in Ireland didn’t teach me any spirituality – i accept that that may have had more to do with me than with the Church teachings. Nonetheless, there is considerable evidence that i was not alone, in fact one could argue that the Church was keen to ensure that spirituality was not taught. That is a discussion for another day. The problem is if you are not taught any spirituality by your Church and you start to question the dogma, rules, restrictions and constraints of your religion and you subsequently reject them, you are left with nothing. Actually, chances are you will be left with a negative something, an anger against your religion for wasting your time and abusing your emotions. Churches, certainly historically seemed to have been afraid to teach spirituality in case they resulted in loosing their flock. They preferred a non-spiritual, unquestioning obedience. Someone, somewhere lost the plot.
This is not quite as funny as it first seems.
Back to the question about atheists and spirituality. It may well be that once you start to ask some serious questions about religion and God, once you start to really demand answers, then you end up as an atheist or an agnostic, (the latter if you find that you are really not too pushed about the answers). Without spirituality, no religion can stand up to scrutiny.
If there are such constraints on you that you can only believe what you see and can prove, a modern day Doubting Thomas if you like, then you are pretty much guaranteed to be an atheist. You may also be, of course, as a result of those very same controls, a hugely successful and effective scientist. It may also be possible, if you are so constrained but are aware that others have a spiritual awareness, that you end up as a caustic atheist, such as Christopher Hitchens, who we shall visit later, and indeed Dawkins too can be quite caustic at times. When i read the works of some atheists, much as i admire them, if feel as if they resent the belief of others.
If your spiritual journey then continues beyond atheism, as described by Scott Peck in ‘The Road Less Traveled’,and you find yourself developing a spirituality or a spiritual awareness, then you have to suspend disbelief again, you are dealing with something that you may ‘know’ but can’t ‘prove’.
Of course, at this stage, ‘proof’ is the least of your demands.
The early atheistic ‘you’ would have nothing but contempt for the early spiritual ‘you’!
In my work life, when I used to interview people about projects, work or academic, that they had completed, I always asked them how would they do it differently if they were starting again, knowing what they knew at the end. Most would respond animatedly, listing a whole gamut of different methods or approaches which they would use. Some, some of the very impressive ones, were very disparaging of their work; stating that if they knew at the beginning, what they knew at the end, they would never have completed, perhaps never have started, the project. Such is progress.
Some interviewees, though, didn’t even understand my question, they considered it an attack on their knowledge and ability, on the quality of their work and report, and strenuously affirmed that they would do nothing differently.
Such is how the lack of progress is marked.
We travel in circles, always returning to the beginning and yet the beginning is always different.
The other major problem I have with ‘The God Delusion’ is that it really only considers the three Abrahamic religions; so much is excluded. Yes, a good scientist excludes what he does not know, what he has not examined and tested. But a good scientist does not derive universal theories if he has excluded much of the relevant information and statistics.
In spite of this, it is true that Dawkins has contributed to our growing knowledge and wisdom and we recognize that debt.
And so to Anna; I first read ‘Mister God this is anna’ in my teen years, a few short years after it was first published. My recollection is that I borrowed it from my older sister but I’m not sure that I ever returned it.
It was my first exposure, even though I assumed that it was fiction, to the possibility of a personal, entirely positive, relationship with God, with the emphasis on ‘entirely positive’. Although, my path led me to become an atheist for several years, I never forgot Mister God and Anna; the possibility of being able to develop a similar relationship, if a God existed, kept me looking over my shoulder.
I had to buy a new copy of Flynn’s book a couple of years ago as my original, (my sister’s?) copy had fallen apart. That is not to suggest that I kept re-reading it, just that I brought it with me from house to house on my travels and the journeys finally wore it out. Anna provides a different type of wisdom to that provided to us by Scott Peck and Dawkins, similar perhaps to that given to us by deMello. This book is like a threshold between fact and spirituality. Even though we cross that threshold with Anna, we shall have to re-cross it many times on our journey.
We will visit Anna again soon. In the meantime don’t throw your spirituality out with your religion.