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Reflections on Richard Dawkins’ hate mail

January 31, 2015

I saw this video recently of some of the ‘kind’ love letters that Richard Dawkins has received from ‘fans’.

The letters are characterised by:

  • Bad language – swearing of the worst kind
  • Anti-evolution
  • Suggests that Dawkins has sex with monkeys
  • Proposals that Dawkins is gay and stupid – he is a ‘gaytheist’
  • Poor spelling – a number have typos
  • Aggressive and relish the torment and punishment he will face in the future at the hands of a loving God or wish malady on him now e.g. getting cancer
  • Non sequiturs  – e.g. you reject God and science because you’re gay.

I must confess that I laughed throughout the video. Some of the letters really are funny because they really are so bad, Yet when I hear the awful things that “Christian” people have said I cringe. I cringe because the attitude and style of these letters do not represent the Christianity of the Bible and fail to commend the Christian message in any positive way. Hence I have a few reflections on these letters.

1. These letters sound mostly genuine. I did suspect that some might be trolls trying to give a bad impression of Christians. For example I still have my reservations on the genuineness of other letters received by an atheist group in the US, partly because how the letters were used (i.e. splashed all over social media). Yet most of these letters to Dawkins don’t sound like they are the work of atheist trolls. They seem quite genuine.

2. These letters represent a certain form of thoughtless, fundamentalist, Christendom “Christianity”. This is the type of conservative Christianity which associates religion and politics and considers the United States as a Christian country. This is also the type of ‘Christianity’ which also threatens violence when it’s way of life is under attack. I’ve written elsewhere on attitudes like this in response to atheist billboards which had to be taken down (due to violent threats). Responses and attitudes like these are more associated with Christendom where Christianity is the default nationalistic system, than it is with spiritual renewal and care of individuals (particularly those who disagree with them). I fear this group are more concerned with power and influence than love.

3. These letters do not represent a biblical response. The Scriptures are quite clear on how believers should act in the world and also how to treat others. For example there should be no filthy language from a believers lips (Col 3:8), Conversation should be gracious, seasoned with salt, interesting and distinctive, not insulting and defamatory (Col 4:6). Jesus commands believers to love others (Luke 10:25-37) and specifically to ‘love their enemies’ (Matt 5:44) now whilst Dawkins is not a physical enemy of the Christian faith, he is an ideological one. Hence the response should be one of love, not ridicule and insult. So whilst these letters have come from ‘Christian’ people, they do not represent a Christian response.

4. Is this a ‘no true Scotsman’ response? It’s often the retort that reflections like I’ve just outlined above are a classic ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, where real true Scotsmen don’t make responses like this. Yet this is not a ‘no true Scotsman’ response. Partly because I do concede that these letters were written by people claiming to be believers. But I am saying that their response is wrong precisely because we have clear instructions and descriptions on how a Christian believer should act. The no true Scotsman fallacy draws a distinction between moral behaviour and being a Scotsman i.e. there are no moral distinctives necessarily tied up with being Scottish. Yet this is very different with the Christian life because there are moral and ethical distinctives tied up with being a Christian believer. Hence there are clear measures we can use to judge whether certain actions are consistent with the Christian message or not. Hence to suggest that the actions of ‘believers’ are inconsistent with the message of Christianity is entirely valid and appropriate.

In conclusion, I am very ashamed of the ‘believers’ who say such stupid, thoughtless and aggressive things. Yet, my message to atheists watching the video, don’t judge the Christian message by (some of its) adherents. The Christian message is far more thoughtful, beautiful and enriching than what these correspondents have proposed.

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