Dw. Dunphy On… Richard Dawkins and the Sin of Wrath

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Dw Dunphy dedicates this to his Aunt Florence, whom he never formally met.

In 1972, I would only have been three years old. My memories of that time would only have stuck around thanks to the re-enforcement of repetition and reminder.

My best friend is an atheist and he is a thoughtful, sensitive humanist. I have several close friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Christians and they conduct their lives without malice or bigotry. They believe in a supernatural presence and they deem him God. I also consider myself a Christian, believe in the validity of the Bible, but am not a literalist. I see the story of Jonah and the whale as those hearing Jesus’ parables would. They are legends with instructional purpose because we, as creatures of great intellect and free will, tend to be most receptive to stories. As you can imagine, either side has at times expressed great tolerance of my median viewpoints.

Richard Dawkins, the noted British biologist, is a highly intelligent man, capable of writing with both eloquence and elegance, and I have been fascinated by his work although there are large swaths of it that I don’t align with. Many of these are found in his book from 2006, The God Delusion. In the book he lays out point after point, argument by argument, why there is no deity, attempting to appeal to the marvelous core of human reason, and he succeeds…mostly.

When Dawkins rails against the hatred several religious types spew, verbal horrors vomited by so-called “Children of God” at the funeral sites of soldiers, or at the sidelines of parades, or a general intolerance to other viewpoints, he is correct and righteous in his disdain. I know of many people, in every religious persuasion, that are in equal agreement. Is it not the same broad brush he paints people of faith with, that is the brush those who claim to be of faith paint others?

In 1972, my aunt Florence Dunphy was lonely.

I cannot apologize for atrocities committed in the name of the Lord, but neither can I say that all that lean on the crutch of religion, faith or spirituality are cowards and deluded. I believe that the threat, and let me say that is exactly how I mean it: as a ‘wrath of God’ threat, is all that separates some in our society from being incredibly dangerous people. These are people who have been raised alongside the shallow pool of Narcissus, confident in themselves alone and, without the presence of something greater, would not be hesitant to tear through society to fulfill whatever it is their brain fixates on at that moment. They raise rhetoric that would otherwise have been a knife or a gun, and the haphazard randomness of the uncreated, unstructured natural world would be license to destroy. There are merely more amoeba in the puddle, they may assert, so they can disappear with no effect on society.

I do believe that for many, the loneliness of a world starving for father figures is eased by the spiritual equivalent, and that the teaching of Christ that “He who is without sin has the right to cast that first stone” was meant to erase our desire for holy one-ups-manship. We are all failed enterprises in the guise of mankind, and our myriad judgments must be taken against ourselves in kind to be truly considering ourselves ‘children of God.’ Love should conquer all, concern for all should be pre-eminent, and our prejudices should be swept aside because none of us are truly the hottest (expletive) in the outhouse.

In 1972, Florence Dunphy went to the local bar to find a man that would love her. She found a man.

I suspect that if Mr. Dawkins ever reads this, he would dismiss it as just one more tract of apologist nonsense. There are points in The God Delusion that are highly dismissive, to the point of being downright confrontational, and it’s a suit that fits Dawkins extremely poorly.  It sometimes reads like a shootout rather than a rational argument, with Dawkins standing atop a metaphorical mountain of bodies proclaiming, “Where’s your messiah now?” These moments are, however and blessedly, few. Although he approaches the subject with fervor, only occasionally does he become the zealot he so seemingly disdains. He’s trying to get mankind on board with the concept of the miracle of the natural world, that there is greatness in what simply is, and that a creator (real or invented) should not be imposed upon the greatness of what is.

But like I said earlier, sometimes that greatness in the human as the independent creature, freed from the shackles of an almighty overseer, is hard to find. I don’t remember my Aunt Flo. My memories of 1972 are fixed only because of the family that helped glue them in place afterward, the places we went to and went to again, the stories, all the post-it notes of shared history and “remember the time when we…” reminisces. On an early morning in 1972, my father was awoken by a phone. It was the Long Branch, NJ police. He was being summoned to the morgue to identify a body.

My aunt met a man who killed her, ditched her body in a dumpster like so much trash, then lit it on fire to destroy the evidence. I have often wondered if he believed in a god, or anything, while he was doing this. Did he not believe in a god and just saw others as the conduit or obstruction to his personal pleasures, just amoeba in a puddle, insignificant and expendable?

I am a sinner. I do my best not to be, and I do have a respect for the ‘wrath of God’ such as it might be, and part of my hope for a deity and the sin that bogs me down is because, whoever her killer was (and was never found), I hope he’s dead by now. I hope there’s a god, and I hope this person, for robbing me of her in my life, is burning in hell. Of my many transgressions, this one is never far from me.

It’s most difficult during the holidays with so many of my family members gone though, thankfully, not as violently as how Aunt Flo passed. I have no memory of her, yet I wonder what she would have been like if she lived. Would our families have been close? Would she be here Christmas Eve? Would she sing with my Dad? Would she and my mom, when she herself was alive, have been friends? If she finally found her knight in shining armor, would he have been a good man, and would I have been close with my presumptive cousins? If her heart had gone in another way, would her friend and I also been friends? I believe we would have, just as surely as I believe we were robbed from knowing.

And therein lies my biggest gripe with Dawkins’ book. God exists for people who love and don’t love, but mostly God exists because we need Him to. There are those who do not believe in a god do not need him to exist, and they are within their right to feel this way. I have no right to impose my belief on the author just as he has no right to denigrate me for mine. If we were right, we may yet meet Him. If we are wrong, and our brain kicks out and we decompose as all organic material is destined to, it won’t matter what we believed so long as it got us through life, forced us to consider if what we were doing was right or wrong, and perhaps taught us that we are born to love, not to hate…

…But that I got from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” a story for another day.

 

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