In an article in the New Statesman Richard Dawkins again revealed that he can tell a good joke. This one was about a colleague who on admission to hospital was asked the standard questions, including the one about what religion she belonged to. Replying’ none’, she later heard the nurses talking about her.’ She doesn’t look like a nun.’
But having started like the late Frank Carson, he then continued more like Frank Spencer, in a maladroit attempt to justify his survey which purports to reveal that most of the people who said they were christians on the last census were deluded- which, knowing his thoughts on the subject, he must have thought was a dead cert all along!
One of Richard Dawkin’s chief failings is that he thinks he knows enough about religion to declare it false, but can’t avoid littering howlers throughout any book or article he writes about the subject. This might explain why the survey produced on his behalf is marked by a similar imprecision in its choice of questions. So in his article he is content to assert confidently that the New Testament was ordered in a completely arbitrary way while the survey included a question about the Resurrection which indicated complete ignorance of what the traditional christian definition of that particular doctrine is. Other questions were framed in a manner that makes analysing them in an either or fashion perilous- do you guide your life by your moral conscience or the Bible or the teaching of Jesus? Maybe I am just confused, but I would certainly tick all 3 , but of course you can’t do that when you are expected to make a choice between all of the options, as if you were sitting a GCSE multiple choice paper!
The purpose of the survey is overt; to provide evidence that when christians claim privileges in society on the back of census data they are over-stating their case, because most christians aren’t really christian at all and are purely nominal. I actually have some sympathy with that last bit, but I also think he is mistaken to see church schools and bishops in the House of Lords as somekind of power play by christians to control society. Asking what church schools actually do and what contribution the bishops actually make might go some way towards undermining what looks like a somewhat paranoid outlook. Like so many of those who dislike religion he seems to be projecting the culture wars that prevail in the USA and the Middle East on to a very different society, where religion and secularity tend to be in dialogue rather than at war. On this matter I am almost tempted to think he is deluded!