After the torrent of spiteful dreck we’ve seen directed at Richard Dawkins lately, the comment by Musical Atheist came as a blast of cold fresh air in a stuffy room. Therefore, I’m putting it up on the main page.
Musical Atheist says:
I don’t like my own country very much at present. I think our politicians and our press display the lowest sort of sneering childishness, on a regular basis. Playground bullies who grew up to apply their bullying on a wider scale.
For this reason, when I first discovered Dawkins’ writing, I felt that he was one of the few public figures in Britain I could find genuinely inspiring. He’s honest, his moral integrity is innately bound up with his passion for his work, which is the noble work of the pursuit of truth. You’d think the religious authorities ought to get that, even if they think he’s wrong. He’s flawed and human, he’s made errors in judgement and sometimes takes cheap shots, but he still stands out as one of the few British public intellectuals engaged in doing active good and treating moral ideas seriously.
When I read TGD a few years ago I, as many Christians keep saying, didn’t recognise the god he described. I thought it witty, acerbic and entertaining, but not applicable to me. But I gradually realised that the example of scepticism and rigorous commitment to evidence that he was describing was applicable to all types of spiritual belief. When I began to apply it to my own (woo, new agey, vaguely pantheist, occasionally animist) spiritual ideas, I was genuinely shocked to find how much baggage of unjustified belief I’d accumulated over the years, and how much, if I was being honest with myself, I had to throw out.
Reading Dawkins got me interested in scepticism; led me to other writers and blogs like B&W and Pharyngula; reminded me of my childhood pleasure in science, long stifled by mediocre teaching; but more than anything, gave me the tools to reclaim my own mind. How do you repay the people who help you do that?
And he did it with one entertaining bestseller that didn’t even address the specific beliefs I actually held, but that I was able to use as a springboard for my own thought process.