Monday, February 20, 2012

Gunning for God (John Lennox) - Chapter 2. Lennox refutes Lennox, Northern Ireland conflict.

Chapter 2: Is Religion Poisonous? - Part A, Lennox refutes Lennox, Northern Ireland conflict.

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Reviewing a book in-depth can be a time-consuming task, so it's always a joy when the author takes the time to refute themselves. Take this quote from Lennox:
"However, the New Atheists undermine their own case in astonishingly naïve fashion by lumping all religions together indiscriminately, as if all religions were equally guilty of the charge of fomenting dangerous behaviour. One would not expect such unscholarly, crass oversimplification to come from authors who loudly praise their “scientific approach”. In this connection it is to be noted that Prospect magazine, which had earlier voted Dawkins a world-class intellectual, described his book The God Delusion as “incautious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory”. After all, it does not take one to be at the cutting edge of academic research into religious thought, to see that classifying the peace-loving Amish with Islamic fundamentalist extremists is culpably and dangerously naïve." (Page 61)
From this it is reasonable to assume that all "New Atheists" consider all religions to be equally dangerous. He cites the example of Amish and Islamic fundamentalists. Let's contrast this with some later quotes:
"It should be noted, however, that Sam Harris appears to have grasped the inadequacy of his colleagues’ approach — possibly because he seems to have certain quasi-religious notions of his own. Consciously breaking ranks with Dawkins and the others, he calls on them to attend to the differences among the world’s religions..." (Page 64)
 Lennox has lost one of the four horsemen. Let us proceed a little further, to where he quotes Dawkins in support of non-violent nature found in Christianity:

"There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse." (91)
Drat. Down to two, an error margin of some 50%, based solely on quotes from Lennox's own book and within thirty pages of his assertion. Respecting Lennox's wish to keep the focus on Islam, the faith most likely to win over his fellow Christians, here are some quotes for the other two. Speaking of interviewing non-believing faith leaders Dennett writes:
There are still areas that are not well-represented – we’ve got lots of Protestants, but not enough Catholics. But we’ve got some Mormons. We don’t yet have an Imam – we don’t have any Muslims in for fairly obvious reasons; it’s not that there aren’t any out there, but they would really be risking their lives in coming forward! I mean, it’s risky for all of them, but a Muslim preacher, if outed as non-believing, may be seriously putting his life in jeopardy.
 Christopher Hitchens compares Islam and Judaism by saying:
“Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” Imam Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University, told The New York Times. (Yes, we all recall the Jewish suicide bombers of that period, as we recall the Jewish yells for holy war, the Jewish demands for the veiling of women and the stoning of homosexuals, and the Jewish burning of newspapers that published cartoons they did not like.) What is needed from the supporters of this very confident faith is more self-criticism and less self-pity and self-righteousness.
 Some may hope to call this an error, omission or evidence of lack of reading, but when an author refutes himself twice these excuses cannot apply.

On to a point of agreement with my fellow Irishman:
As a Northern Irishman, I am all too familiar with a certain brand of sectarian violence where a religious history has been used to fan the flames of terrorism (on both sides of the divide); although, as historians point out, a whole additional complex of political and social factors has been at work that makes analysis in terms of religion alone far too simplistic.
Any one who feels conflict on this island was sparked by disagreements on transubstantiation demonstrates extreme paucity of thought. One is more likely to find a Palestinian flag than Rosary beads in an IRA mural, and the UVF has expressed a complimentary interest in Israeli symbolism. Nailing one's colours to Islam and Judaism are not the symptoms of Christians grappling with differing doctorinal positions.
That said, I expected a little more from this section.He is uniquely qualified to discuss the influence of Christianity on the conflict in which he grew up, and I felt a little let down that this area was not developed further. Instead we get the following:
Christendom’s violence was not Christian, for the simple reason that it was diametrically opposed to what Christ himself taught. People who engage in violent and cruel activities at any time, in Northern Ireland or the Balkans or anywhere else, while invoking the name of God, are certainly not obeying Christ when they do so, whatever they may say to the contrary.
He goes further, making some wild assumptions on Peter's swordmanship by saying:
Jesus rebuked one of his disciples, Peter, who, untrained in swordsmanship, swung wildly with his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Malchus. “Put your sword back into its place,” Jesus said, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
This could have easily have read that Peter, facing a great multitude armed with swords and staves, leapt fearlessly to combat and inflicted a disabling head wound before Jesus was able to draw breath for rebuke. This is a tangent of mine, but I do find Lennox has a habit of building his own unsubstantiated narrative around Biblical texts. More on this in later chapters.

Over the last two millenia Christianity has been used to justify Communism, Capitalism, and everything in between. The Prosperity movement says Jesus will save your soul while providing high returns on terrestial investment, others see Christianity as motivation to donate much of their income. The first century carpenter's son has been classed as a protofeminist and used to justify strict gender roles. It is no exaggeration to number the diverging denominations in the thousands (though many are not of significant size) and their differing opinions include some that are internally and theologically incoherent. When Lennox says that a sensible reading of Christianity would lead one to nonviolence I'm inclined to agree with him. But millions of Christians wouldn't, and it is not the intentions or hypotheses we should be concerned with in a chapter of this title, but religion's effects. Finishing the point, Lennox repeats:
So let it be said loudly and clearly - it will have to be loud to be heard above the caterwauling of the New Atheists - Christ repudiated violence.
Perhaps in this instance he should consider preaching to the choir?


Shane said...

Geoff, these reviews are great. Lennox is a slippery customer for sure, and you know you're on to a winner when he insists on pulling meanings of words (when it suits him) from the OED, rather than trying to understand what people are actually saying. His lack of charity is astounding; his philosophical and scientific ineptitude perplexing, for someone with pretensions to being a scientist and philosopher. So far he is struggling to get even one Amazon star from me.

Geoff said...

Thanks Shane, and thanks for the Twitter link.

I'm looking forward to reading your review of it!