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Letter from a Christian Citizen

has drawn the attention of Richard Dawkins, and there was quite a discussion over at his blog. If you want to take a look, you can see it all here. I am not asking you to go over there to pile into the discussion — in fact I would recommend that you not do so — but it is illuminating to take a look. Paradigmatic thinking is frequently identical with blinkered thinking. The subject head is “Sam’s Flea,” referring as I suppose to Yeat’s line, “But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?” More about this in a minute.

The thing to note here is the strategic inconsistency that the new atheists appear to be stuck in. On the one hand, they want us to be marginal, insignificant, why dignify these guys with a response?, and so on. We are the fleas on the dog’s back. On the other hand, America is teetering on the brink of theocracy, the Religious Right is sweeping everything before it, secularism is about to die the death if we don’t act now, and so on down the street and around the corner.

Now I think that they would agree that we believers can’t be significant and insignificant at the same time. The fact that we are seeing this rash of book publishing from them indicates what they really think, which is that the image of dog and fleas should actually be reversed.

But let me up the ante. Since we showing off our respective educations by referring to poets, let me modify Eliot’s hippopotamus and make it a rhino. Christendom is an enormous rhino — socially awkward, unsophisticated, non-academic, embarrassing, and what have you. I am a tick-eating Oxpecker bird, positioned by the ear, or on the rump, depending the strategic necessities, the time of day, and my particular mood. The atheists are very critical ticks, and they take delight in pointing out (often quite accurately) that the rhino is lumpy, clumsy, and short-sighted. They recommend a fitness regimen, urge the rhino to abandon its shape and become something more Euro-friendly. Methane is also an issue.

I have debated a number of atheists in the past (Tabash, Stein, Barker), and of course I would be happy to debate Harris if that were to come together. But as I said at the end of my book, I would also be delighted to stand him for a beer. That could work too. Or, if we wanted to do something more organized, I would be willing to issue a more formal challenge from the Christian community to the atheist community — to something more important than debates, like a poetry contest, say, or maybe a game of dodgeball.

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