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Open letter from Richard Dawkins to Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
As you know, you are one of my absolutely favourite people but . . . seriously, Ayaan? You, a Christian? You are no more a Christian than I am. I might agree with you (I actually do) that Putinism, Islamism, and postmodernish wokery pokery are three great enemies of decent civilisation. I might agree with you that Christianity, if only as a lesser of evils, is a powerful weapon against them. I might add that Christianity has been the inspiration for some of the greatest art, architecture and music the world has ever known. But so what? I once got into trouble for extolling the beauty of Winchester Cathedral bells by comparison with the “aggressive-sounding” yell of “Allahu Akhbar” (the last thing you hear before the bomb goes off, or before your head rolls away from your body). I might agree (I think I do, although certainly not in its earlier history) that Christianity is morally superior to Islam. I might even agree that Christianity is the bedrock of our civilisation (actually I don’t, but even if I did . . .) None of that comes remotely even close to making me – or you – a Christian.
I have seen a very recent filmed discussion in which you described me as one of the most Christian people you know. This came after you quoted Roger Scruton as saying to you that you act like a Christian, you behave like a Christian, therefore you are a Christian. But Ayaan, that is so wrong. How you, or I, behave is utterly irrelevant. What matters is what you believe. What matters is the truth claims about the world which you think are true.
For that is the whole point. Christianity makes factual claims, truth claims that Christians believe, truth claims that define them as Christian. Christians are theists. They believe in a divine father figure who designed the universe, listens to our prayers, is privy to our every thought. You surely don’t believe that? Do you believe Jesus rose from the grave three days after being placed there? Of course you don’t. Do you believe Jesus was born to a virgin? Certainly not. Someone of your intelligence does not believe you have an immortal soul, which will survive the decay of your brain. Christians believe in a frightful place called Hell, where the souls of the wicked go after they are dead. Do you believe that? Hell no! Christians believe every baby is “born in sin” and is saved from Hell only by the redemptive (pre-emptive in the case of all those born anno domini) execution of Jesus. Do you believe anything close to that nasty scapegoat theory? Of course you don’t.
Ayaan, you are no more a Christian than I am.
You make an additional claim, which my respect for you finds more incredible: “I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive.” So you need a religion of some kind, and Christianity seems the least bad alternative? Ayaan, I have always thought of you as one of the bravest people I know. How could you succumb to such weakness?
“Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?” For my part, I have found various things that give my life meaning and purpose. There’s science, and my books have expounded my lifelong quest to understand the meaning and purpose of all life. Then there’s human love, there’s the beauty of a child, a tropical swim under the stars, a ravishing sunset, a Schubert quartet. There’s the art and literature of all the world. The warmth of an intimate embrace.
But even if all such things leave you cold – and of course they don’t – even if you feel a ravenous need for more, what on Earth does that have to do with the truth claims of Christianity or any other religion? Even if life were intolerably bleak and empty – it isn’t, but even if it were – how could you, how could anyone, twist a need for solace into a belief in scriptural truth claims about the universe, simply because they make you feel good? Intelligent people don’t believe something because it comforts them. They believe it because, and only because, they have seen evidence that supports it.
No, Ayaan, you are not a Christian, you are just a decent human being who mistakenly thinks you need a religion in order to remain so.
With my love
PS would you like to have a recorded conversation for us both to put on our social media?
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