outspoken atheist, and author of a book on God spoke about scripture, Hebrew scripture.
He states that no one who reads Hebrew scripture can deny the God portrayed in these pages
is a monster. Dawkins speaks of a God who engages in murder, infanticide, jealousy, rage,
and who is petty and vindictive. He is not wrong. The God of Hebrew scriptures, what
Christians know as the Old Testament, is portrayed as all these things and more. If you
believe the account in Exodus, God is a terrorist who kills innocent children in order to
force Pharaoh to to release Her Chosen People. The same God is petty and spiteful when
Moses is not allowed into the Promised Land for having doubts. God punishes Sodom and
Gomorrah for immorality, but rewards Lot for offering his virgin daughters over to be
raped in order to save his house guests. There are numerous other examples from scripture
to support Dawkin's characterization of God as a monster. However, it is unfortunate
Dawkins chooses to rail against a God created in our own image and likeness. For a man
who accuses fundamentalists and creationists of ignorance and intellectual laziness, Dawkins
shows a surprising lack of understanding of both scripture and God.
Scripture is a chronicle of God revealing Herself to the world. More importantly,
scripture is an account of our slow epiphanies and realizations of God's presence in the
world. Most Americans are only familiar with the first eleven chapters of Genesis and not
much more. Adam and Eve, Creation, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, The Tower of Babel; those
are the stories most Americans know. Unfortunately, these chapters are written as a pre-
history to explain the world as it is when we encounter Abraham in Chapter 12. What is
Abraham's insight? This God is knowable and relatable and wishes to have a relationship
Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures are stories about God's revelation and our
acknowledgement of it and the covenant we entered into with this God. Recorded are a series
of fits and starts and ups and downs. They are stories of our attempts to be faithful to that
covenant, and stories about our failures and fears. Since scripture is a product of human
work inspired by God, it reflects both the evolution of our species and our relationship
with God; and Dawkins clearly understands evolutionary theory.
I once took a class entitled "God". In his opening remarks, the professor expressed
how after a few weeks of study we would be able to write a book on God. In the ensuing
weeks we came to feel we might, just might, be able to write an article or column; but by
the time the class was over we understood there was nothing we could say about God
because anything we wrote or said is limited by our language and intellect, and God
I taught Hebrew and Christian scripture in high school, and one of the most
disquieting concepts for my students was the notion of God as "nothing". If God is the
creator of all "things", God cannot be a thing. God by definition must be a "no-thing".
The great mystic, St. John of the Cross, talks about ascending the mountain to discover
God and upon reaching the top we discover God is "nada", nothing. In the movie "Contact",
Jodie Foster's character, an atheist similar to Dawkins, encounters a new universe so
beautiful and powerful she says they should have sent a poet to describe what she was
seeing. Words eluded her.
All "God-talk" is by it's nature a metaphor. The experience of God is an experience
of transcendence. Whatever we say about God says as much about us as it does about God
and maybe more. Scripture is an attempt to put into words the experience Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob had of a transcendent God. All they had to use was their own words and
experiences. The God Dawkins is reacting to is the God simple words speak about in
scripture. This is similar to how fundamentalists read the same thing. The God I react to
in scripture is available to anyone. The God of scripture is far more faithful than we are.
The God of scripture promises never to abandon us even if we reject Her. The beauty of
the story, which Dawkins misses, is the spectacle of fits and starts, the journey of people
who occasionally get glimpses and insights about this God; and then try to translate these
experiences from the realm of poetry and prayer into human language and action.
Dawkins reacts to stories of people trying to implement what they thought or
felt were God's wishes. He makes the same mistake fundamentalists make by reading
scripture literally and ignoring the context. Because the Hebrews did not believe in an
afterlife, justice had to be served now; and because of this Israel's enemies were God's
enemies. Their punishment has to be sure and swift and now. This translates into battles
where God was said to command they kill every man, woman, and child in town. The story
of scripture is not a story of a God-like monster, but rather the story of sinful humans
trying to translate an experience of transcendence into one of imminence.
Dawkins, Christopher, Hitchens, and others have written books recently extolling
the virtues of atheism and attacking the God they encounter in scripture. Unfortunately,
the God they are reacting to is a fundamentalist, literalist God which ignores this incredible
story of discovery and an ongoing contest for understanding.
The story of Hebrew scripture is a journey of revelation and insight. Starting with
Genesis, God molds humans out of clay and breathes life into them. It is an earthy portrayal
of what primitive man thought about God. By the time of Jesus, we encounter people who
believe this God is so relatable, so intimate, so close that we can get as close as a father is
to his son (Jesus calls God Abba). Scripture is also a journey of human moral evolution.
The longer people engage with this God, the more their humanity is developed. The journey
culminates in a philosophy of life more radical than any expressed before or since. Love
God and your neighbor, forgive an infinite number of times, turn the other cheek, judge not,
and whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for God.
Few people write about The Acts of the Apostles, a book describing an early Christian
community trying to implement their interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures in light of
the Jesus event. No one writes about it because the reaction was so dramatic and radical.
This community lived in common. All possessions were community shared. You could not
be a soldier and be a part of this community. It is a vision which completely rejects the
Calvinistic capitalism of this nation and embraced loving and caring for each other. It is
not surprising this piece of scripture is so frequently ignored by Christians and atheists alike.
The story of scripture is the story of humans using limited language and symbols
to express the inexpressible. It is the story of a people more and more convinced God is
knowable. It is the story of discovery, of moments of transcendence, and the stories and
myths that surround these experiences. It culminates in the faith that God, through Jesus,
has always been joined with our humanity and journeys with us.
Dr. Dawkins is correct. The God of Hebrew scriptures is a monster if you believe
God causes all things to happen. Dr. Dawkins is correct if your God is a fundamentalist God.
He couldn't be more wrong, however, if the God of scripture is a creator who wishes to be
close to us, interact with us. God loves us by example, the example of Jesus Christ,
encourages us to love each other. Experiences of God have always been made real in the
love we share between us rather than in the myriad of ways we have used religion to separate
ourselves from each other. In the final analysis, Dawkins sees what he wants to see. We all do.
We can believe anything we wish. The proof of the pudding is in the kind of life you lead and
the ripples you leave behind. Dr. Dawkins would be better served talking about what
scripture calls us to be rather than how our ancient ancestors wrote about the story of that call.
It is a never-ending story that continues to be written in the ordinary lives of men and women
throughout the world. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please
send them to email@example.com