Fraser V Dawkins – Referee Pollard – Winner on points Fraser

For once, Richard Dawkins is lost for words
Atheists’ arrogance is their Achilles’ heel, as a cringemaking radio
performance has proved.

By Stephen Pollard

14 Feb 2012

Which of us hasn’t groaned when the Rev Giles Fraser, former canon of
St Paul’s, pops up with his Thought for the Day on Radio 4? Dr Fraser
is the archetypal 21st-century vicar, as predictably Lefty as he is
drearily on-trend. That “former” prefix is because, you’ll recall, he
resigned after welcoming the Occupy protesters to his cathedral. And
since leaving St Paul’s he has, in a form of caricature made flesh,
become a Guardian leader writer. But I take it all back. Giles Fraser,
you are now my hero.

In a discussion on the Today programme yesterday, Dr Fraser skewered
the atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins so fabulously, so stylishly,
and so thoroughly that anti-religion’s high priest was reduced to
incoherent mumbling and spluttering.

The two men were debating some new figures produced by Prof Dawkins’s
think tank, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. (A
typical Dawkins touch: not just any old Foundation for Reason and
Science but the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.)
The statistics purport to show that most people who identify
themselves as Christian turn out, when questioned on what they
actually think, to be “overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on
issues ranging from gay rights to religion in public life”. Dawkins’s
conclusion is that these self-identified Christians are “not really
Christian at all”.

If you were trying to come up with a definition of misplaced
intellectual arrogance, you could not do better than having the
planet’s most famous atheist issuing diktats on who does and doesn’t
count as a proper Christian. Prof Dawkins then announced,
triumphantly, that an “astonishing number [of Christians] couldn’t
identify the first book in the New Testament”.

The transcript of the next minute or so only hints at how cringingly,
embarrassingly bad it was for Dawkins.

Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin
Of Species, I’m sure you could tell me that.

Dawkins: Yes I could.

Fraser: Go on then.

Dawkins: On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of
Species. There is a sub-title with respect to the preservation of
favoured races in the struggle for life.

It was a golden minute of radio. But as well as being hilarious, it
was hugely symbolic. In The Daily Telegraph yesterday, Baroness Warsi
highlighted the militant secularism on the march in Britain. But as Dr
Fraser revealed, the atheist army is led by an embarrassingly feeble
general. The arrogance and intolerance of the atheists, exemplified by
Prof Dawkins, is their Achilles’ heel.

Last week’s court decision to ban prayers at the start of council
meetings is all of a piece. The judge may or may not have got the law
right – there will almost certainly be an appeal. But it is the
National Secular Society which, in taking its case to court to have
its views imposed on the rest of us, is responsible for the ban on
Christians praying.

As a Jewish schoolboy, I had to sit through Christian prayers at the
end of every assembly. It would not have occurred to me or any other
Jew I knew that we should try to stop them praying in front of us. We
were a small minority at a school with a large majority of Christians.
I simply sat silently, my mind wandering off to other things.

The militant secularists, however, have only one modus operandi –
attack. Respect for others’ views seems to be entirely missing from
their moral calculus.

They entirely miss the irony of their position. Religious leaders who
focus solely on a sectarian appeal to their own followers, and who
seek to raise their own standing by diminishing the views of others,
end up on the margins of serious debate. And as their noise drowns out
the quieter, less confrontational majority, they act against their own
religion’s interest.

We all hear about Muslim leaders issuing fatwas against homosexuals,
preaching hate and the extermination of the Jews. But who hears of an
Imam who is a credit to their religion?

And yet the extremists are merely a flipside of the atheists. Their
actions, too, are entirely negative, aimed at winning plaudits from
fellow atheists and in the process poisoning the rest of society
against them. We wait in vain for a high-profile atheist to
acknowledge that we can all learn from some religious leaders, even if
we do not share their faith. The past two Chief Rabbis have shown the
benefits of a more open approach, reaching beyond one’s own followers.
Lord Jakobovits and Lord Sacks have been feted far outside the Jewish
community. Neither were ennobled because they were Chief Rabbi; none
of their predecessors had been so honoured. Their elevation to the
Upper House was because many gentiles regarded them as figures who had
something exceptional to contribute to public life. Where is that
contribution from atheists? We’ve had nothing but negativity from
Richard Dawkins. And he is now, after yesterday’s intellectual
savaging, a busted flush.

Stephen Pollard is editor of the ‘Jewish Chronicle’