Support the Café

Search our Site

Richard Dawkins’ “cultural Anglicanism”

Richard Dawkins’ “cultural Anglicanism”

In an interview with Douglas Murray in the Spectator, Richard Dawkins admits to a certain gratitude to Anglicanism.

In his new book, Dawkins relates for the first time the full story of his schoolboy break-out as an atheist. In the chapel at Oundle, he helped lead a small insurgency of boys who refused to kneel. The school’s headmaster was in Oxford on the day that the young Dawkins took his university entrance exam and drove him back. During this lift, Dawkins writes, the headmaster ‘discreetly raised the subject of my rebellion against Christianity. It was a revelation,’ he says, ‘to talk to a decent, humane, intelligent Christian, embodying Anglicanism at its tolerant best.’

I ask him about this. ‘I’m kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition,’ he admits, ‘for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.’ Would he ever go into a church? ‘Well yes, maybe I would.’

But at this point he turns it back around again. I try to clarify my own views to him. ‘You would feel deprived if there weren’t any churches?’ he asks. ‘Yes,’ I respond. He mulls this before replying. ‘I would feel deprived in the same spirit of the English cricket match that I mentioned, that is close to my heart. Yes, I would feel a loss there. I would feel an aesthetic loss. I would miss church bells, that kind of thing.’

And what about the fear of losing the tradition? ‘Yes. I sort of understand that. I certainly would absolutely never do what some of my American colleagues do and object to religious symbols being used, putting crosses up in the public square and things like that, I don’t fret about that at all, I’m quite happy about that. But I think I share your Anglican nostalgia, especially when you look at the competition.’

He also believes that teaching the Bible and church history is important to understand Western culture but that doing that does not automatically necessitate the teaching of other world religions.

‘I am thoroughly in favour of educating people in this country in the Bible,’ he says. ‘So you know where phrases like “through a glass darkly” come from.’ But wouldn’t students also have to learn the Koran and all other ‘religious’ books?

‘I don’t think you have to actually,’ he says. ‘Because if the justification for it is a literary one — since in this country we are on the whole not studying Arabic literature — it’s enough to know the King James Bible, like you have to know Shakespeare. European history you can’t begin to understand without knowing about the perennial hostility between Catholics and Protestants so I suppose for history we need to. But I don’t buy the feeling that because we have Christian faith schools we therefore have to have Buddhist and Muslim and Hindu faith schools as well.’


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rod Gillis

Re, Harriet Baber, “I’m not proposing neo-pagan rites but practices conducive to religious experience–a church that nurtures mysticism: ”

A church that nurtures mysticism is something we can both agree on. The older I get the more interested I have become in trying to balance out my generally activist nature with the more contemplative. Like wise, tks for the engaging discussion. -Rod

Harriet Baber

Rod Gillis: I appreciate your response, and take your point: sorry if I’ve misread you or been unfair.

I have no patience with New Age crapola and I’m not proposing neo-pagan rites but practices conducive to religious experience–a church that nurtures mysticism: church as a window into the Other World. In my long walk with the church I’ve watched that window close, as liturgical revision flattened out liturgy and made church cheerful, prosaic and dull. Thank you for the discussion!

Gary Paul Gilbert

The Reformation, at its best, was a return to roots in order to question. In certain respects, it was more catholic than Roman Catholicism. The practice of selling indulgences was sufficient justification for splitting the Western Church.

I am not persuaded that one can return to a cult which never have existed. Perhaps this is a poetic expression rather than an empirical assertion?

We are all heirs of the Reformation–even Radical Orthodoxy with its reactionary conservative Romantic tendencies.

Anglicanism at its best affirms the best in all positions. There can be question of throwing out the Reformation any more than one could jump out of one’s skin.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Rod Gillis

Re Harriet Baber, tks for the engaging post. Yes, I am a priest, recently retired after 35 years in parish ministry. (So now I have more time to engage in on-line debates from up here in the tundra.)

I always preferred to use ‘Rod’ rather than an honorific.Its the name I was given at baptism when I became a member of the people of God.

I take your point about the challenge of nuance on blog sites, but you might be more attentive in terms of perhaps not putting words in the mouth of an interlocutor. One strives not to be dismissive or contemptuous. I mean, I seem to be the only one engaging your view point here in depth at the moment, for example.

I have had some wonderful experiences being in conversation with “seekers”, as you call them, been one myself. However, and perhaps with lack of nuance, I was referring to “spiritual but not religious” folks of a particular type, who came not to dialogue but to “enlighten” me about some new fangled trend they insisted I or my congregation needed to hear about. After time spent, I usually felt like the old farmer who wondered if the price of eggs was worth the work for his hens. After a point, one must, as we Bluenosers say, fish or cut bait. If you find that appalling then be appalled.

You claim to be advocating revision. As far as I can tell, priests, teaching ministries, the reformers, and now the Hebrew Canon are out, and something like, oh, I don’t know, the delphic oracle, or the pagan reading of goat’s entrails are in. Hardly revision by any definition, hardly the church by any definition.

The church is a community at its heart, as such it has a boundary, a permeable one hopefully, but a boundary none the less. My job as pastor, priest, and teacher, was, and remains, operating within such an appropriate boundary.

Eventually all of us,whether standing firm on the rock, or we of little faith, must be clear about not confusing our own eccentric notions with corporate believing. There is “I Believe”, and there is “We Believe”. That’s some of the professional counsel I was trained and vowed to offer as a priest of the church–no doubt, you find it worth exactly what you paid for it.

Harriet Baber

Mr. Gillis (or is it Fr. Gillis?): I can’t give you a “nuanced” account of the Reformers’ agendas, the Hebrew prophets’ program or anything else in a blog comment. No one can. Continuing without nuance, I don’t care for the Hebrew prophets any more than I do for the Reformers. I’m proposing radical revision.

If indeed you are a priest, find it appalling that you dismiss people who are interested in “esoteric fads.” Not that I’m surprised, because when I was active in the Church, trying to promote evangelism and ministry to college students, the common view was that people of many kinds would not be receptive and were write-offs–including people who you’d predict, would eventually “run off in search of ouija boards or crystals and the like.”

What the Church has to offer is immeasurably better than this rubbish. But people don’t look for it in churches because they don’t know about it–and because representatives of the Church like you are contemptuous of them and dismissive of their concerns. Moreover if you think that they would get tired of church and run off in search of more New Age crap you are short on faith in people and faith in the Church. You’ve written off these “seekers” as hopeless flakes and you’ve assumed that what the Church has to offer can’t compete with ouija boards and crystals.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café