On the (un)Invitation of Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is, perhaps, one of the most well-known atheistic thinkers of our time. He has published numerous popular-level works militantly promoting philosophical materialism and relentlessly beating against theism of any kind, but monotheism in particular. The so-called New Atheist is famous for his inflammatory description of God as a "misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."[1] To describe Dawkins as a fomenting critic of Christianity would be putting it mildly.

If he has been inflammatory toward Christianity, then he has been nothing short of vicious toward Islam. Dawkins, who called Islam the "most evil religion in the world," recently suggested that combating Islamism might be accomplished by flooding the Middle East with erotic images. Elsewhere, he likened the Qur'an to Mein Kampf. The absurdity of Mr Dawkin's comments stand for themselves. And, apparently, they are causing many in his base (commonly from the Left) to abandon him.

A radio station in Berkley, California (KPFA) has uninvited Mr Dawkins from promoting his new book, Science in the Soul, before a live audience. They canceled the event because, in their words, they "didn’t know he had offended and hurt" Muslims through his many (and very public) anti-Islamic comments. KPFA was adamant that they support free speech but not "abusive speech." In an open letter, Mr Dawkins lambasted KPFA and demanded a public apology (one that he is unlikely to receive).

What interested me most about this news was not that Mr Dawkins demanded an apology, which was a bit petulant, neither was it that KPFA, a liberal radio station, uninvited Mr Dawkins over Islamophobic comments. Instead, what caught my attention was the hypocrisy of KPFA–and, by extension, a stream within the liberal worldview–that was exposed by this whole ordeal. Mr Dawkins asked the question that immediately popped into my mind, "I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?"

Good question.

Hypocrisy in the Liberal Worldview

I think I could answer Mr Dawkins's question. Some liberal organizations like KFPA will gleefully "give Islam a free pass"–I'd prefer to say "take a defensive stance for Islam"–and not Christianity because much of liberalism associates the latter with the establishment they vehemently oppose. There exists in the western liberal worldview a caricature of Christianity as the age-old power that fuels neo-colonialism and crony capitalism, two forces that, when combined, assert their unified will upon helpless and broken Islamic states, i.e., American-led coalition forces in the Middle East and Africa. Muslims, then, are victims of American Christianity hell-bent on exterminating their culture, religion, and way of life, which is the same force hell-bent on depriving people of the ultimate good in liberalism–uncontested individual autonomy and unrestricted choice for choice's sake.

If this is the case, which I think the case could be made, then the Dawkins episode exposes a couple of flaws in the KPFA brand of liberalism. (Another case can be made, which I've included in an update below.)

First, the kind of liberalism that causes a knee-jerk reaction like Berkeley-based KPFA's decision to platform Richard Dawkins is incredibly ironic–not all of liberalism would have responded this way, but KPFA did. In the mid-1960s, the free speech movement was birthed on the campus of UC Berkeley, well-known for its liberalism. Students staged protests until the university lifted bans that restricted on-campus political activity and speech. The protests worked and the concept of free speech across university campuses spread like wildfire. The students succeeded in dissenting from what they perceived to be an agenda out of step with human dignity and freedom.

Ironically, the same culture that birthed free speech is now suppressing it by categorizing any speech that runs contrary to their agenda as "abusive speech." The hypocrisy is nearly palpable.

Second, it exposes a breed of narrow-mindedness within certain streams of liberalism that is painfully ironic. Were Mr Dawkins never to have mentioned Islam in his inflammatory remarks against religion, then doubtlessly he would have been speaking in Berkeley soon. Yet, because he spoke so ill of Islam, he's been banned.

Where is the concern for marginalized and offended Christians who took great offense to Mr Dawkin's pettish "malevolent bully" comment? No, I'm not speaking of the evangelical Christians of America that many in the Left are so fixated on. Those Christians are but a small minority within global Christianity. I'm talking about the oppressed and marginalized, those whom the Left claim to stand up for. They are the Syriac Christians who have spent the past half-decade fleeing Isis; the Coptic Christians who live under threat of death every day; the underground Christians hiding from the oppressive North Korean government; the indescribably poor Christians in the majority world context.

I wonder if Berkeley would tolerate the masochistic comment being recited before an audience of (non-American) oppressed and marginalized Christians who experience the same tragedies that many Muslims experience. It is as if this flavor of the liberal worldview primarily understands Christianity in terms of evangelical Republicans in the United States. How narrow-minded.

If anything, this hypocritical decision from KPFA in conjunction with Mr Dawkin's rhetoric brings to mind Jesus's reminder, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (John 15:18)." Those who hated Jesus first were people who were all about control and found deviation from their agenda intolerable. They were those who held to double-standards and were blindly narrow-minded. They were the Pharisees of first-century Judaism.

It seems Berkeley is housing a new kind of Sanhedrin.

[UPDATE]

After a short converstaion with a friend, I'd like to add another answer to Mr Dawkins's question. Liberal or left-leaning organizations like KFPA are concerned for the marginalized communities of Muslims living within the local area (or influence) of their radio station. They (rightly) fear that Mr Dawkins's ignorant Islamophobic rhetoric could motivate people to harm Muslims.

There is a very real, good, and righteous concern in this reason to protect the poor and vulnerable. If this is the case, which I think an equally good case could be made, then I completely agree with the motivation. Yet, I still find myself disagreeing with the solution.

Silencing (or attempting to silence) Mr Dawkins's Islamophobia is not a long-term solution to the persecution that Muslims experience in this country. We either allow criticism of all worldviews regardless or we forbid it all because, again, it is hypocritical to choose to protect one worldview from public lambasting over others even if the motivation is the good and righteous concern to protect the poor and vulnerable. (Also, can we say, with confident certainty, that Mr Dawkin’s Christophobic statements have not been picked up globally in support of Christian persecution?) A truer and longer-lasting solution would be to challenge his Islamophobia publicly, which many in the past have done.

Thank you, friend, for making an alternate case for KPFA's motivation. I wish everyone had the same inital reaction to marginalized as you do.

[ANOTHER UPDATE]

Well, I must say, this was one of the most disliked posts I have ever written. Many folks kindly–and not-so-kindly–made their criticism known to me, which I sincerely welcomed. I believe that blogging is an exercise in public dialogue, not monologue. With that said, I now recognize a glaring defect in my writing. I completely failed to address my intended audience (evangelical Christians). Consequently, I used terms that mean different things to different people, which, in turn, caused confusion. Terms like Left, left-leaning, liberalism, etc. should have been defined clearly and early, but I negligently assumed any reader would know what I meant. Let me clarify.

To some, liberalism is a political idealogy that champions personal autonomy and seeks to maximize equality among all people. It is the idealogy most popularly associated with Western socialism and, in the United States, the current underpinning of the Democratic Party. To others, like me, liberalism is foremost a philosophical term that encapsulates secularism, humanism, and/or any theism that is unmoored from its traditional boundaries of theology and praxis, i.e., "liberal Judaism" or "liberal Christianity." My use of liberalism (and its related terms) was meant to describe a worldview, not political ideaology (although the former nearly always affects the latter).

That said, some who hold a liberal worldview uphold Mr Dawkins as a champion of their worldview while others abhor him, a fact plainly evident in the post itself. Liberalism is by no means a monolith. Indeed, conservatism can exhibit the same behavior. Surely, there are people who supported the president from the beginning of his campaign and find The God Delusion or The Selfish Gene among their top ten reads.


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 51.

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Loved by the Lord Jesus and my wife. Instructor at the University of Mobile. Teaching Elder at Mars Hill Church (Mobile, Ala). PhD student at Southern Seminary. Host of So What? Podcast. Theologaster thinking at the intersection of the gospel, worldview, and religion. Eamus Catuli. John 14:6.

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