Famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is turning some heads after writing an op-ed on Saturday, endorsing a plan by England’s education secretary Michael Gove to provide every school in the nation with a copy of the Bible. On the grounds that the holy book is a wonderful literary work, the famed atheist believes that it should be read by all students. But his reasons extend far beyond this justification, as Dawkins seems to have more sinister intentions.
Gove, who believes the Bible is a viable moral tool, decided to send King James Bibles, written in 17th-century English, to all primary and secondary schools to mark the 400th anniversary of the book’s completion. While this plan has caused a great deal of angst between church-state separatists, the project was funded with private money.
While on the surface Dawkins supports the initiative, his reasons for backing the Bible handouts, when examined closely, are more rooted in hopes of painting the book as a moral disaster than in supporting it.
The scientist begins his article by claiming that, had his organization, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, been approached, he would have considered donating to the Bible effort. While one may be scratching his or her head while reading Dawkins’ words, it doesn’t take much time to realize that there are ulterior motives driving his urge to put Bibles in schoolchildren’s hands. He writes:
A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian. In the week after the 2011 census, my UK Foundation commissioned Ipsos MORI to poll those who had ticked the Christian box. Among other things, we asked them to identify the first book of the New Testament from a choice of Matthew, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles, Psalms, “Don’t know” and “Prefer not to say”. Only 35% chose Matthew and 39% chose “Don’t know” (and 1%, mysteriously, chose “Prefer not to say”). These figures, to repeat, don’t refer to British people at large but only to those who self-identified, in the census, as Christians.
European history, too, is incomprehensible without an understanding of the warring factions of Christianity and the book over whose subtleties of interpretation they were so ready to slaughter and torture each other. Does the eucharistic bread merely symbolise the body of Jesus or does it become his body, in true “substance” if not “accidental” DNA? Prolonged wars have been fought over how we should interpret the words allegedly uttered at the Last Supper. Three bishops were burned alive just outside my bedroom window in my old Oxford college for giving the unapproved answer.
It seems Dawkins wants children to see what he perceives as immoral lessons in the Bible for what they are — a purported travesty. If, indeed, more people read the Bible, he contends that they will be turned off to the Christian faith. Considering Dawkins’ mass efforts to progress atheism across the globe, such a prospect would be welcomed. While Gove sees the Bible as a morally-sound document that can build students up, Dawkins sees it as a corrupt manual that will do just the opposite.
“I have an ulterior motive for wishing to contribute to Gove’s scheme. People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality,” Dawkins admits. This mistaken view may have motivated the “millionaire Conservative party donors”. I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.
Throughout his Guardian op-ed, the famed scientist attempts to poke ethical holes in the Bible, citing examples of alleged Old Testament moral infractions and attempting to diminish the story of Christ’s death. He even refers to the lessons and stories attached to the Ten Commandments as “horrors.”
“Whatever else the Bible might be – and it really is a great work of literature – it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite,” he wrote in the final paragraph of his article. “The examples I have quoted are the tip of a very large and very nasty iceberg. Not a bad way to find out what’s in a book is to read it, so I say go to it. But does anybody, even Gove, seriously think they will?”