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Excerpt from Dreams

Fundamentalist Christian Atheist (p. 47)

From chapter "Removing Meaning"

I’m on an island. It is a paradise: pristine white beaches, turquoise water, tall trees swaying in soft breezes. But there are too many people. Humans everywhere. Walking, sitting, standing. Driving cars. Riding boats. Swimming. On Jet Skis. I walk along the beach—very clean, no trash—between groups of people. I see a place where a small cliff approaches the sea, and the beach there is only perhaps ten feet wide. A fence runs from the cliff to well under water. I approach it. It looks impassable. But in this dream I suddenly pass, and am on the other side. The beach opens out again. There are still people here, though not nearly so many. Everyone here is working. They are working with trash. There is trash everywhere. The ocean is filled with junked cars. Chemical effluents seep from every crevice in the cliff face, and oils ooze from sand. I walk, and keep walking, and keep walking, all along this island’s edge. As far as I can see, both toward the land and toward the sea, there is nothing but trash.


What bothers me most about Richard Dawkins is that the world he describes bears scant resemblance to the world I inhabit. His world is nasty, meaningless, and full of suffering. For example, he writes, “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so.”Of course it’s true that suffering exists, but his choice to emphasize this aspect of reality over all others—indeed, to base his entire flawed philosophy on this aspect—is deeply pathetic, and says far more than we may want to know about him as a person. He could just as easily have written: “The total amount of joy per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are lying in the sun, others are making love, moaning in ecstasy, others are nursing their young, playing with others of their kind, playing with others of other species. It must be so.” Yes, we die. So what? Before then, we get to have a lot of fun. It must be so.

I would contrast Richard Dawkins’s destructive nihilism with an observation by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “It is told that Buddha, going out to look on life, was greatly daunted by death. ‘They all eat one another!’ he cried, and called it evil. This process I examined, changed the verb, said, ‘They all feed one another,’ and called it good.”

Dawkins writes, “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver.”Leaving aside the question of whether science fills me with awe (it doesn’t), what about trees? Dragonflies? Sunsets? Star-filled skies? Flocks of birds? Spawning salmon? Baby spiders clustered around their mother? Please note that the only things he lists as giving him awe are human creations. Of course. Please note further that the things he lists are all derivations, interpretations, and descriptions of the real world (the real world that this culture is destroying), and that they could not exist without the real world.

But now I understand him, and in understanding him I better understand something about both science and Christianity. Priming this eventual understanding was a phony debate I watched between him and a Christian over the existence of God. The debate was phony for the same reason that presidential debates are phony, and for the same reason that debates between fundamentalist Christians and pornographers are phony: in each case the debaters are two sides of the same coin. In the case of presidential debates, they’re always both capitalists, they’re always both supporters of the corporations that own them, they always both fall all over themselves to see who can be “stronger on national defense,” which in financial terms means who can hand more money to the military-industrial complex and in human terms means who can implement policies that kill more poor brown people and that steal more resources from the brown people they don’t kill. Debates between fundamentalist Christians and pornographers are similarly phony; as Susan Griffin most famously laid out in her powerful book Pornography and Silence, fundamentalist Christianity and pornography are complementary, turning women into either virgins or whores, with Christianity wanting the soul and not the body, and pornography wanting the body and not the soul. In either case the woman is cut in two. The same thing happened in the debate between the Christian and Dawkins, as our options were limited to either a Christian sky God or no god at all. Where does a land-based religion fit into this picture?

I went back to my reading. I found more and more similarities between Dawkins and the religion he ostensibly despises. And now I understand. Dawkins put it clearly in an article, citing a famous line from The African Queen: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Read that again.

“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Read it one more time.

We live in, Dawkins says again and again (and again and again), a blind universe, a meaningless universe, a random universe. He has built his entire career and reputation on saying that the universe has no purpose. But, but, but . . . But, if the universe has no purpose, then where does our purpose come from: who put us here to rise above the world? And why and how would we rise above it? Rise above it to where?

This made no sense to me. Nor, to be honest, did it make any sense to me that he is generally considered one of the top five thinkers of our time.

Then I thought again about the line, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

And then I thought about how horrible life on earth is the way he describes it: “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. . . . It must be so.”

And then I thought about the line, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

And then I got it. Substitute the words original sin for nature, and suddenly it’s all clear. Do you know what Richard Dawkins is? He’s a fundamentalist Christian who does not believe in either God or salvation, or perhaps believes only in a modified salvation through science, since science gives us that “feeling of awed wonder” that “is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable.” Perhaps it is even the same sort of awe that Christians feel when they read the Bible.

There you have it. Life on earth is a vale of tears, but there’s no heaven. The world is a really nasty place, but there’s no God to make it better. All Dawkins has done, really, is take the worst of Christianity (original sin, the earth is a terrible place) and make it even more unbearable. A perfect manifestation of this culture at its end point.

Here’s another way to say this: over the past couple of thousand years Christianity has systematically extracted meaning and divinity from the earth (or rather, systematically destroyed, often through the use of torture or at the very least violence, our ability to perceive meaning and divinity in the earth) and placed that meaning and divinity in a God who does not live here. It’s a small step from there to no meaning at all. As my friend Lierre Keith put it, monotheism sucked all the meaning out of the world, and put it into a repository called God, and then humanism came along and killed off God. So what’s left? Meaningless suffering. I love the line from Isak Dinesen: “Any pain is bearable if it’s part of a story.” At least Christianity had a story, even if it’s a nasty one. The scientific fundamentalists have nothing. And they can destroy everything because the world has no inherent meaning.


Dawkins’s toxic combination of Christianity and science is not rare at all. I encounter it all the time, which of course makes sense, since as I’ve detailed in several books, Christianity and science emerge from the same fucked-up culture (and spring from the same urge to control and destroy) that is killing the world. Science is, as mentioned above, a spiritual descendant of Christianity, another step in this culture’s forced march to planetary murder.