Saw Richard Dawkins, the popular armchair theologian cum scientist, on "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO last night. The most striking thing is that Father Dawkins comes off sounding like a country vicar, he does, with his genteel and dulcet tones.
You expect him next to offer absolution with a very light-handed penance.
How silly, really, that a genetic or evolutionary scientist, or whatever the feck he is, would pontificate about religion as if he were examining dead ants under a microscope.
Taking a concept from Dawkins's attack on God (psssst: don't tell this to John Milton or John Donne), Maher invoked Dawkins's scale of 1 to 7 regarding one's certainty or uncertainty about the existence or nonexistence of God.
Dawkins claimed a 6, meaning he's virtually certain that God does not exist.
"I mean as a scientist I can't prove that fairies don't exist. But as a scientist I'd have to leave the possibility open." Snickers from him and the audience.
So, when pressed, he amended his atheism scale up to 6.9. How grandly forgiving and generous of the Vicar of Vacuity and to allow the slim chance that God might exist. Move over, Aristotle, Plato, Kierkegaard, Aquinas, and Marcel to make room for the Reverend Dawkins. Then Maher and Dawkins engaged in a debate as to whether any truly intelligent person could really, truly embrace religion (which for Maher boils down to a sophomoric icon: The Talking Snake).
Of course, one does not win or lose arguments on this subject.
The Buddha merely smiles.
As does, to use the phrase of Meister Eckhart, the "God Beyond God" smile indulgently.
To me, the truly amusing thing is this: ask a scientist to do the same deconstruction on beauty, truth, love, kiss, or goodness.
It was odd that, toward the end of the show, Maher launched a tirade (a la Christopher Hitchens) against the pope for the church's organizational misdeeds regarding sexual abuse. On what basis would Maher, Dawkins, or Hitchens be against sexual abuse? Why have a moral code at all? And what would be its underpinnings?
But as I said, debate is fruitless, in the final analysis; for two lovers do not debate the concept of love. (They could but where's it get them?)
I am reminded, concerning God, the words of Archibald MacLeish:
"A poem should not mean but be."
Try an experiment. Read "Ars Poetica," linked above, and substitute the word "God" for the word "poem." No. Wait. Do not do that. We do cheapen the word God, do we not? The ancient Israelites had a point about that, about not uttering that which is beyond words.
Silence speaks so much louder and more eloquently, sung on a "Small Wire."