What’s Richard Dawkins going to do about William Wilberforce and the glorious work this Christian of the late 18th and early 19th centuries did to make the world better?
Will he dance circles around this truth? Deny it? Continue maintaining against all the evidence of history, all logic, all intellectual respectability that atheism is the path to a morally improved tomorrow and that Christianity has nothing decent to recommend it?
Dawkins is an English science writer whose banging of the atheist drum — particularly in his book, "The God Delusion" — is so excruciatingly, heavy-metal loud as to be heard even above the din of many other increasingly aggressive get-with-it types of the kind who showed up at a religion-excoriating conference in La Jolla last year. Reports say most comments were along the lines of how morality is chiefly biochemistry doing its thing and that science in and of itself sums up the entirety of what’s knowable. Dawkins was there, parading among his shockers the view that it is abusive to teach your child your faith.
Philosophically, theologically and in a host of other respects, the man’s a C-minus sophomore, and those making that point (not much more delicately) include erudite writers in such emphatically secular publications as The New Republic and The New York Review of Books. One of them finds it indefensible that Dawkins’ dudgeon is high to the point of seeing human suffering as faith’s chief consequence.
Here we come to Wilberforce. This extraordinary man was driven by searing religious conviction to spend 20 years in the British Parliament trying to outlaw the slave trade. His name has not been a household word in America, but may now be on its way to such familiarity because of a movie, "Amazing Grace," which deals with his religious inspiration, his education in the horrors of slavery, his endless setbacks, his endurance and his eventual victory against bulldozing odds that would flatten a man of less inner strength.
Dawkins, in answer to this example, would no doubt detail misdeeds done by Christians and members of other faiths, and much of this is undeniable. But there’s a difference between what’s done in the name of a faith and what actions represent the essential principles of a faith, and it is nothing short of negligent to skip the rest of the story: the solace and meaning Christianity has provided to millions and the way it has brought so many to kindness, generosity and dedication to others. The very moral values that Dawkins himself invokes derive in large measure from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Most of the abolitionists in America were Christians, too. There are not enough movie studios to portray the lives of all such reformers — Martin Luther King Jr. was one — nor enough to dramatize the immense cruelties on the atheistic side, including the millions slain by Mao Tse-tung and Joseph Stalin.
We do have the Wilberforce movie, however, and it comes at a time when the anti-religion crowd appears to be growing in numbers and angry outspokenness. Its depiction of sacrificial love in one man’s life speaks louder than an army of angry voices.
Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com