Thought for the day, “Dawkins and slavery”, Monday 20 February

Here is the text for my forthcoming ‘Thought for the day’, to be broadcast on Monday 20 February on the subject of “Dawkins and slavery”.

Dawkins and slavery

The Sunday Telegraph carried an astonishingly stupid and ill spirited character assassination piece on Richard Dawkins this Sunday, in which it publishes “revelations” that one of his ancestors profited from slavery. The assets from that trade remain in the Dawkins family.

There is plenty to criticise Dawkins for without having to resort to grubby smears. So what really can we learn from this story?

Firstly, it’s a timely reminder of just how appalling and wicked slavery was. In a week that lazy left wing campaigners have accused Tesco of “slave labour” for having offered work experience to the unemployed instead of letting them languish on the dole, it’s highlight just how inappropriate that comparison is. Slaves did not have the freedom to walk away or to improve their lot. Benefit claimants do, even if it might be financially difficult.

Secondly, the Church of the Dead Dad rejects the notion that the son should be held accountable for the sins of the father. One should take responsibility only for one’s own sins. In Deuteronomy 24, verse 16, we find the following:

“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

The message here being that you cannot be held responsible for your father’s sins (not that you should be put to death for sinning!). But by all means, use your father’s life as an opportunity to learn and to improve yourself. As the proverb goes, “A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own.” By this measure, we can reject calls for Dawkins to pay reparations. He was not the party that enslaved other people. Nor, even if you could make a case that he continues to benefit from that wrong, there is no person today who can legitimately claim to be the wronged party.

We should also pause to take Dawkins to task for his claim that “William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.” The Bible is a book about Love. Dawkins wouldn’t claim to understand the Bible, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t. Just because a book may have been used, wrongly, for a particular purpose, doesn’t change its true meaning. A man who uses a telephone directory to crush a spider doesn’t turn it into a treatise on animal cruelty. Similarly, we shouldn’t blame the Bible for the frailties of man.

The Sunday Telegraph piece is a woeful piece of journalism, which allows Dawkins to shed his bully image and appear as a victim. Instead, sensible Christians everywhere should reject this appalling article and refocus our efforts on rebutting Dawkins’s ill-informed and uncharitable attacks on people of faith everywhere.