I’ve seen an email that cites that crappy Eagleton review of The God Delusion that seems to think this quote is somehow a significant rebuttal of the book, rather than an indictment of the reviewer’s ability to comprehend the book without inserting his own biases against atheism into it.
Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history—and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.
If you actually open The God Delusion to pages 340-345 and read, you will find a substantial section in which Dawkins defends the Bible as a literary and historical source, deplores the lack of knowledge of the book by its most ardent defenders, and even argues that religious rituals like those for marriages and funerals are a good thing. It begins this way:
I must admit that even I am a little taken aback at the biblical ignorance commonly displayed by people educated in more recent decades than I was. Or maybe it isn’t a decade thing. As long ago as 1954, according to Robert Hinde in his thoughtful book Why Gods Persist, a Gallup poll in the United States of America found the following. Three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants could not name a single Old Testament prophet. More than two-thirds didn’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. A substantial number thought that Moses was one of Jesus’s twelve apostles. That, to repeat, was in the United States, which is dramatically more religious than other parts of the developed world.
The King James Bible of 1611 — the Authorized Version — in English includes passages of outstanding literary merit in its own right, for example the Song of Songs, and the sublime Ecclesiastes (which I am told is pretty good in the Hebrew too). But the main reason the Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture.
I will speak for Dawkins when I say that the the real bigotry and the crime against history is when the religious take acts of human selflessness and credit them to a nonexistent phantasm rather than their true source…people. I think it’s particularly galling when those paragons of virtue, the Christians who claim their goodness devolves from their religion, in general have such a deficient knowledge of their purported source of morality. Perhaps the reason Christians are such bad examples is that they don’t know their religion as well as we atheists do?