Richard Dawkins: “Cultural Christian” or Supremacist Bigot?

Well, Richard Dawkins is in the news once again, and not for one of the normal fun reasons, like when he tweeted about dogs 69ing. No, he’s in the news because he went on tv and announced that he’s a “cultural Christian,” and that has for several reasons shocked people. For instance, this shocked some evangelical Christians because they’re morons who think this means the world’s most famous living atheist now believes in God. It doesn’t. And it shocked some other people because they didn’t realize that Dawkins has been saying this kind of thing forever.

Despite the fact that I found his announcement very obvious and unsurprising, I still want to talk about it because it does tie into some interesting ideas that I think are worth keeping in mind.

This all happened on LBC, a British commercial news station, where Dawkins sat down in conversation with…Boris Johnson’s sister. It’s truly a tiny island, isn’t it?

Anyway, Dawkins sat down with Rachel Johnson on Easter to discuss whether or not it “matters” that Christianity isn’t that big of a deal anymore. He wastes absolutely no time saying the quiet part loud: what’s his “Easter message?” That Ramadan shouldn’t be promoted “instead” of Easter.

Okay grandpa!

That’s basically the entire short interview: Christianity is great, actually, while Islam is horrible. Don’t get Dawkins wrong, everything Christians believe is dumb and wrong but boy is it great.

Before I go further, allow me to admit that like Richard Dawkins, I, too, am a cultural Christian. That just means that I grew up in a Christian household, in a Christian society. I spent my formative years believing the Christian myth, but also attending church and Sunday school and youth group, attending and then teaching at Vacation Bible School, reading the Bible, singing hymns, celebrating Easter and Christmas, saying grace before meals, playing softball and basketball in the church leagues…Christianity was a very important part of my childhood and as such it formed who I am today, for better or worse. It’s why I love Christmas in a way that I could never love Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice or Festivus, because of deeply embedded positive memories of Christmas growing up.

The difference between me and Dawkins is that when I acknowledge that I’m a cultural Christian, I’m admitting to an irrational bias. There’s nothing that inherently makes Christmas a better, more beautiful, or more wholesome holiday than those other ones – in fact, objectively speaking as an anti-capitalist there’s a whole lot about Christmas that I know is unsavory! But my implicit bias remains. I love it.

Dawkins, meanwhile, uses the term cultural Christian not to explore or interrogate his bias, but to excuse it. He doesn’t just prefer a cathedral to a mosque because that’s what he grew up with. He invents a post hoc rationalization to explain that he prefers it because it is better in some way. More beautiful. More moral. More human. 

In that vein, the two of them together, Johnson and Dawkins, set up what may seem at first blush like a strange strawman: in Europe, Christianity is on the decline and Islam is growing. Therefore, it’s not just that people are celebrating Ramadan, but that they are celebrating Ramadan INSTEAD of Easter. It’s not just that they’re building mosques, but that they are tearing down (or threatening to tear down?) cathedrals and chapels. 

Now, this doesn’t appear to be true, at least not in the UK where Johnson and Dawkins are. In the 2021 census, the percentage of people who said they’re Christian did drop from 59 to 46%, but Islam only rose from 5 to 6.7%. “No religion,” meanwhile, jumped from 24.7 to 36.7%. So if anything, we would expect cathedrals to be replaced not with mosques but with, I don’t know, public libraries I guess?

It’s such a strange argument to put forth with zero evidence until you realize that Dawkins and Johnson are actually just floating the Great Replacement Theory, a white nationalist conspiracy theory that exists to frighten white people into thinking that black and brown immigrants are going to take over their culture, destroy their way of life, and, um, start treating white people the way white people already treat black and brown immigrants.

“Now hold on,” you might say, “maybe they’re just using really, wildly inappropriate language to discuss a problem that does not actually exist, and they just sound like Nazis by accident!” Well, have I got great news for you: an entire bonus video in which I carefully spell out the history of this particular Nazi talking point, from a generation before Hilter straight up to Richard Dawkins urging his fans to buy and read a book by far-right bigot Douglas Murray all about how the Great Replacement is real.

So yes, Richard Dawkins has very publicly endorsed this white supremacist talking point. 

When I first became an atheist, I absolutely bought into the idea that religion was responsible for societal ills like misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Luckily I had Richard Dawkins to look up to, and he quickly disabused me of that notion, even before he used the plight of an imaginary Muslim woman to try to tell me to shut up and let atheist men grope me a little, it’s not so bad. He clearly sees Christianity the same way he sees Islam: as a tool he can use for his own benefit, to spread his own biases, to secure the supremacy of his race and culture and gender and sexuality over others.

Interestingly, this puts Richard Dawkins squarely in line with American Christian nationalists. He has to dismiss them in his interview, because he can’t let people know that he doesn’t actually care about how they’re brutalizing women and trans people and people of color, but in reality he holds their exact same position: the God and Jesus of the Bible are mythical figures and it doesn’t really matter what they did or didn’t say or do or believe. Feed the poor? Love your neighbor? Welcome the stranger into your home? Who gives a shit? What matters is using religion to control the sheep, frightening them into taking up arms against the enemy and defending their precious way of life from subhuman races. The Venn diagram between Christian nationalists and white nationalists is almost a perfect circle for this reason. Dawkins doesn’t need to believe in the god to find allies.

That’s why Dawkins hasn’t had a problem endorsing American Christian Evangelicals in the past, like in 2019 when he encouraged people to attend a conference put on by “Sovereign Nations,” a far-right Christian Nationalist organization that hates “wokeness” as much as Dawkins does.

It’s worth noting, too, that another prominent atheist has gone one step further than Dawkins. Ayaan Hiris Ali recently came out as a Christian in a 2,000+ word essay that does not once mention “Christ.” Or “Jesus.” Or any explanation that would reveal that she now actually believes in any kind of god. Her only reason for now calling herself a Christian is that “Western civilisation is under threat from” China, Russia, Islam, and “woke ideology.” Faith in a god is not actually a prerequisite for this particular “religion,” because it exists purely as a political tool to be wielded by those who benefit from the status quo, whether they were born into the wealthy, white, Western, straight, cis, male hegemony or whether they are able to, at least temporarily, benefit from being in close proximity and useful to that hegemony.

Donald Trump, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Richard Dawkins, and even Ayaan Hirsi Ali: they are united on this fact. “Cultural Christians” who are desperate to retain supremacy and willing to use religion to do it, despite not believing in that silly supernatural stuff.

So yeah, that’s all I wanted to say about that. I just saw a lot of reactions of surprise for something that should not be surprising at this point: Richard Dawkins is a bigot, and he loves his bigotry more than he hates religion.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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