Category Archives: culture

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Christianity was never meant to be simple

Really excited to show you this little video ( some may even say  its a mini-movie).  We made it to help people realise that asking big questions about your faith is a good thing.

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You can pre-order Paradoxology: Why Christianity was never meant to be simple right now or if you are at Spring Harvest or World Alive you can buy it right away from the bookshop.

We had great fun making it so special thanks to:
Lucas  who plays young old me.
Zach  who plays the friend.
Ruth who plays my Sunday School Teacher.
Joel who is plays a medic.
Special thanks to visionary film maker John Bowen.

What people are saying about Paradoxology:
“a thought-provoking, compassionate, and courageous book”
Dr Lucy Peppiatt,
Principal Westminster Theological Centre

“A must-read for the countless folk, both inside and outside Christian churches today, whose faith,or search for faith, is shot through with unresolved questions”
Bruce Milne
Author of Know the Truth

“In his characteristically engaging way, Krish shows us how the paradoxes of faith are not to be feared or reasoned away but believed and actively treasured.”
Adrian Reynolds
Director of Ministry, The Proclamation Trust

“Paradoxology is neither overly dense nor simplistic and yet it is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. If you are looking for a book to help you wrestle with some of the most difficult questions of our faith, you have found it.”
Andy Croft
Associate Director of Soul Survivor

“After reading Paradoxology you may think that some of the doubts and contradictions you were so certain disproved Christianity were a result of seeing the world in two dimensions, rather than the robust 3D nature of the Gospel.”
David Kinnaman,
Author unChristian and You Lost Me,
President Barna Group

Krish questions simplistic answers and offers thoughtful answers to
sincere questions. This celebratory approach elevates our view of God beyond religious monotone, and will help many people – whether or not they call themselves Christian – who want to understand the great characters and themes of scripture without kissing their brains goodbye.
Pete Grieg
Founder 24/7

This book has been a labour of love for the past 18 months and has been in parallel with my work on Confidence in the Gospel at the Evangelical Alliance.

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Men and Church

I have been asked to respond to the challenge of the male gender deficit in church attendance. I wanted to make sure there really was a problem first. The most extensive research I could find (thanks to the wonderful EA information officer Kim Walker) revealed this table:

Peter Brierley working off of the 2005 census argues for a discrepancy figure of 14% with female churchgoers in England at 57% and male churchgoers 43%. This is a scary imbalance but look what happens when it is broken down according to age range. The following table is from the recent 2013 Capital Growth publication which looks at figures just for London.

20-29 years old 30-44 years 45-64years 65-74 years 75-84 years Average age Total number
Male 11% 20% 21% 11% 6% 39 years 316,000
Female 11% 21% 22% 13% 7% 42 years 405,500
Total 11% 21% 22% 12% 7% 41 years 721,500

 

I’m not brilliant with statistics. Perhaps the main problem is  that  41% of those that attend church are over 45 years old  so is it possible that some of the gender discrepancies could be due to difference in death rates?

The Tearfund survey of 2007 saw a bigger deficit  at: Women 65% and men 35%. (They measured regular churchgoers as those who attend monthly at a service on any day of the week whereas the census was looking at weekly Sunday attendance so it is not unusual that the figures don’t match up). This could be because of the difference in work patterns which still sees more men going out to work so more women are likely to visit a church during the week. As I say stats is not my favourite subject – so feel free to correct my reading of the numbers.

So should we be worried?
It is true that  I can think of more instances in my pastoral experience where women attend church services and their husbands don’t. Most of these situations were not men dropping out of church – but rather men never having connected with church. The wives coming to faith and the husbands not responding yet. But I also know lots of women that find church very difficult because of the gender imbalance in Church leadership. I was only given a few words to respond so here’s what I wrote.

Love to know your feedback friends…

We need better research into the numbers. Figures from the last English Church Census in 2005 seem to indicate there is an in-balance with 57% of churchgoers being in female and 43% male but more recent research published last year looking at churchgoing in London presents a much more even spread. If there is a problem; that isn’t based on birth and death rates or including midweek church attendance, this happened while churches are run predominantly by men.  Despite this I have heard arguments for gearing the Church more towards men. Personally I think we need a greater involvement in decision-making for women as I believe the Church should model to our culture both the equality and complementary nature of female and male relationships. I believe that a Church confident in the gospel will call men and women to the kind of discipleship that challenges the consumerist attitudes that make participation in church life dependent on whether services are provided in a way that I want. The answer is not to be more macho.

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Too much Aid not Enough Help

Review Too Much Aid not Enough Help, Ken Gibson

This important book is a hard one to read. Not just because the subject matter is global poverty or that it reveals the complicity the western world and the aid business have had in making the two-thirds world poorer, but because it is unremitting in its style and content.

Ken Gibson is the Executive Director of The Leprosy Mission Ireland. It might seem surprising that the leader of a development agency is daring to write a book that encourages less aid to be given to the poor. But Gibson is writing predominantly about intergovernmental aid (otherwise known as multilater aid) which represents 96 per cent of all aid that is given. Gibson is careful to distinguish between good aid – he cites the Expanded Programme of Immunisation which saw a radical decrease in the number of children dying from preventable diseases and save around three million lives a year. Gibson’s main concern is to challenge the way that western aid – especially that of the US and to a lesser extent the UK – have been using aid payments to their own advantage.

Gibson gives a lot of space to a critique of the Official Development Assistance (p.76), which confusingly is listed as Overseas Development Aid (p. 160) in the glossary which cites the 51 abbreviations used in this 160 page book. The ODA was established at the end of the second world war primarily to rehabilitate the devastated European theatre of war. In President Truman’s plans the ODA was to help “bring the underdeveloped majority of the world’s population to the point of being developed”. Perhaps President Nixon summed up the rationale behind the aid programme:

“Let us remember that the main point of development aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves.” (p.87)

Gibson then systematically exposes almost every example of intergovernmental aid as serving the national interests of the donor rather than the best interests of the receivers. The World Bank, the IMF and ODA come in for heavy criticism. There appear to have been so many strings to the aid that it was a massive form of global manipulation and power politics. Gibson even sites occasions where countries were literally held to ransom as aid was withheld just as countries faced severe famine and more stringent conditions were placed on the receivers knowing they couldn’t refuse as people were literally starving to death.

The final chapter includes suggestions from Gibson on better ways forward. Suggestions include:

-       redefining aid as “Compensatory Finance” which would involve the west repaying its debt to the rest.

-       Encouraging protectionism in underdeveloped countries where trade tariffs were introduced to help infant industries.

-       Protection of local food markets by stopping the dumping of food developing countries’ food surplus in under-developed countries.

-       Prioritisation of debt relief.

-       Devolution of IMF operations to regional blocks such as the African union.

This book is harrowing reading. It is hard work as there are lots and lots of figures and abbreviations. The book does not have a specifically Christian audience in mind despite being written from someone who works from a historically Christian development charity. There is no mention of God, scripture or any explicit theological analysis. You could argue that a Christian worldview is assumed but is this because of the latent borrowed intellectual capital of the legacy of Christendom or because of a deliberate application of Christian values on a global tragedy? It seems impossible to tell from the book itself.

There is no real call to action in the book either – the aim seems to be informing a wider group of people as to the flaws of the majority of intergovernmental aid which may inform the way we engage politically. But sadly I think the truth that this book exposes will remain read by a small minority as a result of its writing style, narrow focus and lack of application to most readers.

 First published in Anvil. 

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5 reasons to cheer on Noah

1.  It’s an opportunity for conversation

Imagine the scene:

Friend ” I have been thinking a lot about God lately.”
You “Which god is that? Is it the God as revealed in the Bible?”
Friend “I’m not sure. I just can’t get the story of Noah out of my head.”
You “Well if your thinking doesn’t match that of Genesis 6:9 and the following verses then you have strayed from God’s revelation.”
Friend “Oh I thought you’d be happy I was thinking about God.”

When an Oscar nominated filmmaker decides to make a movie about a key biblical narrative you can either criticise him or start a conversation. I’m always of the mindset that a conversation is a great place to start. (Damaris have once again provided some great resources to help that conversation along).

2. It will help people engage with scripture

I spoke with a 14 year old English boy today and I asked him what he knew about the Noah story and  he told me nothing. I gave him a few hints…

- its a story that involves a lot of water …
- there’s a boat in it…
- animals…

I drew a complete blank. He had never heard of the story at all. With an increasingly biblically illiterate culture, having a mainstream film  engage with a major Bible story is a real opportunity to help a new generation engage with scripture.

3. Fresh riff on a biblical story

I have read a lot of people arguing that Noah is least biblical biblical film ever. Having seen the film I understand a little where they are coming from. Yes there are things in the film that are not in the Bible – for one thing Noah speaks; which he doesn’t do in the biblical narrative. If you are going to make a 2 hour hollywood movie about this story you are going to give your lead character something to say.

Aronofsky has made a film inspired by the Noah story. He has taken artistic license; just as every film adaptation of every piece of literature does he has introduced new elements and rearranged some parts of the story for dramatic effect.  My 15 year son and I read the whole story of Noah together before watching the film last night and it was great to have a discussion on the way home about which bits we thought were true to the text, which bits made us rethink how we had understood the story before and which bits we would like to politely disagree with Aronofksy’s interpretation. To be honest my son does (and should ask ) the same questions of the sermons he hears – even / especially my ones :)

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4. There are some profound theological questions being asked

If you can get past the Nephilim being portrayed as a cross between Bionicles and Transformers. If you can look beyond the weirdness about using a snake skin as a spiritual relic. If you can get over a slightly strange reliance on magic in the anti-dilluvian world. If you can get over the Abraham meets The Shining moments in the film then  I found some fascinating theological questions being asked by the film.

- What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

There’s an interesting conflict of interpretation coming from Noah verses Tubal Cain one arguing for a Green-stewardship model the other for a Wayne-Grudem-dominion model.

- How did Noah cope with the ethical dilemma of surviving a genocide?

- How do we reconcile a gracious and loving God with a God of Judgement? 

An area I devote a couple of chapters to in my new book Paradoxology- why christianity was never meant to be simple. Particularly the whole area of genocide and grace.

 5. There are moments of genius and beauty

There were some excellent parts of this film.

I loved the God’s eye view of the flood you are provided half way through the movie.

I loved the clever way Aronofsky allows the animals to co-exist on the ark.

I really enjoyed the retelling of the creation narrative in a way that would either get young and old earth creationists both cheering or booing.

The fall of humanity is told in a powerful way that helps us understand our current world situation.

Some of the special effects were brilliantly done.

When was the last time that you saw a major hollywood director face up to the judgement and grace of God in a $130 million budget movie?

Conclusion

Imagine if Jay Z did a remix of the Joshua Tree (which is one of my favourite albums of all time by the way). I would listen to that remix with some fear as for me there’s nothing anyone could add to Lanois and Eno’s production. But I would be excited that someone could help the album be heard by a new audience, I would be excited that someone valued the original so much they wanted to do an homage to it. I am sure bits of the album would be astounding and bits would be  things I was interested to hear the first time but wouldn’t want to listen to again. I guess coming out of watching Noah last night that is how I felt. I want to encourage everyone to go and see it and then check out the original in scripture.

Just this morning standing on the touchline watching my foster son play football Noah provided the opportunity for a conversation with another dad about the grace of God.  Noah provides  an amazing opportunity that is too good to miss.

Noah goes on general release on Thursday and is certificate 12a. It does have some disturbing scenes so this is definitely not a film for younger viewers.

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Unconscious Decoupling of Reality – Trouble in Paradise

Coldplay’s music has become the default soundtrack to much of my life.  Whether it’s the loop of music in my favourite coffee shop or the trailer for the latest BBC drama Chris Martin’s ethereal vocals and have become commonplace in our consciousness. The transcendent quality of Coldplay’s music has turned stadiums into sacred spaces and even train carriages into moments of quiet communion.  Many a morning my commute has been a commune with the delicate beauty of a Coldplay riff, I try to suppress the urge to proclaim out loud

“God put a Smile upon your Face…”

“See Jerusalem Bells are singing…”

“High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

Once I  arrive at my local station Gwyneth Paltrow peers down at me from a billboard where she is non- ironically modelling perfume for me to buy. The  promise of associative advertising implying that we can somehow connect with Paltrow’s charmed life if we smell like her. She has become the icon of domestic tranquillity and perhaps we can commune with her if we buy the incense that Hugo Boss are selling. Paltrow once described Boss Jour as a “ quietly optimistic”  Fragrance. Paltrow offers hope to us mere mortals that we can achieve another level of existence if we heed her lifestyle instructions on Goop a cyber portal through which her wisdom is dispensed.  We can buy the vestments of our worship through its online store. We can commune with Paltrow at table too – there are meals we can consume together that will allow us through eating quinoa to achieve the heavenly body Paltrow models for us.

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Modern life is laced with new forms of worship. Gwyneth and Chris are just one denomination. Choose your own icon: Beyonce and Jayz,  Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and ofcourse Will and Kate. Paltrow, somehow more than Martin has been on the receiving end of a lot of hatred. Jealousy has always had its monstrous side yet envy is such a powerful marketing hook that celebrities willingly take the risk and revel in our covetous cooing but are shocked when it gives way to hate.

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As the news breaks about Paltrow and Martin’s decoupling no doubt some are enjoying the spectacle, enjoying the prospect of the poster couple for domestic bliss are experiencing the same woes as the rest of us. I don’t now want to be one of those people that have knives out.

But I do think it‘s worth pausing to think through the apologetic for why divorce is good that Paltrow has put on her website. Paltrow published a piece on Goop which describes her situation as a conscious decoupling. Now, divorce is a painful thing, Christianity describes marriage as becoming one flesh, so divorce is like trying to separate conjoined twins. Its painful, risky and no one leaves unscarred. Recognising the pain involved and we ofcourse don’t know and indeed shouldn’t know the full story. So I want to be clear that I am engaging with the ideas put forward in this piece not Martin and Paltrow’s decision to uncouple.

1.    Promises should have an expiry date

The following excerpt is from piece was written by “Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami on the Goop site:

For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives—and accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. Social research suggests that because we’re living so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime.

It argued that because we are living so much longer the idea of “death till us part” is an unnecessary and unrealistic anachronism.

To put in plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy.

This is not a great argument. I know how I feel when I have been promised a two year warranty for my phone only to find out that because of a technicality I am no longer eligible. We want to claim all the time we are promised in these circumstances. I watched A song for Marion recently which showed something very moving about a long lasting marriage. A friend of mine is a mother of four and her husband was in a catastrophic Rugby accident leaving him physically and mentally disabled. The vow she made to her husband was not rescinded by his age or his abilities. A promise is a promise.

2. True emotional maturity is independence

With an internal support structure, we can stand strong because our stability doesn’t depend on anything outside ourselves. …

There is a good point here. We need to examine the degree to which we find our identity and self-worth from being in a romantic relationship.  It’s an argument for not getting married too young. From a Christian perspective one’s primary identity is found in our relationship in Christ. We don’t want to be over reliant on others. But the idea that you could be wholly independent of others can’t be a healthy one for a parent, a friend or a for building healthy community.

It also seems to cut against the grain of the messaging behind Paltrow’s books and most of Cold Play’s songs.

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When we examine our intimate relationships from this perspective, we realize that they aren’t for finding static, lifelong bliss like we see in the movies. They’re for helping us evolve a psycho-spiritual spine, a divine endoskeleton made from conscious self-awareness so that we can evolve into a better life without recreating the same problems for ourselves again and again. When we learn to find our emotional and spiritual support from inside ourselves, nothing that changes our environment or relationships can unsettle us.

This sounds like a very instrumental view of relationships. We are the centre of the universe. Our relationships exists as a kind of scaffolding so we can achieve emotional maturity which leaves us in a kind of stoic isolationism.

The most respected leaders in history don’t measure up to emotional maturity on this scale. Nelson Mandella, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale poured themselves into others and relied on their friendships and family members to do so. So I reject the premise that relationships are a beetle like exoskeleton we need to grow out of. Relationships are the stuff of life.

Anne Carter puts it well:

No matter how it is euphemistically defined, the stark sadness of divorce cannot be masked by redefining it as ‘conscious uncoupling’. In an attempt to downplay the reality of a family severed by broken relationship, this less offensive phrase has been very carefully chosen.  Ultimately, the children won’t be concerned by semantics. They will face the reality for what it is: their parents no longer love each other enough to live together anymore; their family unit has been broken

Lets hope for everyone’s sake that this redefinition of divorce doesn’t catch on. Let’s hope for Paltrow and Martin that there is  a way forward for their relationship.

 

 

Photo “Beetle” from Flickr.

One in eight hundred

World Downs Syndrome Day

There is a hidden genocide going on. A friend of mine told me she went in for a routine pregnancy check up a couple of months ago and was told by her midwife that she should have the amniocentesis because she would “of course want to abort” if it was her foetus was found to have Down Syndrome. My friend was shocked by this response.

I read recently in the Guardian that in Denmark “95% of all Danish parents to be, decide to have an abortion if they find out that they are about to carry out a baby with Trisomy 21″ the indicator for Downs.  Now I am sure no one makes these kinds of decisions easily, and I am not seeking to bring guilt or shame but I do want to help prospective parents to see things differently.

As a family we had the joy of caring for a little girl with Downs Syndrome for three and a half years as foster parents until she was adopted. We still miss the pleasure of her company, her gentle grace and infectious laughter. Her picture is on our mantle piece and we think about her often.

I encourage you to share this short film as widely as you can. It may change the way we see children with Downs Syndrome. It may help end a genocide.

Photo source.
T
hanks to @lizzshaw01 for flagging up this video to me.

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5 reasons why I love Rev

I had a chance encounter on the train yesterday and ended up in a conversation with the chief writer of Rev;  James Woods.  It was such a pleasure to be able to tell him face to face some of the things I appreciated about the show.  I asked him what hope there was of another series after this one and he said something pretty final happens in the last episode that would make that pretty difficult.  So we should relish this television show which has been sold by the BBC to 140 different countries while it is on our TV screens for the next six weeks. (Rev kicks off on Monday night at 10.00pm on BBC2)

Here are Five things I really like about REV.

1. Laughing with Christians not at them

Rev is a very funny television show. It does a great job of poking fun at some of absurdities of the Christian life, but not in a sneering belittling way, but in a generous and warmhearted way. We develop great sympathy for the characters and their circumstances. Because of the quality of the research in the show – we can recognise the types of Christians  depicted in the show whether its the HTB types or the Archdeacon or the new curate.

2. The challenges of Parish life

A vicar friend of mine who works as a parish priest in London is constantly telling me that his daily life feels like an episode of Rev. Watching Rev is quite a therapeutic experience for him. Many christian leaders not just anglican priests can relate to the stresses of caring for needy people who turn up at your door at all sorts of strange times, the pressure it puts your family under to be living in the goldfish bowl of church and community leadership.

3.  Recognising the power of the Parish

When everyone else is leaving the inner city, the church is often the only institution that is still there. Many school teachers I know don’t want to live in the same area as the schools they are in, similarly many doctors and police officers. But most vicars  are firmly connected with their parishes. Rev shows the power of presence, showing what it means to demonstrate hospitality to the stranger or the addict, what it means to visit the sick and the dying what it means to care for all those in need. It offers a countercultural picture of how to rebuild community in the inner city.

4. Olivia Coleman

She is the megastar of the show now thanks in no small part to  Broadchurch. She is very impressive – I have watched the trailer for Mr Sloane so many times now I should be sick of it. But she pulls of a brilliant set piece put down with consummate skill. I am so pleased she has come back for the final series.

5.  The Complexity of Faith

I love the inner dialogue that we are given that reveals the thought and prayer life of Rev Adam Smallbone. Its an excellent insight into the reality of the life of faith.  Neither of the shows creators James Wood the writer nor Tom Hollander who plays the Rev  would have claimed to have a clear cut faith when they started the programme. But Tom Hollander can testify to a deeper faith as a result of being on the show, as he confessed to the guardian:

Does he think his faith has changed since starting Rev? “Well, of course I’ve gone a lot to church recently, entirely for work reasons, but it has its effect. You can’t go into these places without something happening. Just the buildings as much as anything. And the yearning to believe…”

It was interesting talking to Wood about his dislike for overconfident super certain Christianity and I hope to be able to send him a copy of my new book Paradoxology which tackles exactly that issue. So I hope he uses the contact details I left with him.

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5 reasons why Richard Dawkins should know better

A friend of mine pointed out to me a photo circulating Facebook posted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

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But this is a low blow from Richard Dawkins and here are five reasons why he (and his foundation) should know better.

1. Richard Dawkins is a very clever man.

You don’t get to do groundbreaking research in evolutionary genetics without a lot of sense. Dawkins should know the difference between a good argument that is backed up by evidence and simplistic conjecturing that is not based on good research. So the way Dawkins presents a simplistic view of faith and an optimistic view of science is disingenuous for a man of his academic credentials.

2. Straw man arguments don’t encourage respect.

Dawkins has picked a poor oversimplification of religion that misrepresents what most people of faith actually believe. It shows a lack of understanding to argue that religions claim all of these things about human beings- his polemic feels focussed on Christianity because Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have a very different understanding of the human person.

Christianity teaches that human beings are both broken and beautiful, wonderfully and fearfully made yet still capable of great compassion and great sin because we have free will.

Dawkins himself has summarised a human person and therefore a child as being: Indeed this is how he explained humanity in his 1991 Royal Institute Children’s lectures:

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA Flowers are for the same thing as everything else in the living kingdoms, for spreading ‘copy – me’ programmes about, written in DNA language.

That is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects’ sole reason for living…

[R. Dawkins, (1991) Christmas Lectures Study Guide, p. 21]

That does not sound like the way he describes human dignity  in  the cute photo. According to Dawkins a person’s value is based on their ability to reproduce. So he has created a straw man argument to make a polemical point. He is ranting rather than arguing.

If we want a rant rather than a conversation  we could say:

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But as we shall see this is not a helpful or accurate polarisation.

3. Richard Dawkins should know his philosophy of science

Richard Dawkins was University of Oxford‘s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.  As I understand that role from one of my favourite universities this would involve encouraging the public to have a deeper and richer understanding of science. This image makes some big assumptions:

- there is a necessary conflict between science and faith (see here for recent survey in the States that showed that in the USA:

“2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. If you were to bring all the evangelical scientists together, they could populate the city of Houston, Texas.”

- historically Christianity can be credited as being the basis for the rise of empirical science in the West. See for example R. G. Collingwood:

“The presuppositions that go to make up this Catholic faith, preserved for many centuries by the religious institutions of Christendom, have as a matter of historical fact been the main or fundamental presuppositions of natural science ever since.”
Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1940), p.227

-  Dawkins assumes that science can provide a rational basis for:

beauty - if we took Dawkins DNA replication model at face value then beauty is just sexual attractiveness to encourage genetic replication.

wonder - this is from the same scientist that argued :
”The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” There’s not a lot of reason for wonder in a universe of blind pitiless indifference is there?

4. Using a child as a lobbying tool / prop dehumanises the child

The lovely little girl in the picture looks pretty oblivious to the debate on the placard she is holding, so she effectively becomes a tool in an argument. This depersonalises her which is an odd thing to do in a polemic about the harmful effects of faith on children.

5. There are better ways to have a conversation

I posted a few days ago about a conversation between  the Christian believer Bear Grylls and the well known atheist Stephen Fry. For me this modelled how to have an adult conversation. Dear Richard Dawkins I’d love to see you have this kind of grown up conversation – I know you are capable of it.

Photo credit to rarvesen.