Imago Dei & the (Forgotten) Roots of Human Rights

Campbell Law Review (Regent University Law) recently published Looking For Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition by Professor C. Scott Pryor, also of Regent Law. 33 Campbell L. Rev. 609 (2011).

Professor Pryor argues that the corresponding rights and duties of prototypical Western “human rights” were not free floating:  In Christian, Hebraic, and even Roman civil law traditions they originated in grounded conceptions of human nature.  These notions defined the human being and the rights others owed to him or her and the corresponding duties he or she owed to others.  While the Western conception of human rights has continued to develop, Pryor asserts that knowledge of these rights’ foundation has eroded; as memories fade, consensus as to what are human rights and their implications becomes harder to reach.  When this consensus becomes more remote, human-rights-based arguments lose their salience.  Pryor’s discussion of the weakening of rights discourse is analogous to Alasdair MacIntyre’s bleak premise in  After Virtue (3d ed. 2007) that, over time, “the language of morality [has reached a] state of grave disorder.”  Id. at 2.  (In my post criticizing Richard Dawkins’ overly bellicose rhetoric, I discuss After Virtue in greater depth.)

For further discussion of this problem and Pryor’s solution, please follow the jump. Continue reading

The New York Times on Richard Dawkins’ [Dangerous?] Evangelical Atheism, Post Two

Last week, I commented on the New York Timesprofile of evolutionary biologist and vociferous atheist, Richard Dawkins.  Post One of this two-part series described (1) Dawkins’ views and (2) how the overheated antipathy and rhetoric of The God Delusion (2006) may reflect atheists’ marginalization in contemporary society—in itself a legitimate concern.  (See additionally my Scholarship Roundup post—Faith no More: the Moral Atheist—where I suggest that religion’s record of immorality, for many, makes atheism a moral choice, not a nihilistic one.)

In this post, I criticize Dawkins’ position as described in his NYT profile: first, for its logical inconsistency and stubborn ignorance of its subject matter; and second, for its divisive rhetoric that fails to recognize the commonalities between his chosen source of meaning and his targets’.

I. Dawkins: The Uninquisitive Critic

Dawkins’ ignorance of the faiths he dismisses is alarming.  As Terry Eagleton says in his marvelously scathing 2006 review of The God Delusion, Dawkins illustrates and purports to challenge no more than “vulgar caricatures of religio[n].”  Eagleton responds to this facile exercise by speculating, “What . . . are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus?  . . . Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?  Has he even heard of them?”

Yet Dawkins readily, proudly, admits that the answer is no.  He scoffs at the suggestion that he study the history and intricacies of the faiths he rejects—study tantamount, in his view, to researching fairy tales.  In this way, Dawkins simply refuses to engage in his critics’ conversation.

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The New York Times on Richard Dawkins’ Evangelical Atheism, Post One

On Monday, September 19, the New York Times profiled the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in the lengthy Profiles in Science: A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy.  (The Times’ online edition also features a filmed interview.)  Though it is beyond this author’s expertise to assess the claim, many regard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) as groundbreaking in its field.

Recently, however, Dawkins has become notorious for the strident atheism he articulated in The God Delusion (2006), an international best seller.  The God Delusion argues that religious faith is not only irrational but socially dangerous.  The NYT profile, though published in the Science Section, devotes substantial page-space to Dawkins’ perspectives on religion.

This Commentary will proceed in two posts.  Post One will characterize Dawkins’ atheistic perspectives—as he relates them in his NYT profile—and contend that (1) atheism’s stance is not without justification and (2) neither is atheists’ sense of defensiveness, which is probably the basis for Dawkins’ popularity.  Yet, despite my sympathy for nonreligious persons and respect for their beliefs, Dawkins’ vitriol and its underlying critical method are fundamentally defective.  Forthcoming, Post Two will critique Dawkins’ unabashed prejudice toward religious devotion from two perspectives: (1) Terry Eagleton’s criticism that Dawkins lacks basic understanding of the variety and fullness of religious belief and (2) Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory that contemporary moral discourse in the socio-political sphere is broken to the point of interminability, a failing Dawkins exemplifies.

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