Is Richard Dawkins a "Christian double agent"? That's the claim a friend of mine made on Facebook after reading the latest story of the English celebrity atheist's "bad arguments and silly antics." I hasten to assure you that my friend's tongue was firmly planted in his cheek—although, to be frank, his humorous explanation for Dawkins' actions is perhaps the most charitable one that can be made.
You see, Richard Dawkins has declared that "it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.” What resource might that be? Brace yourself: He's talking about nothing other than the King James Bible.
My own reaction to Dawkins' declaration didn't go quite as far as my friend's. I will admit that it briefly crossed my mind that Richard Dawkins' public persona is nothing but an act. After all, I thought, no man who is even half as smart as Dawkins' admirers claim him to be could make such a ridiculous remark. Unless, of course, his hatred for Christianity is so extreme as to be—dare I say it?—irrational.
But then I tracked down the source of Richard Dawkins' comment, and found that there's more. Dawkins made his remark to the King James Bible Trust, an organization "established to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible." As part of the trust's YouTube Bible project, Dawkins agreed to read a chapter from the Song of Solomon and to be interviewed on the importance of the King James Bible.
Most of what Richard Dawkins says in the course of the interview is unexceptional. He emphasizes the great influence that the King James Bible has had on the history and literature of the English language—a point on which Christians can certainly agree. It's when Dawkins switches back into full-blown atheist mode that he runs into trouble:
I think it is important to make the case that the Bible is part of our heritage, and it doesn't have to be tied to religion. It's of historic interest; it's of literary interest. And it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.
Of course, the Bible, generically or in the King James Version, isn't "tied to religion"; it both flows from and underlies Christianity. To speak of the King James Bible as a "cultural resource" begs the question. It is a document created by a Christian culture—a document that is itself a translation of a document created by a Christian culture. And just as the New Testament is a living record of a Christian church that preexists the writings of the gospels and epistles, and yet is shaped by those very same gospels and epistles, the King James Version has a similar relationship to the English-speaking Christian world.
In other words, the King James Version is the product of a Christian culture—a product that also shaped the future course of that particular Christian culture. To regard it as merely of "historic" and "literary" interest and to attempt to untie it from the very real Christian culture that shaped it and was shaped by it is to do what Dawkins accuses believers of doing: "to hijack this cultural resource."
Faith without works is dead; but if we might invert this phrase and take Saint James' words in a more mundane direction, without faith works such as the King James Bible are dead as well. The literary and historical influence of the King James Version did not flow merely from the lyrical quality of the translation's prose; it arose from the faith that created the King James Bible and was sustained by it.
Strip away that faith—"hijack this cultural resource" for merely secular ends—and the literary and historical interest and influence of the King James Bible will disappear as well.
Of course, Richard Dawkins is no fool (except for the kind who says in his heart, "there is no God"); he knows exactly what he's doing. Convince Christians that the Bible "doesn't have to be tied to religion," and you give them a convenient excuse for falling from the Faith, yet maintaining its cultural artifacts. You can have your King James Bible and your abortion, too.
No, Richard Dawkins isn't a secret Christian. But at least we know that he does occasionally read the King James Bible. And maybe, just maybe, the faith that created that masterpiece might also work its way into his life through its words.
Stranger things have happened.