The chapter begins with the Old Testament - presenting a range of Outrageous Tales. I myself remember, as a child (perhaps about 9 or so), being puzzled by the Old Testament. Not only did my church school present the stories as true, they were clearly supposed to encapsulate a moral perspective we were expected to admire and emulate. Even at the time, I found it hard to reconcile the Christmas message of baby Jesus meek and mild with the jealous, bloodthirsty tyrant who told Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son.
There's a lot in this chapter. I am going to focus on one thing, which also puzzled me as a child. The atonement. Dawkins says:
"I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic, and repellent. We should dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitousness and familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment...?" (p.287)
While I don't agree with Dawkins about everything, I do agree with him about this. Particularly about the anaesthetic of familiarity killing of our awareness of just how ridiculous the whole theory is. It is, indeed, a sort of scapegoat theory...
"...executing the an innocent in order to pay for the sins of the guilty.... To cap it all, Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact... which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory. Oh, but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic? So, in order to impress himself, Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual?" (P. 287)
I think this is one of the finest passages in the book (which I admit is in many ways flawed). I, like Dawkins, find myself utterly baffled by the whole story. It really doesn't make any sense (of course, for some, the fact that we can make no sense of it is precisely what makes it, not a load of cobblers, but truly impressive - you see it's a holy mystery!)
What I'd like to see is how Christians respond to this. How would the Rev. Sam respond, for example? If you've got a minute, Sam...?