Is Richard Dawkins about to repent and re-convert to full-on, church-going Christianity? Don’t get your hopes up, but it does seem that one quarter of the so-called “Four Horsemen” is mellowing in his views.

But Christians tempted to screech ‘Told you so!’ or turn cartwheels of joy that they’ve won another one over to their side might want to curb their enthusiasm.

It’s also important not to tell fibs about Dawkins in your zeal to denounce an unbeliever.

When the New Atheism thing was new, I wrote a piece saying that the people who supported it were pretentious and cowardly. They pretended to know what religion is, and said that it caused great harm. I said this was ‘intellectual cowardice’. The intellectual coward is one who chooses simplicity over complexity and difficulty.

This may be true in some ways, though it’s more true of, say, Christopher Hitchens, who let his blind prejudice against religion lead him to make silly and preposterous generalisations. I’m not sure it’s as true of Dawkins.

It’s also patently ridiculous to say nonsense like this:

One aspect of their cowardice related to Islam. Their popularity was a result of 9/11, and the widespread fear of religious extremism that ensued, but they didn’t dare focus on Islamic extremism; they wanted to say that religion in general was to blame, that mild-mannered liberal Christians were implicated in violence.

This is, quite frankly, utter nonsense – at least when it comes to the Four Horsemen. Dawkins and Hitchens both trenchantly criticised Islam. Fellow horseman Sam Harris, too, risked the sneering ire of Hollywood luvvies by openly criticising Islam on Bill Maher’s show. “Gross and racist!” screeched fellow guest Ben Affleck.

And, like author Philip Pullman, who likewise got up a lot of Christian noses, Dawkins has long been milder in his criticism of Christianity, especially its vicar’n’Sunday School CofE variety. Pullman, for instance, wrote fondly of his vicar grandfather and agreed with Astronomer Royal Martin Rees about the “customs of my tribe”.

“The Anglican tradition remains an important part of who I am,” wrote Pullman. Dawkins finds himself in agreement.

Dawkins now says that he is not, of course, a believing Christian, but a cultural one. He’s glad that the old faith is still around. ‘I sort of feel at home in the Christian ethos.’ He notes that Christian belief is declining in Britain, ‘and I’m happy with that. But I would not be happy if we lost all our cathedrals and our beautiful parish churches. So I count myself a cultural Christian.’ Unlike Islam, Dawkins says, Christianity is ‘a fundamentally decent religion.’

It is true, of course, that Dawkins has not always been so temperate.

‘I don’t despise religious people, I despise what they stand for,’ Dawkins said at the ‘Reason Rally’ in 2012. ‘Mock them! Ridicule them!’

Spectator Australia

Dawkins too often put his advice to mock and ridicule into practice. Appearing on the lamentable QandA with the late Cardinal George Pell, Dawkins was rude and unnecessarily abrasive. When Pell tried to remind Dawkins that the Catholic Church didn’t reject evolution at all, Dawkins pounced on a very minor error (Pell not-quite-correctly stated that modern humans “evolved from Neanderthals”) and mercilessly sneered.

But Dawkins is at last noticing where the real religio-fascist threat is coming from.

Having witnessed Oxford Street given over to celebrate Ramadan but not Easter, he said on LBC that he was a ‘cultural Christian’. He believes it wouldn’t be a great development if Christianity, Britain being a Christian country, was replaced by Islam. Dawkins, 83, said: ‘I do think we are culturally a Christian country. I call myself a cultural Christian. I’m not a believer, but there is a distinction between being a believing Christian and a cultural Christian . . . I love hymns and Christmas carols and I sort of feel at home in the Christian ethos, and I feel that we are a Christian country in that sense.’
He added: ‘If I had to choose between Christianity and Islam, I’d choose Christianity every single time. It seems to me to be a fundamentally decent religion, in a way that I think Islam is not.’

The Conservative Woman

This is nothing new. It was some time back when Dawkins outraged the Twitter mob by stating how much he preferred the ringing of church bells to the stridently domineering Muslim call to prayer.

So, perhaps Dawkins helped create a void that Islam rushed to fill, but I suspect that that’s crediting him with far too much influence. Dawkins tended mainly to appeal to the already converted. I rather doubt many people abandoned Christianity solely because of his influence. Dawkins merely partly filled a vacuum already created by modernism. When he found himself rubbing shoulders with Islam in the void, he appears to have realised what a grievous error it was.

Still, don’t expect to find him, knees-down, in the pews next Sunday. At most, Dawkins is taking Pascal’s wager: there may not be a God, but one should act as if there is.

Which is not such a bad way to be. It certainly beats the alternatives.

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...