That’s not to say he agrees with Dawkins for he thinks the critics of Richard Dawkins are largely right (although he concedes that Dawkins “make a number of valid points, particularly relating to the role of religion, and Christianity in particular, in the life of this country”).
But he does state that “the straw God that Dawkins sets up and then demolishes is often uncomfortably close to the notion of God that we Christians all too frequently seem to talk about, pray to and worship.
What Dawkins demolishes in this book may well be a misrepresentation of God, but it is a misrepresentation, an idol, that we Christians all too have often set up and espoused as the real thing. We should listen to Dawkins because doing so can help us reflect on what we claim to believe, or think we believe, or imply that we believe.”
One could be unkind and say this shifting between practical manifestation of religion and the text book ‘how you should be doing it’ version is just the sort of thing that makes criticisms of religion so difficult to stick and indeed what generates a lot of conflict within religions.
However that really would be mean in this case, as Skinner is making an important point against “a nice, neat definition; a nice, neat God hypothesis; a nice, neat image; a nice, neat set of instructions.” The alternative is a concept of God that requires constant negotiation, discussion and thought. Although it is not exactly the scientific method, this process of uncertainty and searching is an antidote to fundamentalism and the certainty that permits any number of eggs to be broken to realise the neat dream.
And perhaps Dawkins himself might agree (well maybe!) for he has argued that the ethics attributed to Jesus are praise-worthy and inspiring when separated from the religious institutions that have grown up around them: “we owe Jesus the honour of separating his genuinely original and radical ethics from the supernatural nonsense which he inevitably espoused as a man of his time.”
He suggests a campaign under the name ‘Atheists for Jesus’: “I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right.”