Richard Dawkins has suffered a stroke and the Anglican Church is praying for him.
If that sentence makes no sense to you, let me explain. Dawkins is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. He is also a self-described atheist and critic of religious literalism. He is a prolific author whose primary point is that a supernatural creator does not exist and all religion is a delusion . He has made a recent career of strong criticism of all religious belief. At the same time, Dawkins also describes himself as a “cultural Anglican” who has an appreciation for Anglican rituals and liturgy. In early February Dawkins suffered a minor stroke, from which he is expected to make a full recovery.
Just before Valentine’s Day the official Church of England Twitter account posted a brief thought; “Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family...”.
Social media exploded.
Some chastised the Church of England for trolling Dawkins. One news site suggested that the bishops of the Church of England, by offering prayers for Dawkins, had surely been “at the sherry”.
None of that is true. The Twitter post was a simply expression of the Church of England’s best wishes for a prominent citizen who had suffered ill health and saying that the church was doing the one thing it could do. Pray.
Some criticized the church for praying for someone who was so opposed to the Christian faith. But that is what the church does. Sometimes that is all it can do. But the roots of the call to prayer go back to the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, verses 44 and 45. Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
In other words, Richard Dawkins is no different from anyone else and prayer is always the appropriate response for Christians, no matter what the situation.
As The Rev. Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England said, “Christians pray for all kinds of people. They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community. They pray for the Government (of whatever persuasion). They pray for terrorists, kidnappers, hostage takers. They pray for criminals as well as giving thanks for saints. Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray. And they love.”
I don’t think there is a better way to say it. Christians pray. And they pray for Richard Dawkins. I pray for his recovery and his return to good health myself. That is what I can and will do, as a Christian. Always.
Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.