Last fall, acclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins released his newest book, Out Growing God. For those familiar with Dr. Dawkins’ previous books, the book offers nothing new. However, this book has a more targeted audience: teenagers.
Dawkins dedicates the book to “all young people when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.” In the book he recounts that he “gave up” Christianity when he was fifteen years old. Dawkins offers this book as a guide for those headed in the same direction.
As I read, I stumbled on a thought that I believe has some value for Christian believers—yes, a devotional thought courtesy of Richard Dawkins!
A few times through the book thinking about Old Testament Israel. He brings into question their monotheism. Basically, he talks as though they weren’t:
“…although the Israelites worshipped their own tribal god Yahweh, they didn’t necessarily disbelieve in the gods of rival tribes, such as Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites; they just thought Yahweh was more powerful – and also extremely jealous…” 
Dawkins is following an argument from as late as the 19th century. German theologians, namely Julius Wellhausen, reinterpreted the Jewish religion through a Darwinian lens. Wellhausen popularized the idea that the Jewish religion evolved over time from animism (the belief that a spirit lived in everything), to polytheism (the belief in many gods), to totemism (the belief one’s tribe descended from a group of plants or animals), to ancestor worship, and eventually to monotheism—well, sort of.
This idea is not new, but it is also not current and for good reason. Jewish scholar Rich Robinson explains:
“Unfortunately, [Wellhausen’s] influence was based on assumptions and philosophies which had little to do with historical evidence. The recent upsurge in modern archaeology has shown Wellhausen’s viewpoint to be arbitrary and outdated.”
(Note: I highly recommend Dr. Robinson’s article on the topic. It was concise but helpful on the issue.)
So why does Dawkins portray the Israelites this way? My guess is that he is attempting to relegate the Jewish religion to the ash heap of ancient paganism. After all, conflating the Biblical narrative with the mythologies of the past and dismissing it accordingly is one of Dr. Dawkins’ favorite thing to do. The strategy is clear: if he can disregard the Jewish religion, he can disregard the fulfillment of it, Christianity.
However, as with so much of Richard Dawkins critique of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, he acts as though his assertions are a given. When he offers evidence for his claim, which is rare, it is feeble at best.
But, here’s the thing…
On this issue, I think he kind of has a point. It’s just not the one he intended.
Think about how many times the Children of Israel turned to idols. Think of how often idolatry was in the pervasive land. There were many points in Hebrew history that worshiping the gods of their enemies was the norm. Moses and the prophets told them that there was only one God and that they were to worship and obey him alone. They were supposed to be monotheistic. But they often failed to act like it.
I am not sure what value that fact has for Dr. Dawkins other than criticizing believers for not being as consistent as their beliefs should make them. (A line of reasoning that has gotten him in trouble before.)
However, his comments prompt me to ask myself: Years from now, what evidence will a skeptic have on me to accuse me of not being truly monotheistic?
In other words, how much am I capitulating to my culture and bringing idols into my heart and mind when Christ has claimed them for himself?
Like the Hebrews, we live in a world with an abundance of phony gods. Our culture worships the pantheon of modern deities like money, power, and comfort. We are called on to show obeisance to the postmodern deities of moral relativity and individual autonomy.
The real difficulty is that our culture has an ally on the inside. The Bible tells us that our hearts work in tandem with the world in the idol making process. In Ezekiel 14, three times within four sentences, God indicts his people for setting up “idols in their hearts.” (Ezekiel 14:3-7) We do not make idols with our hands; we make them with our hearts.
Hand-crafted images made of wood or precious metals are not much of a temptation these days. Furthermore, most of us Christians avoid the worship of blatantly sinful idols that come by way of temptation and addiction. But our hearts are more menacing than that. You see, we tend to make idols out of the good things in life.
Timothy Keller explains how this happens:
“The human heart takes good things…and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”
That is to say, an idol is not defined by its inherent goodness or badness. An idol is “anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
So I ask myself, what am I seeking to give me what only God can give? (…and probably already has given!)
May God help us to detect and destroy the idols our hearts create. That way, years from now, no one can look back and accuse us of not being truly monotheistic.
 Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God, p. 7.
 Rich Robinson, “Monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews: Evolved, Invented, Stolen or Revealed?” (https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-0505-letters-to-the-editor/monotheism-of-the-ancient-hebrews-evolved-invented-stolen-or-revealed/)
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. xiv.
 Keller, p. xvii.
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