Me, Richard Dawkins and the Transistor Radio

I know y’all have the crazy idea that being a leader of a small church plant in the suburbs of Dublin is just one booze-fuelled excorcism followed by a bare-knuckles fight with Muslim Imams rounded off by helping a woman give birth in a stalled elevator and then baptising the baby as she looks away but the reality is really quite mundane. A lot of my week, at least at this early stage in the job (which, all going well, is a five year stint) consists of me sitting in an office emailing and phoning people to make sure they know this or that is happening, drinking coffee with my boss as we brainstorm possible cures for our culture stripped of Grace and well, photocopying things.

It was for this reason that I thought the major task I would have to deal with on Thursday was writing an easy-to-read manual for our volunteers for our photocopier. Here it is:

Any suggestions for nicknames?, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

Instead I ended up debating with Richard Dawkins live on the radio.

The Boss and I were sitting around talking about something very important like whether or not toast always falls on to its buttered side and what theological inferences we could draw from this when a local Masters program in Media Production rang him up and invited him to participate in a show that night made by the students where he would debate The High Priest Of Atheism. He immediately laughed and said “No but I know someone I’ll send in my place”. The Boss knows you think he is such a high-minded, decent mentor for giving me, a bright young upstart this opportunity. I know The Boss better than you though and he just wanted to go home and have an evening in with his wife. The baxtard is the kind of guy who prefers a quiet meal and a good conversation with his bride than a chance to be gouged live on air by one of the world’s top 3 public intellectuals (as Dawkins book puts it!). We call that wisdom in my line of business. I don’t know where to get any.

So before you go all teenaged girl on me and start jumping up and down and screeching and waving your arms and shouting “We have elbows!” remember that there is no more insignificant radio station than the week long licence that Kairos Campus Radio has. I didn’t know it existed. The Boss lives less than 600 metres from the studio but he couldn’t tune it in. Still, I sat in that studio and Richard came on the phone and I have to admit, I shook like a leaf.

I’m not the kind of guy who tries to pretend he doesn’t get nerves. Every night before I preach is a torment. I’m having some friends around to play computer games later today and I have butterflies over it. Everytime I pull up my fly I get fluttery in case there might be an accident. So let us remember this as the tale continues. I am not a cool mofo. I am a wuss.

It probably didn’t start well when the host told me that she was introducing me as a “Presbyterian Youth Counsellor”. “But that is not what I do,” I said, reasonably. “Well you do work with students, right?” “Yeah but in our world, you stop being ‘youth’ when you turn 18. As such I not only have never worked with youth, but I was never a youth”. I suspected she wasn’t listening to me because she didn’t take me up on that. I worried about the actual youth pastor in my church being offended that I had taken her role but then I remembered she would be out working instead of listening to the radio. I proposed that she could call me the Chief Agent For The Public Understanding Of Christianity since Richard Dawkins gets to be called the Professor For Public Understanding Of Christianity. I asked her if she could just say that I was a member of staff with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. But no. She went ahead with the Youth Counsellor thing. That is a role that doesn’t exist in the PCI. I know I want to be an agent of reform but I would like for the first role I create to be the poet-in-residence at Church House, not a “Youth Counsellor”.

What would that look like? “I am sorry you are young. Soon you will be old. You’ll be sorry then”. There isn’t really enough to justify a salary.

I sat in the studio with Fr. Vincent Twomey who wrote a superb book a few years ago. I am sure you all read it. The End of Irish Catholicism [Question Mark], my old friend Dr. Peter Van Der Burgt and a student called Joe Molloy and Richard hung on the line. He was waiting for me to hang him out to dry.

He is still waiting.

Richard Dawkins is the ever so slightly comic figure that he is because he is so filled with rage and indignation that you can’t really see a very big difference between him and a Creation Scientist like Kent Hovind. Both are making dodgy metaphysical claims and both are so worked up about something that doesn’t touch on most day-to-day life that we end up being a little skeptical of them. As a friend pointed out to me, it is like how Fascists and Communists end up looking the same. I’ve always consoled myself that Dawkins won’t be more than a well publicised anti-thesis to the God-thesis until he pays heed to the philosophy he must surely have read and until he calms down a little.

He was so calm on Thursday night. In fact, I am proud to say that Richard Dawkins was a gentleman. It is cool when your adolescent heroes are brilliant in real life as well as on the pages of their books or in their music videos. He still did that frustrating thing where he half mentions seven issues in response to a question he singularly fails to answer but I realise that experts call that debating. That is how you win on radio or tv. But he was a lovely guy who treated everyone with more respect than we deserved. It would be a much more potent opponent to face than the ferocious bulldog of atheistic fundamentalism. If he learns the real secret us Christians have and ends up being winsome, I think he will probably be made King Of The World within about six weeks.

I have never been on radio like this before (well I won the Just-A-Minute quiz once) and I don’t think you have to wait for the host to invite you in but I did and so I only really went toe to toe with Richard once. I took him up, you guessed it, on his interpretation of theology. Or his lack of interpretation. We ended up aggreeing that my point was valid but we couldn’t really discuss it. It would take too long for me to show him that when Paul says, “slaves obey your masters” what he means is “masters, free your slaves”.

But seriously folks, that is what he means. I’ll explain it some other time.

Then Richard left and we talked about Christianity and the church and Ireland for about 30 minutes. I was struck by how mono-themed the discussion was. I know that I was in a radio show hosted by a Catholic in a college course run by the media wing of the Catholic church but they were all about mass and sacraments and whether women should be ordained. I felt like shouting “Folks, women are ordained everywhere except here! There are other ways to worship together beside the mass! There are other ways of being Christian!” Instead I was as winsome as I could be (that meant I only threatened Dr. van der Burgt while making jabbing motions with my pen once) and tried to advance my crazy idea that the Christian churches need to be:

    striving for unity
    intellectually engaged
    worshipfully experimental
    honestly grappling
    and based around authentic witnessing local communities against any hierarchical models

I think I won their respect. I think they were jealous of me because I’ll have organised a nice big mansion for myself in heaven while they are still processing through purgatory. My parents consisted of 62% of the audience (media students don’t handle maths well) and they were really proud. It was a good day’s work. The photocopier must wait until next week. If anyone taped it I’ll stick it up here as soon as I can.

Your Correspondent, Your Favourite Hooker Of The Whole Bunch

5 Responses to “Me, Richard Dawkins and the Transistor Radio”

  1. Andrew Smith says:

    I suppose I should be offended that the instruction sheet that I created for the photocopier (during my time in Maynooth) is being replaced by some-sort-of-manual. I would like to point out that it only took me five months to produce the aforementioned sheet and it was the paradigm of simplicity. You are offically excommunicated.

  2. zoomtard says:

    Oh Andrew, you’d be amazed at the developments. We’ve networked enabled printing and well, relaxed rules about leaving mugs of coffee on the top.

    It was a delightful document. But erm, we need one that is in Irish too… thats it. As Gaelige.

  3. I just ran a search on Blogger for “Richard Dawkins” and your site was one of the top results. You’re an awesome writer and pretty damn funny too. Is there a recording of that on-air discussiong with Richard Dawkins? I’m sure it is a hoot.

    I’m an atheist. I run a “freethinker” book discussion site called “” We’re currently reading and discussing Dawkins newest book, “The God Delusion,” and even our resident atheists are upset about calling belief in a deity “delusional.”

    Check our site out if you have a chance. I’m trying to set up a live chat session with Dawkins for mid March and you’re invited to attend…if you are interested. In June of 2003 (I think) I had Dawkins in my chat room to discuss his “Unweaving the Rainbow.” Our current book discussion is our largest discussion ever, so I’m expecting Dawkins to accept my invite.

    I’m not sure how long your Blog has been around, but you’re an entertaining writer. I might be interested in posting some of your writing on our new “Articles” page if you’re interested. I’d have to look around a bit more and obviously check out anything you submitted, but my site gets decent traffic and I’d put a link to your Blog on any accepted and published articles. The point is…you have a pleasant demeanor and your writing would be welcome and appreciated on BookTalk.

    Let me know if you’re interested. – online book discussions and reading group

  4. I’m wondering if I will be automatically emailed if you reply to this post. Hmm.. I didn’t see a radio button for that choice.

  5. zoomtard says:

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks so much for your very kind comments. Sunday being Sunday, our “day of rest” when I am worked hardest, I haven’t had a chance to take more than a cursory look at your BookTalk site. It looks cool though. I get all the comments sent to email by default. Then a fantastically expensive custom-built machine prints them out on to luxurious loo roll that I proceed to use. But I will interrupt the production cycle to respond to you via email later.

    – Zoomy