Camille Paglia on Richard Dawkins

It doesn’t surprise me at all that the always interesting Camille Paglia thinks Richard Dawkins is a twit.

… I was recently flicking my car radio dial and heard an affected British voice tinkling out on NPR. I assumed it was some fussy, gossipy opera expert fresh from London. To my astonishment, it was Richard Dawkins, the thrice-married emperor of contemporary atheists. I had never heard him speak, so it was a revelation. On science, Dawkins was spot on — lively and nimble. But on religion, his voice went "Psycho" weird (yes, Alfred Hitchcock) — as if he was channeling some old woman with whom he was in love-hate combat. I have no idea what ancient private dramas bubble beneath the surface there. As an atheist who respects and studies religion, I believe it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion. Neither extreme rationalism nor elite cynicism are adequate substitutes for faith, which fulfills a basic human need — which is why religion will continue to thrive in our war-torn world.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Melania says:

    Camille Paglia is always worth reading. She’s absolutely brilliant. When she speaks, it seems that her mouth cannot keep up with the speed of her thoughts. What makes her valuable and keeps her from being a boring, lock-step leftie is her commitment to truth e.g. she admits that abortion is killing a human being and that same-sex attraction is abnormal, thus enraging the Left … but the she does not therefore reject them. And that’s the problem. She understands and respects religion more than any other atheist writer I know of. It’s quite rare. I feel that she has a great capacity for sanctity that could blossom beautifully if she ever decided to follow Christ. I pray for her.

  2. TonyLayne says:

    It’s very important we realize that not all atheists are alike, whether in their motives or in their reasons for disbelief. I would say deep down that people like Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, P.Z. Myers and their ilk really do believe in God–they have to in order to hate Him so much.

    On the other hand, Anne Rice described her late husband Stan as having had something close to a revelation of no-God … sort of a negative epiphany. Not a man who needed to not believe, but a man who couldn’t cross the line. And there are others who have strong, intelligent reasons for not believing, and who present respectable challenges.

    And then there are trousered apes, like the one lad whom I once ferried to work during my days as a taxi driver. Suffice it to say that his reason for being atheist was because religion was the “opiate of the masses”; he was much too intelligent to be gulled like the simple folk.

    Yes, Camille Paglia is one of those people we wish were Catholic. Her formidable intelligence and ability to express it would be a grace indeed. Continue to pray for her.

  3. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    I am sorry, but I cannot shout, “Oo-rah!” with you on this one.

    I admire Camille Paglia’s skill as a writer, and am usually impressed with her (often dark, unpleasant) insight into (often apparently innocent, sometimes not so) social phenomena.

    His dictis, the “I admire religion but I am an atheist myself” position is not only untenable: it is a weasle.

    The atheist need not hold every believer in utter contempt.

    The atheist cannot but have contempt for belief as such – for belief qua belief.

    I suspect Camille Paglia herself knows, or at least suspects this: hence her recognition of the “basic human need” that to which religion responds and fulfils. What religion? What is that need?

    Surely, she is intelligent and sufficiently erudite to know that e.g. Buddhism and post-templar rabbinic Judaism have so little in common that to group them under a single category were critically useless?


  4. I suspect Camille Paglia herself knows, or at least suspects this: hence her recognition of the “basic human need” that to which religion responds and fulfils. What religion? What is that need?

    First and foremost, the sentence shoud read: “basic human need” *to which religion responds and that it fulfils.

    Next, it is encouraging, though not surprising to find Paglia saying that it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion.

    I would be interested in hearing more from her on this point.


  5. Thomas G. says:

    “Oorah”? Father, you’re a Marine at heart . . . Semper Fi!

  6. JonM says:

    This sort of thing does offer us hope; I see many people in various bodies (Anglicans, Presbyterians, atheism, etc.) who rush to the defense of the Church.

    They don’t indicate a desire to convert.

    They do offer charity and whether they know it or not, are participating in path building for migrations to the Church. This sort of cleaving is intensely evident as society in general increasingly has the option of going further in darkeness and evil – or purity.

    Children now have quasi-pop icons who advocate loudly for chastity. Some atheists reject the tactics of the self-appointed anti-bishops Dawkins et. al.

    This is good. In sales, we say these people are on a warm list: They’re not sold on the product by any means, but know about it and have positive proclivities towards it.

    I think that the 21st century can be one of brutual persecution (we see the groundwork completed in our country) and then one of mass conversion. But if we want to convert America, Western Europe, the Islamic world and East Asia, it will take sacrifice. We need to do our part in order to get the help we need.

    Remember, Mary only appeared to the Aztecs after the Spanish put an end to the brutal cult of human sacrifice (and when the religious authority was in place that was not helped by the civil authorities).

    Here is an ecumenical proposal: instead of these silly committees that water down the faith to clown masses, why not have the Vatican sponsor summits or parlor meetings with people like Ms. Paglia, Prof. Philip Jenkins, and perhaps someone like Dr. James Kennedy (just reading now he died three years ago). Endless blathering with liberal Protestants – and a certain other relgion – has only led to, in the aggregate, Catholics falling away.

    Just a thought. Thanks for the article Father. And we all should pray hard for Mr. Dawkins.

  7. Chris: I think you over analyzed this a bit, but okay!

  8. I would strongly urge readers to view the DVD(?) EXPELLED which features Ben Stein as the host. He actually interviews Richard Dawkins on the subject of: How did life begin? Dawkins has no answer, finally suggesting that perhaps aliens brought it here (I am not kidding!). Another interview is with David Berlin(er?). When asked by Stein of our knowledge of what constitutes a cell today vis a vis in Darwin’s time, David B. responds that today, with all the scientific technology we possess, we see “galaxies” in a cell rather than the rudimentary data we saw 150 years ago. We must remember, it is not only Catholics who are searching for Truth.

  9. Typical hypocritical behavior done by atheists is the claim that they have the right to talk about science, but those of faith like us cannot – a credentials argument. Trust me, I’m an expert, and you’re not! I know, and you don’t! Yet they can claim to talk authoritatively about religion, which by definition is not in their training nor skill set. Then we see atheists always claiming mental superiority in snide commentary format, such as “only intelligent people know that faith is a myth,” “only primitive people have faith” and “religion is the opium of the people.” Of course that’s exactly what pride does – puff itself up. Naturally, it infuriates an atheist to no end to see a priest, one who dedicates his life based on faith in God. But we already knew that from the Bible books some thousands of years old, written long before there was the “invention” of the scientific method.

    If you want to see a good scientific debate exposing how little scientists know about the cosmos, read up on the “electric universe” – plasma physics – versus the gravity-only cosmological model, the one that “creates” black holes, dark matter, and all sorts of things because “that’s how the math works.” Talk about an opium based system…

  10. From what little exposure I have had to C. Paglia, I agree that she has a brilliant mind; she uses “reason” and not emotion to deal with issues; R. Limbaugh even finds her to be “on target” at times.
    Although she may not live a lifestyle consonant with Catholic teaching, and may be “uninformed” by Faith, she hits the target bulls-eye at times; here, absolutely. Pray for her!

  11. And, as another thought: Don’t we believe that the “theological virtue of faith” is a gift from God? Maybe, just maybe she does not have this gift, yet, anyway. Or maybe she has rejected it. But while alive, there is always “theological hope”!:<)!

  12. bookworm says:

    “Camille Paglia is one of those people we wish were Catholic.”

    I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Camille Paglia was RAISED Catholic, so she isn’t completely unfamiliar with the Faith. We can certainly pray for her to “revert.” :-)

  13. M. K. says:

    Paglia has some interesting things to say about her Catholic upbringing in an interview with Thomas J. Ferraro published in a book (edited by Ferraro) entitled “Catholic Lives, Contemporary America” (Duke University Press, 1997). Like Paglia’s writing in general, the interview is provocative and well worth reading. Paglia speaks a lot about her Catholic upbringing and states that “I feel Italian Catholic and will be Catholic until the day I die because it is inextricable from my cultural identity as an Italian American” (238). She says that she left the Church because she was “impatient with the sexual censorship and the prudery of 1950s American Catholicism” (240-41), yet she also expresses a strong affection for the aesthetics of traditional worship. Here’s a passage worth quoting at length:

    “Let me say this about Catholicism in America. One of the things I haven’t liked about the history of Catholicism in the last thirty years [i.e., 1967-97] is its drift toward Protestantism. I began feeling this in the 1950s already. . . . The churches were getting blander and blander. In building a new church or renovating and restoring an old one, there has been a tendency in this country to systematically remove all the polychrome statues. It’s a kind of airline-terminal effect, a warehouse look. You go into these Catholic churches and there’s hardly an image – except for a modernistic metal image of Christ, maybe. It’s just appalling, the banality. The altar looks like a barbecue pit. How can these buildings ever develop the imagination and cultivate the aesthetic instincts of any child? The whole artistic heritage of the Catholic Church in this country has been thrown completely out the window. There is a real banalization, a homogenization, a kind of bourgeois mediocrity that’s descended on the Catholic churches that I think is more the cause now of driving people away from the Church than was the original sexual repressiveness. And the Church has become very conscious in the last twenty years of the charge of elitism against it in this new period of social activism. So the priests have put away the magnificent, ornamented, jeweled garments that they customarily wore during my youth. . . . [now] the priests come out in these plain-looking things; they’re trying to look like the original priests of primitive Christianity. Of course the altar has been lowered. The priest no longer turns his back to the congregation; he’s down there looking at you. And there are all these horrendous things now, like people having to shake hands” (241-42).

    Again, the rest is worth reading. I haven’t yet seen anything on Paglia’s reaction to Summorum Pontificum or the reform of the reform, though I’m sure that would be worth reading too (she answers reader e-mail in her Salon column, so interested readers might consider writing her a note).

Comments are closed.