It's a fascinating editorial, and Dawkins raises many good points that would make the average Christian cower in their loins and unable to formulate a coherent response. In fact, he targets many key points in Scripture over which *I* have questions.
However, I think he fails to give proper context to the Bible's overarching narrative as seen in the person of Christ. Yes, the God of the Old Testament was capable of great brutality, but that's because the entire world was living under the Law. The Law was without the filters of Grace and Mercy, and God's holiness demanded justice. This took the form of great punishment (that was often withheld, even in the O.T.).
After Christ's death covered our sins and His resurrection put an end to death, those "filters" were essentially turned on, so that God now views humanity through the prism of Christ's salvation.
I have no clue why it has to be that complicated, something Dawkins also challenges. The theology I (at least partially) embrace holds that Adam and Eve's original sin was a "free-will" decision, completely independent of God's influence (about as free will as you could get), that deliberately separated man from God, placing a gulf between them that only the sacrifice of Christ could bridge. For those who take free will even farther, the choice is now between accepting Christ or not accepting Him. Which a person chooses determines their eternal destination--Heaven or Hell.
It gets even messier when you introduce the undeniable assertions in Romans and many, many, many other books and passages that seem to indicate that God has sovereignly chosen those whom He'll save and those whom He'll not save.
But it's hard to reconcile *that* theology with the theology of God's passion and love for humanity. (You mean, He sacrificed His only begotten Son to save a few?)
But if you look at Adam's original sin as the be-all-end-all decision for humanity, one that separated us from God, and if you accept that God is God and allowed to do whatever He wants, then the predestination-election theology plays out a little more logically, even if it becomes a whole lot more indigestible.
Those who reject predestination-election fully embrace free will, saying that man's free will determines their eternal destination. But where does God's will begin and where does God's will end and where does God's will intervene in contrast to man's free will? Wouldn't any assertion of God's will impugn upon man's free will? And doesn't the assertion of man's free will take away from God's sovereign will?
That is, assuming man's free will is wholly free. I think that "free will" is a poorly rendered phrase. It is impossible for fallible man with all of his limitations to have a will that is free from those faults and limitations.
Perhaps "limited will" would be a better phrase. But then, the Thinker must ask, "How limited is that will? Who sets the limits? Man himself or God? And if God sets the limits, aren't we back to everything not really being our choice?"
The theology I find most palatable is Christian Universalism, the belief that all of humanity will eventually be restored and redeemed by God through Christ.
Wanna see a Christian's fruits of the Spirit suddenly become rotten as they seethe with envy and anger? Mention Universalism. Most Christians *hate*the idea of everyone being saved.
So, at the risk of becoming 2012's Rob Bell (thank God I don't have his platform), I'll clarify that I am a "Hopeful Universalist," meaning I'm not sure Scripture supports this view at all, but I sure hope it will in the long run.
And of course.
Again. Why does it have to be so complicated, especially when you're dealing with an omnipotent God who can put an end to all this madness and shield the world in love, laughs, and lilies for all?
I don't know. It's why I listen to preachers *and* atheists.
In fact, as I told an atheist last week, I accept the Bible, not wholly without skepticism, simply because I feel a personal connection between myself and the Spiritual World. I feel the intervention of an Outside Force, if you will, in my life, and I feel the inward guidance of a Spirit linked to mine, but not originally with mine. In short, I feel "saved." And what I feel lines up with Scripture. And how I "got" those feelings was when I accepted Christ as my Savior all of those years ago and accepted His gift on the cross and His resurrection from death.
I derive great joy and great sorrow from this. Mostly, joy.
Some would see all of my "conflictions" as a sign of faithlessness. A potential heretic-in-bloom. Even as I was writing this, I could hear the "tut-tut-tutting" of my fundamentalist teachers in the back of my head. (They *never* leave.)
But isn't questioning just as much a part of who we are as faith is?
After all, I'm only human...