(Photo: REUTERS/Altaf Hussain)
World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins says he supports the mission of England's Department for Education to make sure every public school in the nation has a copy of the 1611 translation of the King James Bible.
"A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian," said Dawkins in a column he wrote for The Guardian.
The author and evolutionary biologist even went as far as to say he would have donated to the cause had he been given the opportunity to do so.
The books are being distributed to the schools in celebration of the translation's 400th anniversary. The plan is being spearheaded by education secretary Michael Gove, who wrote the letter that is being included with each of the Bibles. While some have enthusiastically supported Gove's goal, others say it is unfair to people who hold to beliefs other than Christianity.
"This is not simply another piece of literature, it is the holy scripture of one particular religion," Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said in a statement. "Is it really the job of the Government to be promoting one particular religion in schools that are increasingly multi-faith?"
But Dawkins is backing the distribution plan, albeit with an "ulterior motive."
"I have an ulterior motive for wishing to contribute to Gove's scheme," he wrote. "People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality ... I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself."
He shared a study conducted by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in which only 35 percent of self-identified British Christians accurately identified Matthew as the first book of the New Testament. Among those surveyed, 39 percent said they "don't know" which book is comes first.
He noted that many of the bloody events and wars in English history were the result of religious clashes, and argued that if people would read the Bible they would not see it as a moral guide.
The estimated cost of providing a total of nearly 24,000 Bibles to all of the nation's state-funded primary and secondary schools is £375,000 (approximately $592,000), and the project was funded by charitable donations. The Department for Education says the Bible's impact on history and today's culture alike makes it a worthwhile addition to any public school's collection.
"The story of the King James Bible can help children – of all faiths and none – better understand its place in our nation's identity and history, and appreciate its influence on our language, literature, democracy and culture," the department stated last week.
Distribution of the Bible's began on May 14, and all the schools should receive them by the end of this month.