(Photo: REUTERS/Altaf Hussain)
In an interview previewing his speech at Charleston College in South Carolina on March 9, famous atheist Richard Dawkins described himself as a "cultural Christian," while still rejecting the religion as a whole.
"I guess I'm a cultural Christian," Dawkins said, adding more specifically that he would be a cultural Anglican, similar to some people calling themselves "cultural Jews."
"But to tie that to belief about the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the nature of life, etcetera, is clearly ridiculous, and I don't think that the advantages of getting together once a week and singing together or something like that - insofar as that has community-building advantages, it most certainly does not need to go with fundamental beliefs about the cosmos," he added.
In a lengthy interview, the author of The God Delusion, claimed that one of his favorite places to hold speeches at is the Southern Bible Belt states in the U.S., because people receive him very warmly and many do not realize how many atheists live in those states, contrary to popular belief.
"I think that people in the Bible Belt are far less monolithically religious than many people imagine," the evolutionary biology professor said. "There are lots and lots of people who are free-thinking, secularists, or atheists in the so-called Bible Belt. And when somebody like me comes and gives a lecture in a large lecture hall, they tend to turn out sometimes in the thousands."
Dawkins also talked about his recent debate at Cambridge University against Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, where the atheist's team lost the argument that religion has no place in modern society.
The author revealed that he and Williams do not despise each other, despite their very different views of the world, and reminded readers that even though his team lost the vote on whose argument was more convincing, it was an atheist representing Williams' team arguing on behalf of religion's place in society that swayed the audience's opinion.
"The most successful speaker, I think, on the archbishop's side was actually an atheist, and he made the point that although he was an atheist, he said that people need religion, and I thought that was what won the floating vote over: People need religion, even though religion is false," Dawkins said, adding that he still disagrees with the notion that people need religion in today's age.
Although revered by the large majority of the atheist community around the world, Dawkins said in the interview that he doesn't really see the need for atheists gathering together in the sense of a congregation or an atheist church.
One particular atheist church in London, called The Sunday Assembly, has been gaining popularity, and even gathered 300 people during its second service in February.
"There are people who try to get atheists to form a sort of atheist church and have atheist community singsongs and things," Dawkins commented. "I don't see the need for that, but if people want to do it, why shouldn't they?"
Dawkins' speech at Charleston on March 9 will explore "why the American public views evolution as controversial, whether religion and science are compatible, and why he feels it's important for atheists to come out of the closet." The event will be hosted by Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry and president emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America.