A reaction of “Tell us what you really think, Dr. Dawkins” in response to his famous quote about the character of God (see below) turns out to not be as rhetorical as one might think. Dawkins clarified his position a bit on a recent episode of the Unbelievable? podcast in the midst of his conversation with a rabbi and a Christian:
JUSTIN BRIERLEY (host): “The God of the Old Testament,” you said, “is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”...Do you still stand by that description of the God of the Old Testament?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, I do...
RABBI JOSH LEVY: There is also a deeply, deeply ethical God, who 3,000 years ago is saying to the Israelites, “You have to care about the vulnerable in your society. You have to do your business honestly. You have to look after your workers. You have to care about the immigrant who comes into your society.” So to only describe the God of the Old Testament in that way, I think, is actually just simplistic and doesn’t help us to really engage with the Old Testament as a whole.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yeah, I accept that, of course. It was a passage that was semi-tongue-in-cheek actually, because, well, when I do public readings of my books, I do it with my wife, and we usually try to get a laugh from the audience early on in our performance because it sort of lightens up the atmosphere. And that passage, we always used when doing The God Delusion readings right at the beginning, because it does get the audience roaring with laughter... So it was a sort of humorous passage, and I do accept that if you look through either the Old Testament or the New Testament, you can certainly find passages of wisdom, passages that one would ethically approve of tucked in amongst the others that one wouldn’t ethically approve of...
CHRIS SINKINSON: The problem, though, I think...is that, Richard, you are very good with rhetoric. You have a very powerful mastery of the English language, and that rhetoric can be very bullying sometimes. And...in terms of the passage, it’s clearly a very slanted view of how to read the text of the Old Testament. Most of us would take the clearer passages to interpret the harder passages. We would be talking about Leviticus 19—“love your neighbor as yourself”—before we’re looking at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. So, we would have an approach to Scripture that would weight things in such a way that that description of God just does not sound like the God who I believe in, or the God who I worship. So the rhetoric, I think, can generate a lot more heat than it does light.
RICHARD DAWKINS: That’s probably fair, yes.
Well, there you go.