People should be familiar with the Bible, says Dawkins

APAtheist Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has said it is important that people read the Bible to better understand history and religion in the UK.

The vocal atheist and 'God Delusion' author made the comments during Justin Brierley's 'Unbelievable?' programme on Premier Christian Radio on Saturday.

He was taking part in an on air discussion with Rabbi Josh Levy and Old Testament lecturer Chris Sinkinson.

"I encourage people to be familiar with The Bible for literary and historic reasons," said Dawkins during the show.

"You can't understand history unless you are familiar with the religious traditions of our country and other European countries."

The radio station hosted the discussion to tie in with the new TV series, 'The Bible', currently airing on Channel 5 in the run-up to Christmas.

However, Dawkins made it clear that although people should read the Bible for intellectual reasons, he regards believing its message about God is an entirely different thing.

Rather than understanding God as loving, Dawkins said He was a "horrifically unpleasant character".

"Many people do actually believe that the Bible is authored by God, and God in those 'terror' passages which are not negligible in the Old Testament but are actually quite prominent," he said.

"He's a horrifically unpleasant character, there's no getting away from that."

While Christians point to the New Testament as proof of the enormity of God's unconditional love for mankind, Dawkins said he was revolted by the idea of the cross and the resurrection. 

"I don't think we've got a better God in the New Testament," he said. "I think there's something exceedingly unpleasant in the fundamental Christian doctrine of atonement - the idea of a God being unable to forgive our sins unless he tortures his son, alias himself, in the first place. That's a revolting doctrine and in some ways worse than anything in the Old Testament."

While former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, previously accused Dawkins of anti-Semitism after describing God as genocidal and a malevolent bully among other things in The God Delusion, Rabbi Levy said he was not offended by this perspective although he felt that Dawkins was presenting a "simplistic" view of God.

Dawkins said on the programme that his description of God in his bestselling book was meant to be "tongue-in-cheek".