Third in a series of reader’s guides for my short story collection, “Richard Dawkins, Antony Flew, and Mother Teresa Go to Heaven.” This one is for the Richard Dawkins story primarily, but may be applicable to the others. For more details, see previous posts.
How Not to Read Imaginative Literature
What follows is an extreme condensation of chapter 14 in Mortimer J. Adler’s How to read a Book.
1. Do not read imaginative literature as if its goal is to convey knowledge as such. The goal of imaginative literature is to communicate an experience itself- one that the reader can only experience through reading.
2. Do not read without acknowledging the role of the imagination and the vicarious experience offered.
3. Do not try to resist the effect that a work of imaginative literature has on you. In order to gain from it, readers must allow themselves to be open to the experience.
4. Don’t criticize fiction by the standards that properly apply to communication of knowledge. The story need not describe the facts of life or society in a manner that is verifiable by experiment or research.
How to Read Imaginative Literature
1. Classify the work according to its kind
2. Grasp the whole of the work. This is tested by whether or not you can state that unity in a single sentence which shows you understand the plot wherein the unity is played out.
3. You must understand how the parts work together, the crisis, climax, and aftermath of the story.
4. You must become at home within the imaginary world before you criticize it.
Richard Dawkins Goes to Heaven
1. What is this story about as a whole?
2. In what experience is the author allowing the reader to vicariously partake?
3. Is the author uniformed about Richard Dawkins’ philosophy or personality?
4. What emotions besides indignation are aroused as you read the story?
5. Is the author misinformed about the Christian conception of Angels?
6. How is the character in this story different from both of the characters in the other two stories?
7. How does this character appear to acquire knowledge? What methods of acquiring knowledge doe he dismiss?
8. Is the angel correct when he tells Dawkins that “the deduction is easy.” If it is easy, why does the experience of losing all good things chill the reader who does not reject it?
9. Does the author send any of the characters to hell? Is this approach consistent with Christian teaching?
10. What is the author’s explanation to why the character Dawkins cannot see the logical conclusions to his own statements?
11. The angel explains that what Dawkins requests (existence apart from God) is not possible. The doctrine evoked here is of God’s immanence. How does understanding this doctrine help understand what is happening to Dawkins?
12. At one point in the story, a Bible reference is cited. Look it up and compare it with what happens in the story.
13. At that same point, as Dawkins’ path grows narrow, the statement “Thy will be done” is engraved. To what work of fiction is this an allusion to? Why does the author repeat it here?
14. An atheist may detest God for being a tyrant, compelling people to obey and believe. In this story, Dawkins is not compelled to obey or believe. Nonetheless, atheists describe what happens to Dawkins as ‘torture.’ Is God a tyrant or not for giving people what they want? Can one have it both ways?
15. Which is worse? The fate that Dawkins receives at the end of this story or a life in eternal servitude to God? Which one is ‘hell’ to you? If the latter, what is your objection to the former?