I wonder what Richard Dawkins makes of this profuse and lengthy apology that Deepak Chopra has just made to him on YouTube.
Chopra says 'sorry' about comments he made while appearing on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News a few weeks ago. O'Reilly had previously had a spat with Dawkins. When the professor talked about 'the Judao-Christian myth', he interjected that it wasn't a myth, it was reality. Myth, insisted Dawkins. No, reality, said O'Reilly. And so on.
Later O'Reilly got Chopra on his show, ostensibly to talk about his new book, War of the Worldviews, but began by asking, what did he think of people like Dawkins? Well, Chopra began, he had once been ambushed by him. Channel 4 had called to ask him to contribute to a documentary, without telling him that it was being made by Dawkins; it was later shown under the title Enemies of Reason.
'Very dishonest guy. Did you kick his butt? I kicked his butt,' said O'Reilly.
'I did kick his butt - for three hours. But only three minutes was used,' said Chopra. 'He uses his scientific credentials to camouflage his bigotry.'
Chopra went on to mention that Dawkins had told Francis Collins, leader of the human genome project and one of the world's greatest scientists, that he, Dawkins, was a far better scientist, and that Collins shouldn't dare to question his credentials.
The problem with Dawkins is he thinks we're all idiots, O'Reilly said.
Quite mild stuff, but a month later Chopra has been having second thoughts about this exchange. In his mea culpa he said he had represented Dawkins 'unfairly and mean spiritedly'. 'Dr Dawkins has been critical of my work for the past several years; unfortunately I reacted by being personally offended and was unfair in my criticism of him in my TV appearances and written criticisms.'
They have different worldviews, he said. Dawkins is concerned with evidence-based science, while he himself is concerned with consciousness as a fundamental reality, 'and facts and evidence are more description of modes of human perception and knowing than descriptions of reality.'
Addressing Dawkins directly, he went on:
The purpose of this blog is to apologise for my behaviour. I need to learn to listen to my worst critics without being personally offended. I understand totally where you come from and also how you feel about dogmatic religion, and how dogmatic fundamentalism and religion can hurt and damage humanity and its future evolution. I also want to let you know that I am more aligned with your thinking than with Bill O'Reilly's, although we have fundamental differences.
I don't suppose O'Reilly will have him back now. Perhaps he'll ask his next guest, 'hey, what do you think about that Chopra guy?'
Sceptics' reactions to the apology are along the lines of, Dawkins was never going to lose any sleep about what Chopra thinks of him.
Quite so. But this is more about Chopra than Dawkins.
When I first became interested in Buddhism, some years ago, the first lesson I learned was about slander. You don't sound off about people behind their backs. This struck me as completely true, and also quite novel. I wondered why it wasn't an equally strong part of Christian culture. Ever since then I have tried to practice it, with occasional lapses but for the most part successfully, I hope.
But it's challenging in a field like this, which is deeply polarised, and when people are constantly bitching about those with opposite views. I have to be on my guard all the time. Particularly sometimes when I'm invited to talk on radio and I feel the host sort of trying to get me to trash the Dawkins and Randis. It just makes me uncomfortable.
So I can see how Chopra got into a jam with someone like Bill O'Reilly. He wanted to be agreeable and do what was expected of him. Weak and reprehensible. But perhaps he was intimidated. For me, being in a Fox News studio would be sort of like being summoned by Darth Vadar: I wouldn't dare antagonise them.
But of course afterwards he felt deeply uneasy about it. The answer is to fess up - publicly and unequivocally. Which is why, in his clip, Chopra doesn't seem discomfited by his very public confession of wrongdoing - on the contrary, he seems relieved.
This is spirituality in action. As I say, I wonder what Dawkins makes of it.