Church of England defends Richard Dawkins prayer tweet

Richard Dawkins Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Richard Dawkins pulled out of a tour of Australia and New Zealand after he was taken ill

The Church of England has defended a tweet it sent praying for secularist Richard Dawkins after he had a stroke.

The Church tweeted on Friday "Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family" after the author fell ill on 5 February.

It was retweeted more than 1,000 times and led some to question if it was mocking the British atheist's position.

But the Church's communications director defended the comment, saying it was a "genuine tweet offering prayer for a public person who was unwell".

'Much better'

Dawkins, a biologist and author of The God Delusion, pulled out of a tour of Australia and New Zealand after he had a minor stroke while at home in Oxford.

A statement from the Sydney Opera House, where Dawkins had been due to appear on 28 February, said the 74-year-old was recovering at home and is expected to make a full or near full recovery.

Speaking on Saturday in an audio update posted on the Soundcloud website, Dawkins says he spent four days at the John Radcliffe Hospital and is "getting much better".

"It's not too bad. I'm very grateful to everybody who has been sending me good wishes from all around the world," he added.

A scan revealed he had suffered a haemorrhagic stroke which affected co-ordination. He is now receiving physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

'Avoid controversy'

The author said he had been having "chronic blood pressure problems" but had believed it was under control.

"The doctors asked me whether I had been suffering from stress, and I had to say, 'Yes, I had'. They keep advising me not to get involved in controversy, and I'm afraid I had to tell them that not getting involved in controversy was one of those things I was not particularly talented at."

He said he had been "very distressed" after his appearance at a US conference had been cancelled. But "paradoxically" the stroke occurred just after he received a "very gracious letter" from the conference organisers, apologising and inviting him to attend after all.

'Hardly surprising'

The Church's tweet was met with mixed reaction - some accusing it of "trolling", or mocking, Dawkins and others seeing it as a genuine attempt to wish one of its detractors well.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Responding to reaction to the tweet, the Rev Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishops' Council at the Church of England, denied it was meant to mock Dawkins, saying there had been a "regular diet of prayer" on the Church's Twitter feed.

He said: "The prayer tweeted on Friday evening was for Richard Dawkins.

"It's hardly surprising that I don't agree with all of his views. But there is a danger of reducing him to a one trick pony. His views are more nuanced than both supporters and detractors would usually acknowledge...

"I wish Professor Dawkins well. I hope he makes a swift and full recovery and wish him the best of health. I will pray for him too. It is the very least I can do."

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