HARD-line Christians are calling on residents of a Scottish community to boycott a talk by controversial author and atheist Richard Dawkins.
Professor Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion is a best-seller, is due to headline the faith-themed Faclan Hebridean Book Festival in the Outer Hebrides – the heartland of the Free Church.
Campaign group the Lord’s Day Observance Society (LDOS) claim it is “hypocritical” and “offensive” to invite him to speak at the event, which also features Christian speakers, in Stornoway in November.
A spokeswoman for Prof Dawkins said a boycott was “another example of typical fundamentalist behaviour”.
The main islands of Lewis and Harris are bastions of strict Presbyterian Christian beliefs, with most shops and businesses closing on Sunday.
John Roberts, president of LDOS, said he was “extremely disappointed” at the outspoken author being invited as headline speaker at the festival.
He added: “I would not cross the road to listen to him and I appeal to other people to do the same. They should boycott his event. Why explore faith by getting a person who has no faith? It is ridiculous and offensive.
“Dawkins has a very poor concept of what faith is about. These islands have a very special faith and many Christians will be offended, as I am, that Dawkins has been invited here.
“Dawkins does not frighten me, he will be found out in time, but it is both hypocritical and illogical by the organisers to invite a man of no faith to a faith-themed festival, especially on Lewis.”
Pastor Donnie Stewart, of the New Wine Church in Stornoway, said: “It is disappointing that he has been invited given the Christian heritage and local sensitivities here. But we will keep praying that Prof Dawkins receives the personal revelation of the Holy Spirit.”
Prof Dawkins’s spokeswoman added: “If the LDOS were really so confident that Richard’s talk will be unwelcome on the island, they would hardly need to call for a boycott since the matter would take care of itself.
“As it is, it appears to be just another example of typical fundamentalist behaviour. Not content with simply choosing not to attend the talk themselves, they are outraged that others who do not share their views are being given the opportunity to do so.
“The very fact they are making such a fuss about a talk which no-one will be forced to attend betrays their panic at the mere idea of their beliefs not being considered sacrosanct by all.”
Festival organisers defended the invitation, claiming they expected “excessive demand” for tickets.
Director Roddy Murray said: “Professor Dawkins was asked because he is one of the world’s most eminent and influential scientists and has trenchant and sincerely held views on this.
“I am not worried about the reception he will receive in Lewis. People here are unfailingly courteous and tolerant.”