A God Delusion: Josh Timonen v. Richard Dawkins

One sad aspect of the lawsuit recently filed against Josh Timonen by Richard Dawkins is the way that it has inadvertently played out the atheist script generally: reduce an ontological mystery (a mystery of being) to a mere problem or function for rational tallying and management (akin to the tidy plotline of a Scooby Doo  cartoon). 

Over the past several years, the 70-something Richard Dawkins had clearly latched onto the 20-something Josh Timonen as a father to a son. He loved  Josh Timonen. And he gave Timonen the keys, as it were, to his institutional car (management of the website, the website’s store, etc). Dawkins even dedicated his 2009 book, The Greatest Show on Earth, to Timonen. In the mystery of why one human heart latches onto another human heart without limit, Richard Dawkins gave himself to Josh Timonen and not to another. He trusted him explicitly and defended him adamantly against criticism. Like the experience of qualia (the subjective experience, say, of green as green), love is something you either have or you don’t, and the reasons for it are frequently too varied and complex to trace. Love, like color perception and consciousness in general, appears to be overdetermined, and explainable, if at all, only in obituary, in retrospect. It is something that passes by unannounced, a visitation—a profound ontological mystery.

And its betrayal leads to retreat.

The death of love, in other words, lapses into function—a reduction that makes it no longer recognizable, something merely material. This is Keats’s unweaving of the rainbow, and Wordsworth’s murdering to dissect. Josh Timonen, once a part of Richard Dawkins’s informal family, now appears, as Courthouse News Service reports, headed for the dissection table of a court of law:

Dawkins says he asked Timonen to run the store through his company, Upper Branch Productions. Timonen took the reins, Dawkins says, and ran the online store for 3 years, during which he claimed the store cleared only $30,000 and “was just squeaking by.” But the scientist says Timonen actually pocketed $375,000. Dawkins says he found out about the scam this year, when the Foundation decided to wrest control of the store from Timonen. Timonen handed over financial books that detailed his embezzlement, Dawkins says, including $500 meals, trips to Timberline Lodge in Oregon and the Malibu Beach Inn, and $314,000 in “salaries” paid to Timonen and his girlfriend -though Timonen and the Foundation agreed that the $278,000 it was aware of paying him would be his combined salary for running the store and performing his other duties. Timonen’s ”significantly older” girlfriend, defendant Maureen Norton, allegedly used at least $100,000 of the charity’s money to upgrade her Sherman Oaks home before she put it on the market. A recent real estate listing describes improvements such as a “custom backyard pool and spa area with a wonderful waterfall and glass block fire pit plus custom seating for the ultimate outdoor living and entertaining experience,” according to the complaint. Dawkins claims Timonen made off with 92 percent of the money generated at the store in 3 years.

Richard Dawkins’s 18 page court-filed complaint against Timonen is the reduction that occurs upon a perceived betrayal of love. It is the way you respond to someone who is no longer a part of your family. You tally up accounts; you make what was once a spiritual exchange a material exchange—an exchange of money. The spell is broken. Matter is what was really real  all along. You were subject to an error of the open heart, a delusion brought by the visiting god of love, a god delusion.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to A God Delusion: Josh Timonen v. Richard Dawkins

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I think you should work in a quote from “If God is Love.”


    There are several quotes that come to mind that would drive your conclusive sentence home if they were part of this post at an earlier point.

  2. Mike says:


    Do you write outside of this blog? After this post, I really want to read a book you’ve written!


    • santitafarella says:


      Just intermittently, such as for this professional English journal here (see page 43 of the PDF):

      Click to access ie-Spring2007.pdf

      I’d love to write a regular column for something, but I’ve never made the effort to beat the bushes for where I might do that. If you have any ideas about that, feel free to share.

      As for a book, I’m certain one is stirring down in me somewhere, and should the pull of the slot machine in my psyche turn up 7s straight across, and it arrives to me as an epiphany that, yes, I have a book idea, and it’s unusual, and I should write it, I’d make the attempt.

      There’s really no excuse not to attempt a book at some point. My wife has contributed a chapter to a book anthology, and we could attempt to co-author something together at some point (perhaps a book on Shakespeare—that’s her obsession—and I could easily catch her bug on that). But our kids are still young. And blogging is fun. We’ll see.

      Thank you for your encouragement. It makes me think about it.


  3. JCR says:

    Great piece!

    Is unconditional love real? I think it is. Although the only place I can imagine it is with my kids. And while I cannot envision any scenario my love for them becomes conditional, am I simply deluding myself?

    • mary says:

      I do not believe that parents have unconditional love for their children. Mine, at least, didn’t in relation to me and a sister – we were both disowned, my sister for questioning the patriarchy and writing about it, and myself for having unalterably left Catholicism. Worse still was that more than half of my siblings (13 + me) went along with it, through greed, indifference, or belief.

      My eldest brother died six weeks ago, and I took the responsibility to arrange for the good, proper, Catholic funeral, his wife incapacitated by grief. For this I earned the enmity of one of his daughters, who royally cursed me, including the epithet, “Die, you dirty f****** Hindu.”

      So much for and unconditional love.

      • mary says:

        The last line should read,

        So much for agape and unconditional love.

      • JCR says:

        Sorry to hear that. 😦 It always amazes me when those who act so devout in their faith also harbor such contempt and hate for others based simply on their personal choice of religion.

      • santitafarella says:


        That is awful to hear you treated so shabbily. Perhaps you know this saying:

        “No good deed goes unpunished.”

        I do suppose there is one good thing here: your niece does not sublimate her resentments, or let them stew. I suppose it’s good to get your true feelings out on the table. At least then they can be talked about. She’s probably more capable of an honest conversation with you after the outburst than perhaps others. And people always behave badly around funerals (because somewhere in the mix money is invariably involved).

        On the other hand, open expressions of hostility can also lead to still more hostility. I hope you get through this time.


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