Houghton-Mifflin, New York, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0-618-68000-9. 374 pages.
The God Delusion is well-written, and well-reasoned. It deals with a difficult and complicated subject in a manner that kept my interest without being condescending or simplistic, in spite of the need for detailed explanations throughout. Dawkins comes across as a likable, optimistic teacher with a strong desire to see clear thinking take root and grow in the world.
Dawkins uses science and logic to illustrate how irrational religious beliefs have evolved and developed over the history of mankind, and how they have plagued civilization.
There will be, of course, objections to this book. Atheists run into this all the time. Apparently some religious people feel threatened by atheism; perhaps they don't like to have to think carefully about exactly what they believe. Dawkins' analysis of the origins of religion, and the actual substance of which it is formed, is daunting to say the least. He challenges the circular logic of faith, which says that one must believe in spite of evidence to the contrary. It is this anti-logical trump card that defeats all rational discussion. If one argues that God cannot be seen, heard, or felt, the response will be that God wants it this way: God wants us to have faith in him without any evidence of his existence. Religion says that belief in the improbable is the key to understanding God and pleasing him.
This book provides welcome relief from the background guilt that I experience when discussions of religion erupt. While I regard most of this stuff as nonsense on a rational, adult level there is always the "inner child" that was taught early on to fear the omniscient bearded man in the sky. There is the confusing story of Jesus and his inscrutable sacrifice, which somehow relieves me of original sin, or something like that. Talk about a guilt trip! Here's this man who, 2000 years ago, suffered a horrible death at the hands of merciless sadists because he knew that you were coming along, and he loves you, even now. Aren't you ashamed of yourself for not believing this.
It is not hard to debunk the myths that come from religion, whether it's the story of Jesus or the promise of a heaven full of virgins to the suicide bomber (Dawkins, by the way, rightly asks: what about the fate of these virgins? How do they feel about it? And why would a man want virgins, anyway?) it's pretty easy to simply say: this is not possible, not probable, it cannot be proven and so it is not true. What is difficult is to free people from the innate feeling that they are supposed to believe in this claptrap, and that if they don't, they are evil, ungrateful heretics and that God (who loves them) will punish them with nothing less than merciless eternal torture. This predisposition to adopt such illogical nonsense as one's "beliefs" is, as Dawkins points out, most likely a sort of side-effect of natural selection.
I found this concept immensely attractive. Parents impart much useful knowledge to their children, e.g. don't eat spoiled food, wash your hands, get enough sleep, the good fish are in this part of the river, etc. At the same time, parents may tell their children things which are inaccurate or untrue, such as the idea that you can "catch" a cold from getting wet and chilly, that people of another race are inherently inferior, or that there is an invisible omniscient omnipotent being who requires certain bizarre behavior and will punish you if you fail to display it. While the bad ideas may be quite useless or even harmful, the basic good information is often required for survival. Offspring with a penchant for hearing and adopting the instructions of their parents are probably more likely to survive, hence natural selection will favor this trait. The bad ideas, such as religion, are as fervently adopted as the good. Dawkins' own explanation of this concept is much more skillful than mine, and includes good examples and illustrations.
The message of The God Delusion is that too much evil is done in the name of religion for it to occupy the exalted place that it enjoys in human society. Why should we continue to grant special privileges (tax exemption) and overlook behavior which, if not excused under the explanation of religious belief, would be considered illegal and destructive (e.g. taking children out of school)? Religion is responsible for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Religion fuels the never-ending wars of the Middle East, and the conflict in Ireland. Many representatives of one of the major religions of the world have been exposed as pedophiles, and that church itself has been found to be complicit in covering up or impeding prosecution of crimes committed by these people. How is it that rational people continue to tolerate this monstrosity in our midst?
This topic cannot be broached without inspiring controversy. I am sure that many people will find me heretical, insensitive, and evil for expressing these ideas. Fortunately for me, very few people read what I write here, so I will not have to put up with too much abuse. But to anyone who does object, I invite you to borrow this book from your public library (or buy it, if you don't mind putting money in the hands of the infidel) and read it. Give it an honest chance and ask yourself if it doesn't make a lot of sense. Some will, of course, reject it out of hand. But a few may just be relieved to find that they are not alone: many of us are unwilling to ignore logic, to eschew science, and adopt dangerous and destructive myths foisted upon us by previous generations. Many, I imagine, will be very pleased to read this book, and to enjoy its clear and reasonable arguments and Dawkins' fine writing.
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