I have no doubt that reading this book has been, for many people, a life-changing experience. I read it because the subject matter and the philosophy of the author, Professor Richard Dawkins, appealed to me as I walk a well-trodden, rocky, winding road. It has been of immense help and has given me enormous clarity. It has given me the assurance that I am walking in the right direction.
Professor Dawkins is one of the best known flag bearers for the atheist, or should I say ‘New Aetheist’, movement. Dawkins is not a passive atheist, he is an active, passionate atheist. Excuse the double negative but Dawkins doesn’t just not believe in God, he thinks that to believe in God (I guess, in particular, God as a theistic being, a supernatural being who created the world and the ‘science’ which makes it work, who is concerned with us, with humanity, day to day, governs, is our superintendent, lays down the rules, punishes, forgives….) is not only illogical and a waste of human resources but it is also dangerous.
Sam Harris, in The End of Faith:
“The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Because each new generation of children is taught that religious propositions need not be justified in the way that all others must, civilisation is still besieged by the armies of the preposterous. We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who would have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible?”
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction” (how damning is that?!).
I do not remember reading a book which gave me so many “wow!!” moments.
Douglas “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” Adams (on how he became an agnostic):
“And I thought and thought and thought. But I just didn’t have enough to go on, so I didn’t really come to any resolution (that’s where I, Koby, was a few months ago, certainly before I read Hitchens and Dawkins). I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn’t know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe, and everything to put in its place. But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept thinking. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, particularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’ books The Selfish Gene and then The Blind Watchmaker, and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Selfish Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day”
Dawkins does not ‘attack’ religious people per se in this book (unless they are dangerous) but is having a go at religion. Sam Harris, philosopher:
“We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common, we call them ‘religious’; otherwise, they are likely to be called ‘mad’, ‘psychotic’ or ‘delusional’…Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.”
I’ll be blogging on the subject shortly so I won’t go into too much personal detail herein but, in essence, before I read Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great” and Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, I did feel that I was ploughing a lonely furrow. The journey into the dark world of blinkered religious, Biblical belief was an emotional and gradual one, I was there for many years, and walking away is not easy. It is hard to escape the force of the drag which tries to keep you anchored to the spot (or, worse, pulls you deeper and deeper in the mire).
Professor Dawkins book, interspersed with humour but largely in a serious vein, sheds a bright, searching light on religion, particularly the three monotheistic religions. If you aren’t religious, if you’re an atheist, if you aren’t a theist, you’ll enjoy the book, the clarity, Dawkins’ philosophy. If you are having a crisis of faith, this book will help shift the fog. If you are a theist and feel confident in your beliefs, unthreatened, read the book – it might make you feel more comfortable in your skin, you might feel that Dawkins is so wrong that you are more right than you thought you were before you read his book! Give it a whirl. I’m sure that millions of very religious people will NOT read the book – they’ll see it as one of THE evil books of blasphemy, they’ll think it a sin to even contemplate reading it! I think that a lot of those people will shy away from the book because they are concerned that they might agree with the author. For millions of people of faith, they MUST keep their blinkers on lest they ‘fall from grace’.
I’m not a philosophy graduate and I must admit that some parts of the book were, for me, complex. To others who are not professional philosophers, I say persevere when it gets technical, read the tough parts a few times, understanding will sometimes come but even if you don’t follow everything, keep going, the complex parts of the book pop up only sporadically. It’s crucial that as many people as possible are aware of the dangers represented by religion, not just that as practised by fundamentalist, extremist Islamists but in the halls of power in Washington D.C.
Sam Harris, in his Letter to a Christian Nation:
“It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves – socially, economically, environmentally, or geographically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
I can have my cake and eat it, I can enjoy my Judaism without its theistic God.
“…we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions of, say, Judaism, Anglicanism or Islam, and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals, without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions. We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.”
Psychologist, Nicholas Humphrey:
“……children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their own lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.”
Bertrand Russell got it spot on for me:
“…even if the open window of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanising myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own”
and Professor Dawkins:
“There is more than just grandeur in this view of life, bleak and cold though it can seem from under the security blanket of ignorance. There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up and facing straight into the strong keen wind of understanding: Yeats’s ‘Winds that blow through the starry ways’.”
WHAT A BOOK!