There are children living all over North America and Europe who wear, around their necks, and instrument of torture and execution as symbol of their devotion to a group called The Christians. When they were very young they were taught that there was an invisible being called God who, in his omnipotence, created our planet a few thousand years ago. In a spectacular “poof!” all living things on Earth were created at once. As the story goes, the 4000 or so years that followed were full of genocide, murder, rape, and incest at the hand of this “God.” At some point, around 2000 years ago, his son was born on Earth, and was tortured and killed. It is mankind’s fault that this happened, so today we must live in constant guilt, and we cannot partake in natural human activities lest we be damned to an eternal hellfire, where there will be no escape from the everlasting sulfurous stench of rotten flesh and the deafening wails of despair.
But it’s okay, because this God is your personal friend, and he loves you.
There are dozens of such groups throughout the world, and as far as anthropologists can tell, they’ve existed for most, if not all, of human society. How did this happen? And why does it continue? This is what Dawkins discusses in his book, “The God Delusion.”
For those who may have never heard of this book, it’s basically an argument for atheism. Dawkins’ pulls no punches; there is absolutely no pussyfooting around the topic of religion in this book. Dawkins’ argues quite rigidly against any and all of the world religions, old and new. Naturally, the book has opened a lot of public debate. Ironically, people of all different religions tend to agree that Dawkins’ is going to their own personal version of hell.
I, however, agree with Dawkins’ thesis. The book is written with such elegant logic that it’s difficult not to be persuaded into agreement. He identifies the psychological reasons for wanting belief in gods, thoroughly reviews the impossible contradictions inherent to religious faith, and addresses the dangers of such mass irrationality. I suppose, it’s the same old argument against religion, but Dawkins argues it so solidly, that I cannot imagine how religious minds could cope with it. It must be frustrating.
Consider this statement: “Religious people have better morals, because they get their morals from god and the bible.” I’m familiar with this kind of thinking, as I’m sure you are if you’ve ever dealt with a religious person. Dawkins utterly dismisses this as being totally preposterous, and for good reason: the bible (First Testament) is filled with stories of murder, rape, incest, and genocide, many of which are at the hand of the Judeo-Christian god (incidentally, this god’s name is Yaweh). The morality of the first testament is, by modern standards, downright evil. Dawkins quite rightly points out that most Christians either don’t know about this fact, or chose to ignore it, or in some cases, embrace it.
Dawkins anticipates the obvious reaction: “But Christians get their morals from Jesus and the Second Testament.” He argues that the Second Testament is no better. It’s difficult to think of a religion as being peaceful and morally founded when its symbol is an instrument of torture and execution. Just think about that for a second!
The next religious argument: “The church is full of good people who do good things.” While true, it doesn’t support the plausibility of a supernatural creator being. And why do people need God to be good? Shouldn’t people be good anyway? Don’t we have a responsibility to each other as members of the same community? If there WAS no church and no God, would religious people all be immoral bastards? If so… that’s pretty damn scary. The obvious point is that religion is clearly NOT a source of moral highground. PEOPLE are.
Of course, Dawkins does not just pick on Christianity. He identifies common factors throughout all religions, and addresses them as such: oppression of women, violence and warfare, promises of the afterlife, corrupt internal hierarchies, imperialistic conversion campaigns, and the worst of all, the brainwashing of youth.
Dawkins argues that one of the worst atrocities of religion is it’s tendency to make kids believe in it long before they have the faculties to know how to choose for themselves. When a person is raised to be religious, it is next to impossible for them to see beyond it. This impedes their ability to learn and be critical, and also encourages them to accept the world rather than try and change it (what’s the point of saving the environment if the rapture is imminent?)
The final chapter is one of the most intriguing pieces of writing I’ve ever come across. It’s all about how the human mind constructs our experience of the world based on certain evolutionary necessities. Humans, for example, only see a very limited range of the electromagnetic spectrum, whereas birds are capable of detecting ultraviolet, and many fish are capable of detecting infrared. Thus, our coneptualization of the world around us is fundamentally limited to a very narrow range of perceptions. That is why we must explain the world in “human” terms, and even go so far as to suggest that the Earth (and the infinite universe beyond) was created by a supernatural man! The sheer arrogance is astonishing! But Dawkins rightly points out that it is, perhaps, in our nature to construct the world as such.
There is a wonderful quote in there that I think is worth reqouting:
Ludwig Wittenstein: “Tell me, why do people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the Earth rather than that the Earth was rotating?”
Other: “Well, obviously because it just looks as though the sun is going around the Earth.”
Ludwig Wittentstein: “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?”
What a delightfully appropriate example of the fallacy of human assumption, and our inability to perceive the world as it is! Of course, our minds choose to construct the world to suit us, and that is why those who do not understand science and won’t listen to reason will insist that the Earth was created by a man.
I only have one problem with the book. Actually, it’s not a problem with the book, so much as it is a problem with the entire debate about religion: it’s utterly futile. The fact is that religious people will reject this book, just as they have fiercely rejected every reasonable assertion of science, every rational explanation of nature, and every attempt to logically explain what is around us. In their minds, the sun still revolves around the Earth, and that will never change, because their faith necessarily demands an irrational mind. How else could one deny evolution? How else could one believe that the Earth is 8000 years old? Their construction of the world is a huge web of interdependent impossibilities, each more ridiculous than the last, wherein there are so many internal inconsistencies and contradictions that, as a whole, their construction of the world is fundamentally impossible. And even they will tell you that it is “faith” (by definition, unjustifiable belief) that makes it possible.
I believe the difference between a religious mind and a non-religious mind is simple: religious minds are capable of accepting the idea that 1 + 1 = 3, if they are told enough times that it is true. Non-religious minds are incapable of doing so; they say “ONE PLUS ONE IS TWO YOU IDIOT! LOOK AT THE FACTS!!!”
So thank you for an excellent read Mr Dawkins, but all the evidence and reason in the world doesn’t count for shit to someone with faith, and that will probably never change.