Dawkins latest book is as brutal and honest as its title. For those who aren’t looking to have their faith and beliefs gravely challenged, you may want to skip this book. However, Dawkins is looking for everyone to read this book with an open mind, whether you’re devoutly religious, agnostic or atheist. Having an open mind is actually one of the New Ten Commandments Dawkins cites.
The book begins in a calm and orderly manner, with an opening chapter on the “god hypothesis,” where Dawkins talks about the idea of a god through history and how we are now in a time where medicine and science have come such a long way from the days of thinking the world is flat, balancing the humors, and believing there was a demon or god causing every catastrophe. And yet religion – especially Christianity – remains stagnated in the ideas of men from thousands of years ago. As the book progresses, Dawkins seems to grow more impatient with religion and its wholehearted certainty in a book and a god.
He does an impressive job of going from chapter to chapter in defending different stances on science, always providing the evidence – a facet, he says, religion is lacking. One point Dawkins makes that I really found fascinating was his evolutionary reason for the existence of religion, in that it was a component of our very early societies in helping to unite communities and keep them together as a whole. As human beings, we strive for companionship and the evidence speaks for itself when we look back to the time when there was a shift from the nomadic hunting and gathering societies to settling down in groups and communities, which started farming, large scale food production, and ultimately leading to technology, writing, law, art and so on.
After this, Dawkins tackles the question of morality and makes it a very big deal that everyone understand we keep this separate from religion and not think them one and the same. The Bible is full of murder, rape, fratricide, torture – for a book on teaching us how to lead supposedly “good” lives, this book has a very strange way of trying to do that, says Dawkins. So he goes back into our ancestry to the days of Cro-Magnon, in the time when all humanity cared about was trying to survive. He posits that this was when we began to develop a sense of morality, because in being good to others, families and groups were formed, which helped improve survival. If we’d stuck to stealing and killing, we wouldn’t have lasted past that first winter.
Another big issue with Dawkins is the labeling of children as belonging to the religion of the parents without any consent from them: they’re Protestant children, or Muslim children, or Jewish children; even though in all likelihood they are far too young to comprehend what this applied label means. These children of heavily religious and fundamental families don’t have a choice. One of the most horrific things I learned about in The God Delusion are the so-called “Hell Houses,” where children – ideally twelve year olds, because this is the perfect age for indoctrination – are taken through a labyrinth of horror revealing the terrible sins of sex before marriage, homosexuality, and abortion, and what happens in hell if one were to commit any of them. A cast of actors rehearse these scenes to create the greatest sense of terror in the children – yes, there’s even a tall and scary looking man playing the part of Satan.
At the beginning of the book, one can sense that Dawkins is open to accepting the existence of religion, so long as it gets modernized and becomes part of the twenty-first century. However, by the end of the book, Dawkins is fuming over the many pitfalls and handicaps of religion, especially where it causes pain and suffering to others. While the author’s hope is to make everyone agree with his ideas and opinions, Dawkins at least wants people to think about what he is talking about, to make people contemplate these ideas with the evidence, and then to make an informed decision on their beliefs. The existence of a god cannot be proved or disproved, Dawkins says, but the chances seem very likely that there isn’t one. He gives an example of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which while most of the world thinks little more than a joke; if rumors of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had started thousands of years ago, might some of us be believing in this pasta god today?
While Dawkins didn’t set out to enrage people, with the title and content of this book, it was inevitable. Yet, I think some compliment is deserved for both Dawkins and the publisher in having the courage to put this book on the shelves, and since it’s publication, The God Delusion has spent many weeks on top ten lists across the country which, if anything, says a lot about people beliefs in this country at this time.
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Originally written on December 21st 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.