btripp_books (btripp_books) wrote,

Ho, ho, ho ...

OK, so the cynical out there might posit that I waited for Xmas to get around to reviewing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but it's really not that way. While it is true that I've had this sitting around for four weeks since I got done reading it (and have finished and reviewed several books in the interim), I really haven't been "saving it" for a seasonal broadside. No, the truth of the matter was that I was catching up on some organizational things today, and had cleared "to be read" books off of a shelf, making it ready for the last 30-40 books I've read ... as it turned out, this just made that shelf, so I was really forced to get around to writing about it.

Now, regular readers of my journal will recall that I recently posted my "angst" over this ... I really prefer not to spark "flame wars" with my reviews, but so many of my conservative readers are of a religious bent, and so many of my non-religious readers are of a leftist bent, that I can hardly avoid a certain level of ugliness, being one of those odd "anti-religion" conservative folks who can't seem to help but offend everybody.

Anyway. Don't mistake the delay in the review for not wanting to rave about The God Delusion, as I really feel that Dawkins hit a home run with this. Avoiding many of the pit-falls that I've noted in other similar books, Dawkins not only picks apart religion point-for-point, but also slogs into the standard counter-arguments relied on by the faithful. From clearly showing that Einstein was a non-believer to establishing that Hitler considered himself a "good Catholic" (despite having a great deal of disdain for religion for coddling "the weak"), many theistic straw men are torn down. Once again, I have put way too many scraps of paper in a book, which would (were I to dig out "the really good parts") make this review go on for pages and pages. I'll try to flesh out the sense of this with some key bits, but I encourage you to check out the extensive quoting for these and other points throughout the book!

Dawkins did a wonderful job with the structure of the book, at first looking at what might lie behind religion, in "A Deeply Religious Non-Believer", where he sketches out that the feeling of awe and wonder that an atheistic scientist experiences when trying to make sense of the enormity and complexity of the universe is a religious feeling, but it is not a supernatural religious feeling. One can experience the connection with "things larger than oneself" without turning off the mind and freezing one's world-view in some bronze-age mythos! He then walks through the development of religions in "The God Hypothesis", where polytheism cedes to monotheism, and how ill-based on reality nearly all manifestations of "religious doctrine" are. Dawkins then looks to the other side, presenting a chapter on "Arguments for God's Existence", and fairly easily knocks these aside, leading to "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God" where a wide array of logical, scientific, and historical evidence plays against the hypothesis of a "typical" (i.e. supernatural) God.

At this point Dawkins returns to his main area of expertise, and takes a look at "The Roots of Religion" ... why is there religion? From very early on these patterns have been with us, what good do they serve? On the way to answering these questions he moves to another... "The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?" ... much has been written on this topic in context of logic games such as "the prisoner's dilemma", and it come out that your average human being is reasonably "good" most of the time simply because it's a better "strategy" for a social animal. This does bring up the question of why so many "religious" people outright assume that if you do not "go to church" (especially whatever brand it is that they go to), you can not possibly be moral, with the rather ugly implication that these religion-blinded folks implicitly assume that if they did not have their regular indoctrination sessions they would be killing, raping, and pillaging. Personally, looking at places in the world where religion has a strong hand, there may be something there ... but only in the case of religious people being unleashed on their unsuspecting neighbors!

Here is where "it gets good". First Dawkins looks at "The 'Good' Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist" of how much "cherry picking" modern monotheists indulge in to allow themselves to tip-toe around the ugly sadistic mess that are their "holy books". In this section he also addresses the question of Hitler and Stalin and Mao, who, while arguably (or nominally) atheistic, were actually "popes" of religions of the state or religions of the Leader. In none of these cases was there the rational discourse of the scientific atheist, but the emotion-driven passion for the "in group" and devotion to a Leader or a State indistinguishable from "religion". The next chapter, "What's Wrong With Religion? Why Are We So Hostile?" looks at the predictable, unavoidable ways that religion perverts everything it touches, from "Fundamentalism and the subversion of science" (a sub-chapter heading) to "How 'moderation' in faith fosters fanaticism" (another). Where faith is, reason is not, or is in such a convoluted distortion of itself that it is slave to the dark aspects of faith. One of the darkest, is how religion systematically destroys children, this is one of Dawkins' on-going themes and in "Childhood, Abuse, and the Escape from Religion" he walks the reader through the nightmare scenario that 90% of the world accepts as "business as usual".

Frankly, at this point, I would have liked to have seen Dawkins go on a red-faced, busting blood vessels, anti-religion rant ... but wouldn't that have been the religious way of closing? Rather, he goes into "A Much Needed Gap?" which starts off dealing with the "God of the gaps" idea (basically the "if we can't explain it ... it must be GOD!" sort of twaddle) and closes with a delightful "thought experiment" called "The mother of all burkas" (another sub-heading), which points out that we, as creatures evolved in the "Middle World", the place of rocks, and trees, and clouds and predictable slow-moving "stuff" can't fully "get" the micro-cosmic or the macro-cosmic, unless we approach it from a scientific viewpoint. The religious viewpoint is viewing the whole amazing universe through that little eye-slit in the burka, and saying "this is how things are, there is nothing beyond the human-scale, so if it is, it's the work of some image of ourself that we call God" (my paraphrase, not Dawkins' words). Which really puts in context how small and pitiful the religious world-view is in relation to the awe and wonder of a scientific, atheistic approach to the universe!

Needless to say, this is one of those "Everybody Needs To Read This!!!" books. It's in your local brick-and-mortar store, but Amazon has it for more than a third off of cover. Anybody with doubts about religion (or on-going irritation with the Religious) really really ought to read The God Delusion, and those of you who still cling to your narrow-band imaginary friends, this one should open your eyes to why the rest of us think you may be dangerous, and are certainly in the grip of an unnecessary "delusion"!

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