The God Delusion

I’m currently reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I’m already an atheist but have become somewhat interested in religion lately, perhaps because of the rise of ISIS and the violence they encourage in the name of God.

What makes someone believe in the supernatural? The existence of a supernatural being is no more likely than the existence of the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, and can you imagine ISIS killing non-believers in the name of the tooth fairy? That’s pretty much how their logic looks to an atheist like me.

Anyway, there are lots of quotes in the book and I might share some of them as I read it. This one is from Gore Vidal. It’s particularly interesting because I didn’t know that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all evolved from the same religion.

The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-God religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – God is the omnipotent father – hence the loathing of women for 2000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-God and his earthly male delegates.

20 Comments

  1. Richards best book by far is ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ in it he is in his element -biology.
    Isis are radicals which means they have abandoned reasoning and obey absolutely a version of Sharia.
    When this happens the conscience within dies, and any act is possible because it lines up with belief.
    Radical Christianity has been largely displaced by modern interpretations.and those who are radical are unlikely to gain political power.
    In Christianity the domination of women is coming to an end and it is being challenged in Islam.
    The developement of religion was not an evil thrust upon mankind but part of his evolution.

  2. Well, I’m with you on the quote and the philosophy. I’ve read pretty much all Dawkins and find him a bit sneery and shouty though rigorous in his thinking. We went through an interesting period from when the Vet was 15 or so and she wanted to find out if she was Christian. We had some fabulous discussions around the dinner table every Sunday after she’d been to a bible study class with a friend. Her attendance stopped when they made the mistake of suggesting a wife should submit to her husband’s will or some such text. She regarded her elder brother with distaste (now thankfully gone) and didn’t go back.

  3. I can’t stand Richard Dawkins. His arrogance is breathtaking. I don’t know why it bothers him that some people choose to believe in a god or gods. Although I’m an atheist, I’m quite happy for people to have their religious beliefs. What worries me is when psychopathic nutjobs highjack beliefs to justify inflicting appalling cruelty on others. Religion or no religion, I believe that psychopathic and cruel people will always find justifications for acting out their murderious desires.

    That’s how I see ISIS. I hope they burn themselves out.

    1. From what I’ve read so far, he dislikes religion because it commands undeserved respect and he gives some quite good examples. For instance, during war it’s possible to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons. But if you’re a moral philosopher with a fantastic thesis on pacifism, tough cookies. Here’s another crazy example and the book is full of these – Apparently in 2006 the US supreme court ruled that is was ok for members of a church in New Mexico to take illegal hallucinogenic drugs because they claimed this is how they speak to God.

      I don’t object to people having a religion if they want but religion is not exempt from criticism and people should not get special privileges simply for being religious.

  4. I think people neglect European and to an extent American responsibility for creating the circumstances that enabled ISIS to exist. The latter is to an extent, maybe a considerable one, an anti-colonial liberation movement, noting that anti-colonialists are often not very nice people. Trying to come up with some sort of solution to the problem without being willing to publicly admit its roots seems to me likely to continue to not end well.

    On so many occasions, religion has been made an excuse for the most brutish of behavior, but cultural identity is a perfectly serviceable substitute.

    1. I’m sure there are a multitude of factors to blame for the rise of ISIS. Religion might have nothing to do with it at all. That’s not really the point. The point is that ISIS are committing these atrocious acts in the name of God and not in the name of colonialism or climate change or Santa Claus.

  5. I’m also an atheist and will join those saying they find Dawkins off-putting. I read The Demon Haunted World years ago and thought it was ok, but especially in recent years, I’ve felt like Dawkins has been so aggressive and shrill as to give atheists a worse name than they already had. I’ll take Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” any day over Dawkins’s rhetoric.

    1. He does seem to get into quite a few disagreements on Twitter πŸ™‚

      Something he says in this book is that it’s hard to “come out” as an atheist in America. Is that really true? I find this hard to believe. However I have grown up in very secular communities. I come from a long line of atheists and in fact I have always thought it must feel slightly embarrassing to admit to a belief in the supernatural. But Dawkins claims that it’s the opposite in America and that it would be impossible to win an election there without being religious. I find that so astonishing that I almost don’t believe it.

      1. Yes, it can be difficult to feel comfortable coming out as an atheist in America, especially in places where religion is a core part of community life. For example, my wife is a teacher, and when she was first looking for a job, she was afraid it would come out that she was an atheist and that it would cause problems with her getting a job. I’ve had similar anxieties at past jobs populated by many religious people.

        It’s also been something we’ve worried about for our children; we worried that they’d be bullied or wind up being alienated if it came out at school that they were not religious. So far we’ve been lucky. It has come up some for my daughter, but she’s handled it gracefully and without apparent issue. The thing about it is that most people are pretty nice, and even if they’re surprised to learn that you’re an atheist (as they sometimes are) or express surprise that you’re a nice person in spite of it (as they sometimes do), they’re eager to learn more about it all. But that’s when dealing with particular people, when there’s a direct human connection. I think that many of these nice people, when confronted with atheism in the abstract, find the idea abhorrent, and without that direct human connection with someone they know to be a good person, they have a negative reaction and feel as if they wouldn’t want to be represented by an atheist. There are very few openly atheist politicians, and in general I agree with Dawkins’s assessment, because when you’re contemplating voting for someone, I think you’re contemplating the person more in the abstract and in terms of how their ideals line up with yours, so if religion is an important part of your worldview, it’s probably hard to make yourself feel good about voting for an atheist who you haven’t related to directly and personally. If I’m not mistaken, some states still have laws on the books saying that an atheist can’t be elected to office.

        I think Dawkins and his ilk do for atheists like me essentially what religious extremists do for religious people who just want to live their lives without raising a big fuss, which has always come off to me as pretty toxic.

      2. I think some people conflate religion with morality and end up assuming that you cannot have one without the other. But in fact morals (or ethics as I prefer to say) don’t have anything much to do with religion and it’s entirely possible to live one’s life ethically without any sort of religion at all. I don’t think we need a God to tell us what is right and wrong but reason and logic instead. I haven’t read the Bertrand Russell book you mention but I like Bertrand Russell a lot so I’ll put it on my list.

        It sounds like Richard Dawkins’ book has had the opposite effect to what he wanted. I think he wanted to make it more acceptable to be atheist in America (and I’m singling out America because I’ve never experienced what you describe in any of the three countries I’ve lived in) but it sounds as though he’s made things worse which is sad.

      3. I definitely agree re morality/ethics/religion!

        I’ve always sort of suspected that Dawkins’s goal was less to make things better through his own immediate actions than to stir the pot and get the fact of atheism more in the public eye in the hope that eventually, even if the immediate response was very negative, the ultimate response would be a greater awareness of atheism and finally a greater acceptance of atheism. I’ve figured maybe he was adopting a “the ends justify the means” stance. Maybe he’s just a jerk, though.

  6. There are some extremists in every religion who miss the point of religion. They kill not people in the name of God and that is unacceptable.

    I believe in God and practice Hinduism. Various religions are just different paths to the same destination. No single path is superior than the other and everything leads to the same God. Every religion teaches the same basic things in different ways.

    1. I don’t know all that much about Hinduism however I appreciate that there are lots of religions that have very admirable values including respect for other animals. However I don’t think religion is necessary to lead an ethical life. Ethics is very important to me and I guess, very broadly, I view pain and suffering as wrong and we should avoid inflicting pain and suffering on living creatures when it’s in our power to do so.

  7. Interesting responses here πŸ™‚ To me, Dawkins is one of those classic cases of people who put a message across in such a strident way (whenever I’ve read or seen him) that you feel like disagreeing with him even if you agree with what he is actually saying.

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