June 21, 2007

Book Review: The God Delusion

I am sitting in the ey of the hurricane. For some strange reason, although I have written several posts about the chaos of my life right now, I find myself sitting alone in a brightly lit condo (some friends are letting us stay here while they travel the country and our house is in disarray), I am surfing the net on their Macbook and have found some Cat Stevens on their iTunes, downstairs another friend has lent us the use of her LandRover to do our last minute errands, and I am on baby duty while my wife is at our house packing her bags for the summer. I have the afternoon shift at the house, backing up our files, sorting out the office, and getting things ready for the movers who are now coming on Saturday.

So in the meantime, I have a book to quickly review before the little one wakes from her morning nap.

The first, I discovered after reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins is apparently a pretty big name in the atheists, evolution, scientific circles. He was named one of the worlds top intellectuals aside Chomsky and some some guy named Umberto Eco, I didn’t know who he was, but I was intrigued to read his book The God Delusion.

At times I found the book a bit meandering and pedantic, other times I found it childish and immature, but overall I think it is an important book for people to read, unfortunately I do not think the people who would get the most form this book will ever read it. The people I am referring to are people who refuse to examine evidence, test their values, or challenge their beliefs. Yes, I am talking about the religious faithful, both fundamentalist and moderates.


I wish I had time to fully express my thoughts upon reading this book, but now is not the time. I simply want to write a quick overview of the book and recommend it to my readers. I guess if I had to sum up Dawkins’ thesis in one sentence it would look like this: There are many things that science cannot explain, but there is no reason to fill these gaps with the concept of a creationist god who spends his time watching us from atop his perch. Dawkins urges us to remain patient and allow for human knowledge to grow and realize that we will eventually uncover more and more of the universe’s secrets.

As mentioned earlier, this book is preaching to the choir, because people who believe in science, reason, evidence, and open-mindedness already understanding and practice much of what Dawkins is saying. The people who accept dogma on faith alone, people who simply refuse to look at evidence and stick tight to the faith they were taught as children are the one who will never read this book, although I would love to hear what they have to say if they do.

I hope this posts does not sound like an attack, although I am aware of the tone in which I am writing. If you are religious, I am curious what your thoughts are on books like this. So please read it and let me know. I also hope that this topic/thread can be explored further in later posts.

I feel that there is a growing atheists movement worldwide, well maybe not in the states or the Muslim world, but we are getting closer to a more secular world. I think that like all things in the universe we are evolving and that perhaps sometime, not in my lifetime, we can outgrow our need to be under god’s watchful eye. Maybe we will realize that we have enough, we are enough, that this is the universe in which we live and it is perfect. We can abandon these ideas of sin and guilt and domination of the earth, and we can focus on the task at hand-living our lives in peace!

The question many people may ask is why not just live and let live? What do I care what people choose to believe. The problem as Dawkins explains it, and I agree with him, is that most religious people are not satisfied with believing their bizarre beliefs on their own, they choose to make the rest of us live under their ideas of fear and guilt and redemption. They feel the need to save us, from a hell we refuse to believe in. As an Iranian-American I have seen both by country of birth and my second home ruined by religion. I wish I could take my daughter to Iran and show her the beauty of the land and her ancestors can offer her, but because of obscure thirteenth century laws, the country of my birth is shroud in fear and misogyny. And for Americans out there shaking your heads at the backwardness of my Iranian brethren, I urge you to look into your own religious mirror and see that the rest of the world is casually throwing around terms like the American Taliban to describe America’s disproportionatality when it comes to matters faith. I try and believe in a world where neither Iran nor America is weighed down by religion.

But back to Dawkins’ book. I recommend it to any one who wants to take a closer look at reasons that will help you reconsider your belief in an omniscient God and the affects this type of faith can have on the rest of the world. The problem with faith is that people tend to think that "It is better to persist in an irrational belief than to vacillate, even if new evidence or rationality favours change."

I could go on forever about this topic, but I feel that my daughter could wake up at any moment, and we have a slew of errands to run. I will end with this post with a random list of new commandments that Dawkins claims to have found on the Internet that may be useful to a non-religious world. Contrary to what many people of faith believe, morality is not solely under their jurisdiction. That is one of Dawkins’ main points- Morality is a natural human trait and we do not need to fear of a vengeful overpowering god, nor do we need the love of a savior. We can be “good” and moral simply because that is what human beings are meant to be. Here are the commandments:
  • Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
  • In all things, strive to cause no harm
  • Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness, and respect
  • Live life with a sense of joy and wonder
  • Always seek to be learning something new
  • Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them
  • Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you
  • Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others
  • Question everything
There is so much more I want to say about this topic and this book, but I will leave it be for now. If you are a religious person, and I don’t mean a person searching for a spiritual connection to the universe, but a believer of one of the three major religions, I invite you to this conversation, I suggest you read the book first.

6 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed the book. Dawkins is, as you might imagine, the object of much ire among fundies. I find his straightforwardness refreshing, and he makes a good common-sense case for atheism and I appreciated his answers to traditional arguments for the existence of god.

    Now, I listened to the book on audiobook. He reads it with his wife, Lala Ward, who is a former Dr. Who companion, so an actress. They have a great back and forth which is engaging.

    I followed up on one of the authors that he mentions quite a bit, Daniel Dennett, who is the source of the belief in belief concept. His _Breaking the Spell_ is pretty funny for a work of philosophy. I would recommend it for you. I also intend to read his Darwin's Dangerous Idea, which was on the National Book Award shortlist. For further readings of Dawkins, I recommend his The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene. Probably in that order.

    HJ

    ReplyDelete
  2. bz- i have gotten beyond worrying about insulting people who attempt to foist their outrageous beliefs on others. it is my thought that so many folks want to force others to live as they do- because they know it is full of crap. it is work maintaining 'faith' in something that is not real- and if your whole world is a bubble- it makes it easier. good luck moving. i know what you mean about painting. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your prejudiced attitude and negative generalizations of people who choose to believe in God or a higher power (the many millions and millions of us) certainly feels like an attack to me. Where is the love, acceptance and open-mindedness of earlier posts?

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I was not religious until I was 22 years old. At that point I began to study religion in general. I read and studied and prayed. I wondered what was true. I questioned. I tested values. I gained a testimony through personal experience. I do not consider myself unreasonable or close-minded. I am a compassionate, loving person who can see a lot of anger in your post. If this book will just fill me with hate, then I really have no use for it.

    LC

    ReplyDelete
  4. If you think this post was an attack, you must have not read my earlier work, or known me before the kindler gentler Intrepidflame you see now. You see, I have been trying very hard lately to be loving and understanding like you said, but sometimes certain issues are just hard not to get passionate about.

    I find it curious that if you are, and I suspect that you are, an open-minded person than why did you take this post so personally? The book will not fill your head with hate, but will give you alternate ways to look at some things that you may have been seeing simply through your lens of faith alone.

    If there are some books that would make me see religion through another lens, I would be very interested in reading them. I have attempted to read the Bible on four different occasions, and I find it as a story, unreadable and as a morality guide totally at odds with everything I believe in. I am never sure what to take metaphorically and what should be strictly adhered to. For example, holding dominion over all life on earth from Genesis, is my first sticking point. I also get tripped up on the misogyny and patriarchal nature of the book. Dawkins has a great chapter on this idea of picking and choosing what to believe and what to leave to the fundamentalist in his book.

    I could go on and on. I am trying to understand and remain open and not prejudiced like you said, but this is what always happens when you discuss religion with people who are faithful, they become extremely defensive!

    I guess at the end of the day I find religions, all of them, dangerous and conflicting with human evolution. I feel the road to peace must surpass religion. The first step begins with mindfulness and awareness of all life. Religion, I firmly believe is the exact opposite of that: It is pure delusion!

    I hope this post does not scare you away, because believe it or not one can still be loving and understanding without God.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The reason this post drives me nuts is the same reason why I love your blog. Your views are at times so different from mine, that it opens me up to a world I otherwise might not see. I have lived in various places and met many people. I had a roommate once in Jackson Hole who was an athiest. I love her dearly but boy did we get into some heated debates over our evening herb tea!

    Your blog puts a skip in my step and makes me THINK. I like that.

    I truly am an open-minded person. It's that character trait that led me to where I am and you to where you are. We took different paths.

    So here's the deal if you're up for it (it's a biggie I'll admit): I'll read your book and you read mine. You read the Book of Mormon and I'll read the God Delusion (but we don't have to like it - do we?).

    LC

    ReplyDelete
  6. You don’t know how happy this makes me:

    it opens me up to a world I otherwise might not see.

    Your blog puts a skip in my step and makes me THINK. I like that.

    That is really the main reason why I write. So thank you for understanding. Now on to the biggie as you called. The Book Of Mormon huh? I tell you that I can’t even get through the Book of Genesis and you want me to read the Book of Mormon. Actually, I was at a Mormon Church this last Christmas, believe it or not! I can’t make any promises on when this will happen, but it will. I will read it sure no problem, although I must warn you I have read a lot about Mormonism and there is a lot I disagree with…Of all the sects I think it is one of the most dangerous to free-thinkers everywhere. But who am I to ask you to read a book and not do the same myself.

    In the meantime, I would love to have a non-hostile back and forth about question we each have about the other person’s views. I know these things get heated, but we understand that neither side is trying to convert or change the other person, we may like you said, see things differently.

    So my first question is: How do we know what to take literally in the Bibl and what to interpret. I think that this is the line where people divide themselves between moderates and fundamentalists, but I think it is this grey area that makes religion so dangerous. Who is to say what is “true” and what is metaphorical.

    So the Bible calls for the death penalty for homosexuality or adultery? Is someone who believes this an extremist or a good Christian, and who decides this? Wouldn’t it make more sense that true believers simply followed the book verbatim, like the Taliban? I will leave my question there. Feel free to answer when you have time and send me a link when you do. And feel free to ask me any questions you have about my beliefs or non-beliefs about God. I will get to the Book of Mormon after the summer, I will let you know so you know when top start the God Delusion.

    ReplyDelete