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God – Delusion? (3)

9 November, 2006

As I’ve said, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be by Richard Dawkins’ latest book ‘The God Delusion’, which aims to make atheists of us all.

Here’s what really made me feel let down.

Despite my reservations, there is much in this book to give pause for thought.

The fact that millions of adherents of the monotheistic religious still live their lives according to the rules of belief systems created thousands of years ago (think: the use of the veil), or according to later interpretations (think: women priests) surely does leave them open to the charge of unthinking allegiance.

At a time when Creationism is being taught in schools even in the UK, when 50% of US citizens believe that the story of Noah is factual, and when millions of children are brought up in unthinking acceptance of a religion that they have not chosen, it’s hard to disagree with Dawkins that the religious indoctrination of children is an evil: ‘if children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide bombers’.

Nor is there any gainsaying the fact that the effects of religious beliefs can be deadly (notice that the Catholic church in Nicaragua has just succeeded in making abortion totally illegal – even where the mother’s life is in danger;  think about the ‘faith-led’ agencies that refuse to promote the use of condoms as a protection against AIDS in Africa).

So there is an urgent need to debate the role of religious belief in our society, and our attitudes to it. Rather than treating religion as a no-go area for rational debate, we do need to challenge believers to justify beliefs that they would foist on others.

But this book doesn’t rise to this challenge. It’s a missed opportunity. Dawkins is so convinced by his own arguments that he undermines his case. He fails to gather enough evidence about what believers really believe, and what impact their beliefs have on their lives. Instead, he relies on easy rhetoric and on mockery; he bases his arguments on stereotypical and extreme examples of ‘religious’ behaviour, and does not apply the same scientific rigour here as he does in his other books.

The God Delusion left me disillusioned.

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