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Delusion, or Catch-22? (A review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion)

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This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 13 - Odds & Ends.
god delusionD.M. currently resides in Berkeley, CA. He states that in order to list his full name, "it a) will have to get cleared for publishing by my employer(s), who will b) deny the request, leading to c) me saying do it anyways, which will d) get me in trouble if discovered."
Professor Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, made its way into my mailbox a month or so before its publication date. I won't say how or why, but I will say I was thrilled to have it. I had been looking forward to reading it since I had heard of its inception from Dawkins himself, back when it was only an idea with some notes behind it. Upon finishing the book, and having been at times blown away that a book of such pronouncements has finally hit the literary scene, the first thing I thought was, "I have to get this to Hemant (www.friendlyatheist.com)." If you keep up on all things secular, you should be quite aware of Hemant, since he has battled the cynicism of Kirk Cameron and is writing a book about attending churches.

I wrote a review, but found myself more critical of the book than encouraging. Dawkins sets out on a fairly difficult goal to achieve, in that he hopes to persuade readers that it is ok to question their faith and to know that they can leave it behind if they so choose. Having felt that my goals in writing the review would not be met and that I mainly had problems without solutions, I sent my critiques and praise to Professor Dawkins himself and decided to leave them for his perusal alone. Out of this comes the point of this article: to address the points I feel Professor Dawkins may have missed or edited out of his version of The God Delusion.

Dr. Dawkins dedicates a chapter of his book to the 'bothersome' branding of children to one religion or another. He details cases of religious abuse towards children, physically and mentally: from the recent, well-publicized molestation cases of the American Catholic Church, to mental abuse by depriving children of a proper scientific education, to force-feeding them religious propaganda that segregates them from their peers. However, my question was as to why we don't educate the young about religion, rather than trying to convert the old.

Right now it seems that we're trying to convince adults, set in their ways, to abandon a major part of their life, something most likely very important to them and their ego. It reminds me of a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake, in which he discusses a friend of his in World War II who lost his faith. Vonnegut, an atheist, recounts how he was deeply saddened that his friend had lost his faith in God. Not because Vonnegut himself believed God might exist, but because his friend had lost something important to him, despite it being a belief Vonnegut didn't share. Thus, if an adult is convinced to lose their faith, they perhaps may lose an important aspect of their life from which they or their ego may never recover. If not convinced, the adult may react violently against the atheist movement, perhaps setting it back by making sure their children are not affected by such 'blasphemy.' They may institute a religious vendetta. It seems more a Catch-22 than a Delusion.

Might it not be best to promote or mandate in schools that children be educated about all religions (including atheism and agnosticism) so as to let them make up their own minds as to what religion, if any, is best for them? Wouldn't this breed greater tolerance of religious diversity in society, through knowledge of what everyone's religion believes, as opposed to the present 'knowing' that Muslims are terrorists, that the Jews killed the Savior, and that Christians ought to run the United States government?

The largest problem Dawkins (and other authors, like Daniel Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell) face is apathy. Discounting fencesitters who already somewhat question their faith, there are 3 types of faithful: fanatics, waywards, and indifferents. Religious fanatics aren't interested in being right, they are only interested in knowing they are already right. The wayward, haphazardly faithful are religious because they are too lazy to look for answers, and questioning faith and finding the 'right' answers requires work, an anathema. It is easier to believe (or 'know') you are right than to actually know (i.e., prove) it.

However, there lies a third, albeit extremely rare, breed of faithful (of whom I have met only a handful in my life): the profoundly faithful that care not of religion itself (though still practice), but of the goals and morals it can help one achieve. These I call the indifferents. After repeatedly questioning such a friend's religion and faith, wondering how she could believe such nonsense in the face of scientific fact, I received a heartfelt answer which I will never forget. "It's not about religion or belief," she professed, "but what you do with what you believe that matters." And to that, I have no words.
This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 13 - Odds & Ends.
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