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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

By Jen K. | Books | February 15, 2010 |

By Jen K. | Books | February 15, 2010 |

When I was in Iraq, one of the soldiers I got along with best was an atheist, and since I had a similar irreverent attitude towards religion, he assumed that I was also an atheist. Except I was still rather hesitant to use that label at that point in time, and even ended up writing a rather extensive post about it.

The reason I originally turned away from religion had very little to do with my political beliefs and very much to do with the fact that I found church and the sermons boring. Comments like “Jesus loves you” just irritated me, and the idea of Christianity as taught in America when I first moved back in 8th grade seemed way too goody two shoes for me (in Germany, it was just repetitive and boring). From this boredom and disdain, I eventually also started analyzing organized religion and seeing the way people behaved in the name of God, and it just turned me off even more from the concept.

Now, I definitely consider myself a non-believer, though occasionally I’ll notice myself accidentally doing things from habits as a child — I will still cross myself with holy water when I enter a Catholic church though I enter them now purely as a tourist. Occasionally, I still think in my head, “please God, don’t let this happen” or “please help me with this test/etc” before remembering that I’m not actually addressing anyone. When I walk into a particularly beautiful and well-constructed church, I will occasionally think if anything could make me believe in God, it would be this, before rationally reminding myself that God didn’t build the church - humans did, sometimes inspired by him, but nonetheless, it was a human that designed and built the church and painted the paintings and made the sculptures. If anything, the buildings then reaffirm my faith in humanity. And as much as religion may occasionally irritate me, anything that inspired and financed anything that beautiful can’t be all bad (although as Dawkins points out, what might they have made if they hadn’t been spending all their time on church stuff — I guess I just have a hard time thinking of what may have taken the place of a church and had the money and power to create all that if religion hadn’t existed).

I enjoyed The God Delusion quite a bit, although I think that may be because I already agreed with a lot of the things he said. Some of the chapters dragged on a bit I felt, but maybe that was due to a case of preaching to the choir. However, I don’t think this would be enough to change anyone’s mind. Anyone open to this book probably already has some doubts or agrees with Dawkins and is simply looking for a more articulate way of expressing themselves and supporting their arguments. He even used an example of a geologist who was both religious and studied geology, only to give up geology (at least the way he had been taught) because the two conflicted. While many scientists have been able to reconcile their faith with their work, this is a problem for some in the States where many tend to read their Bible literally.

While Dawkins briefly addresses other religions, he focuses on the big three, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, since he expects most of his readers to fall into one of those categories or at least be familiar with them. In his first few chapters, he discusses some of his issues with religion, and the fact that it is treated in such a respectful manner — that is, religion is used to excuse many actions that would otherwise be frowned upon. He also discusses the idea of faith and how very little that comprises religion has any base in reason. All these chapters were well-set up and provided good background.

I felt like Chapter Four dragged on way too much, though. In this chapter, Dawkins discusses why the idea of intelligent design and a supreme being is ridiculous — as crazy as the idea is that life suddenly developed through a chemical reaction, it makes much more sense. After all, in this theory, life began as something very simple and over billions of years, developed into something much more complex and varied. If there were a supreme being, that would mean something incredibly complex existed and developed from nothing which is much more far-fetched. As I said, I felt like he drove his point into the ground but that’s also because it made sense to me, and I agreed with his assessment.

I loved the rest of the book, which involved quite a bit of sarcasm and humor while Dawkins analyzed and skewered religion. It really is frightening how much ignorance is continued in the name of religion. Also, the people that are portrayed in the Bible as examples are incredibly flawed, lying and cheating, destroying other cultures for no real reason other than “they were in the way or on the land God promised us.”

My other major problem with the book was in Chapter Nine. In it, Dawkins equates religion with child abuse, and while I definitely agree with the idea that children should be allowed to make an informed decision about which religion to follow or if any at all, some of his statements bugged me:

I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment (356).

Since he said it was “an off-the-cuff remark” I would have been willing to ignore the comment but he pressed the point, and used a woman’s letter to support this idea. I’m sure it depends on the situation — I’ve never been sexually abused, but I also wasn’t raised in a very strict religious household that preached fire and brimstone so I don’t know which one would probably be worse for me. I thought the statement was too sweeping, and disregarded how serious an effect sexual abuse could have on someone.

Overall, I thought it was a well-reasoned book that addressed the problems with religion from a variety of views rather than just science. It is hard to imagine how the world would have developed without religion but it is an interesting question to ponder. Especially in this day and age, it seems that people would be more likely to take a more rational approach to religion — not necessarily getting rid of it all together, but not using it as an excuse to let ignorance reign as tends to be a problem in certain parts of the US.

Also, speaking from a purely military perspective, there are certain ways in which I think religion is helpful. When soldiers have personal problems or other issues that they don’t want to discuss with their leadership, many of them are much more likely to talk to a chaplain than a mental health counselor (there still tends to be a certain stigma attached in the soldiers’ minds to the latter). As a result, I actually support the blending of religion and state in this one instance only, and even there it completely depends on the chaplain — I’ve seen the fire and brimstone variety, and I’ve seen those that really just want to help soldiers and provide some sound advice, independent of religion or God. I just don’t think having a counselor in a battalion would have the same effect as a chaplain.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Jen K’s reviews, check out her blog, Notes from an Officer’s Club

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.