Monday, July 28, 2008
The God Delusion: Review
My English class last semester loved to discuss Richard Dawkins-- Dawkins the fierce and noble scientist, inventor of the meme, cultural critic and genius extraordinaire. This is the Dawkins of "The Extended Phenotype" (1982) and "The Selfish Gene" (1976). But for my first Dawkins-reading experience, I picked up a friend's (signed!) copy of "The God Delusion," which I consider to be a polemic on atheism.
I had my qualms at first. A die-hard atheist in high school, I've grown slightly warmer towards religion in college (although still clearly an unbeliever). My theory, as many secular humanists, was that humanity needs religion to fill the areas of our recently acquired consciousness that we cannot comprehend. Religion is often intertwined with ethnicity and community, and I find nothing wrong with this. But I get overwhelmingly annoyed with religious bigotry, and thus get extremely defensive when somebody claims to "dislike" my ethnicity (one that the clueless call "religion").
"The God Delusion" appealed to my angry side. I read it with relish, although I didn't always agree with the great Richard Dawkins. My criticisms, other than the aformentioned it-is-a-cultural-necessity-incapable-of-being-eradicated argument, are mostly about his tone. His point of view is also entirely scientific, while in the matter of religion it is also necessary to look at atheism from a romantic or artistic perspective. Not everyone is a scientist, but everyone is capable of atheism. Dawkins puts science above all else, which, though noble, is a bit naive.
Also, "The God Delusion" is simply a fun read. Dawkins is surprisingly hip for his years. He even appeared on the Daily Show when the book came out, if I'm not mistaken. And not a chapter goes by without a quote from George Carlin (RIP), Douglas Adams, or the Monty Python crew. I say "fun," but not "funny," although Dawkins does attempt some misguided jokes. But all is well. Dawkins is charmingly British.
There are also some spectacular quotes in the book from renowned atheists, as well as hilarious nerdy references. If anyone ever sees the book, skip to page 85 for a quick laugh (or just find the God Proof section in www.godlessgeeks.com).
To conclude, a quote from a quote of the book, on pages 354-5:
"I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man's place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own."
-Bertrand Russell, 1925