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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Author: Richard Dawkins
As I write this, Richard Dawkins’ book is number nine on The New York Times Best Sellers list and been listed for eighteen weeks. It is unapologetically anti-religion, anti-Christian and anti-God.
Dawkins calls the God of the Old Testament a, “Sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” among other things, none of them nice. Dawkins carefully, thoroughly, argues against all the reasons people believe there is--or even might be--a God. He encourages atheists who are worried about how others might perceive them if they knew they were atheists to “come out” and be proud in precisely the same manner as homosexuals have done. He heartily recommends that those who are unhappy with their religion abandon it without remorse.
He envisions a better, more moral, more rational, more sane future--a world where your God and all other gods are little more than moral fairy tales from a backward time. To “cool up” this notion he (not surprisingly) invokes the John Lennon daydream: “Imagine there’s no religion.”
You may say Dawkins is a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. I had to say that, but it happens to be true. If you haven’t heard, there’s an atheist “movement” going on out there, championed by guys like Dawkins, Sam Harris and Steven Weinberg. There are books, interviews and lectures. On Dawkins’ website there is even a flyer that can be printed (ideal for handing out to “spread the word”) promoting The God Delusion. The flyer says “Imagine No Religion” on it against the backdrop of a pre-9-11 New York skyline, twin towers prominently featured. There is a future “store” promised on the site and I can imagine the T-shirts, hats and mugs with clever little atheist sayings on them. These guys are motivated, they are serious and they want to erase religion from the face of the Earth.
You may think that, as a Christian, I am going to attack Dawkins and condemn his book. You would be wrong on both counts.
His book is well-written, smart, poignant, funny in places and cleverly persuasive (not for the young or immature believer, I would warn). This is a man unequivocally dedicated to what he believes. He’s convinced he has hold of crucial truths that can change individual lives, and all human life, for the better. He wants to share these precious truths with the whole world.
Sound familiar? It should. If you’ve ever met (or been) someone “on fire for the Lord,” this would be an apt description of such a person. Richard Dawkins is a fire-breathing missionary for secular materialism and rationalism. He is the Billy Graham of atheists.
Dawkins reminds us of the evil done in God’s name: the Crusades, the Inquisition, Catholic vs. Protestant violence in the UK, 9-11. He calls our attention to the divisive, exclusivist nature of religion, and the kinds of harsh, ugly bigotry that can be bred in certain religious environments.
If we deny these things, well, then we’re not interested in the truth.
Still, most of we everyday, ordinary Christians don’t see the ultra-scary side of religion that Dawkins so fears. We were not molested by church officials or beaten into submission by mean-spirited parents. We were not encouraged to murder those who oppose our beliefs or told to hate homosexuals. We do not act morally primarily out of fear of punishment or desire for reward; but rather because we delight in serving our Heavenly Father just as a mature child might care for his parents out of love rather than duty. We were been born and raised in the midst of a kind, gentle community of people that prayed for us when we were sick and performed tangible acts of kindness to help us when we were otherwise in trouble.
So this sick, dark world of aberrant demagoguery that Dawkins abhors is a foreign entity to us.
The God Delusion is a book about philosophy and prophecy. Dawkins’ philosophy is that God is a delusion and his prophecy is that a world without God or gods will be a less violent, more humane place.
Two problems right away. Most of the world disagrees with him on the first point and there is no data to establish the truth of his second point. Where is the model of an intentionally irreligious society that deliberately raises its children to be atheists? We don’t have one. Will the absence of religion truly birth future generations of intrinsically more moral human beings? This is not something we know as a fact.
The most serious problem, however, with the philosophy of The God Delusion is that Dawkins’ vision is incredibly unlikely to be universally adopted any time soon. Why? Because his rationalistic non-belief paradigm will not seize the hearts of the vast majority of human beings.
Most of us live in a world where we labor every day (in a field, a warehouse, or an office) to care for ourselves and our family. We work, play, live and die more in need of the hope faith and prayer bring us than the whimsical, poetic possibilities of quantum physics. Our lives contain dark corners of fear, insecurity, ambiguity and sometimes overwhelming emptiness. We are more likely to draw comfort from a sacred book than from beholding the wonder of cell division.
Some outspoken atheists understand this and willingly distance themselves from Dawkins’ preaching. Anthropologist and author Scott Atran is one of these.
Atran says, “…science treats humans and intentions only as incidental elements in the universe, whereas for religion they are central. Science is not particularly well-suited to deal with people’s existential anxieties, including death, deception, sudden catastrophe, loneliness or longing for love or justice.” [http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/atran05/atran05_index.html]
In an atheistic worldview we must believe that the infinitely dense cosmic zygote--the primal invisible seed that contained everything that ultimately unfolded to result in conscious, intelligent, sentient, reasoning, longing, hyper-complex beings like you and I--was uncaused. It just was; sitting out there in oblivion, waiting to become the universe and all biological life. Waiting to become you and I. We must believe that unguided, purposeless forces--mindless matter--conspired to incrementally build the human mind solely through the blind mechanism of natural selection.
Why? How? Why is there something rather then nothing? There is no scientific answer for those questions. Even Dawkins admits this much.
Atheism is a belief system suitable for only a small portion of Earthlings. When Dawkins’ waxes rhapsodic about the marvels of the natural world--a thing which he does often and with great eloquence in another book he authored, Unweaving the Rainbow--he is scratching the surface of his own itch to believe in a higher power even as he vehemently denies there is one. There are many lovely passages in this book regarding the glories of the universe that, as a believer, I found edifying and inspirational. They were much like prayers, atheistic psalms, if you will.
The inhabitants of the modern world owe a great deal to smart men like Richard Dawkins and their predecessors who have taken the simple act of observation and turned it into a fantastic library of critical knowledge. But very few people live in this world of grand discovery. Few will ever peer into an electron microscope or make a study of dark matter.
The God Delusion, then, is an excellent book with conclusions that only a small minority, I predict, will ever fully embrace; yet it is a book that any thinking person could learn a lot from.
If your faith is not rock-solid you may want to avoid this one. If it is you might find it irksome at times yet quite entertaining and enlightening at other times.
I’m giving it