Thursday, April 30, 2009

Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion *****

You know how they always say, "The truth will set you free"? And how usually when they're saying it, it has to do with being a Christian? The Protestant notion that simply having faith and hope will get you into heaven, and you don't have to worry any more about anything? Well, quite ironically, I had that feeling as I read Richard Dawkins' 2006 tour-de-force, The God Delusion.

When I finished the book, all of my questions were not answered (not that I expected them to be) but I still felt as if some kind of warm relief had washed over me. That my distrust in American religiosity is not unfounded or unshared. Not just by opinion--every idiot on earth has an "opinion"--but on well-researched, rational, scientific fact and theory. To agree with the angry hippie down the street is one thing, but to be able to read Dawkins' words and find yourself slowly nodding along with each of his arguments is another thing entirely.

Some would peg me as pretentious for such an act, as they similarly railed on Dawkins when he published the book three years ago. But to them he would no doubt argue that he is only self-assured, like someone reasoning that 2 plus 2 is 4, while everyone else is positing that it, in fact, equals carrot. A light of reason in an otherwise ridiculously misguided and harmful atmosphere of self-inflicted stupidity. The same critics took umbrage with his words, claiming them harsh and mocking, but I can't help but think that the man just knows exactly what he wants to say and refuses to pull any punches. Sure, he's a jerk. But wouldn't you be, if you were certain that the answer to a worldwide epidemic was staring everyone right in the face and they still ignored it?

Of course, that's the other argument: that what Dawkins spends the 464 pages of The God Delusion arguing is just plain wrong. Those with such an argument are almost certainly in the camp of Didn't Actually Read It. An atheist reading the book would have his beliefs confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt, and a lost, pseudo-religious fence-sitter like myself would (and did) have his faith shaken to the core and all but completely broken down by it. But even deeply religious people that read the book with as open of minds as they can manage will come out of it changed in one way or another. It is that well-written and that well-argued. And funny to boot.

But what it is most is enlightening. Even if you disagree with him from almost every angle, Dawkins gives you an opportunity to look beyond what information has been passed down to you and look at it in an altogether new light. Without waxing too spiritual, the freeing experience you can have through the book is the mental equivalent of skydiving. The evidences of truth that can be found in The God Delusion allow you to shrug off fear of a Cosmic Surveillance Camera, watching your every move and just waiting to punish you for making a mistake. It can alleviate the parnoid threat of karma coming eternally back to bite you in the ass. It even lets you forget about whatever belief you hold and fear that everything around you is wrong--or worse yet, that you are the one that is wrong. Because, chances are, it probably doesn't matter in the end at all. And I mean literal chances: there's a lot of talk about statistics in this book.

For me, it not only gave a differing view on religion, but it really got me thinking, and--if it's not too terribly cheesy to admit--it sorta kinda really mighta changed my life. Or at least some of my core values and opinions. Though "change" might not be the right idea. More, "Strongly Encouraged Heading in a Philosophical Direction I'd Been Mulling Over for Quite Awhile," perhaps. Disappointingly, Dawkins doesn't wander into discussions of theoretical fourth-dimensional planar beings and an existence of a "god" thereby as I hoped he would, so I can't discard my last twenty-odd years of spirituality completely. But it's certainly turned me around on Christianity. Hoo-boy, has it ever. Far more than I thought it would a few years ago when Mark Rawlings bought multiple copies to hand out to people. Now I understand why. I don't have the money to do that myself, but I've got a list of people to whom it is being loaned for probably the next few years.

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