Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Praise Him All Ye Works of The Lord

...or The Lady, or The Thing. I always thought that praising a Supreme Omnipotent Omniscient Creator would be pointless; I mean, such a perfect being would surely number modesty among His/Her/Its ineffable virtues and find flattery unacceptable .

I didn't read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion when it was first published in 2006. There was no need to, I felt, because I had never come under any strong religious influences as a child; I was not taken to church except for social occasions—weddings and so on. At infant school we were instructed to pray and I did so, obediently but not very hopefully, giving it up when it turned out to be totally unproductive. The only clergyman I had ever encountered was a sanctimonious old fool at my secondary school who pathetically tried to teach us something called Divinity.

So when the time came for me to put away childish things I didn't need help in getting rid of them; there weren't many, only my collection of cigarette cards and some rather battered toys; certainly I had no cherished beliefs to be agonisingly re-assessed and perhaps abandoned. Also, I had read that the book was an intemperate rant and that Dawkins was an arrogant bully who gave atheism a bad name, and I feared that reading it might weaken my sincerely held lack of belief.

I should have realised, of course, that any book so vehemently condemned by the Vatican and by American evangelicals was not to be missed, and sure enough when I read The God Delusion the other day I found that Dawkins and his book had been grossly maligned. He writes calmly, lucidly and by and large modestly, sometimes with passion but always with reason, and not without wit.

The other day Dawkins said he was a "Cultural Christian", pointing out that just because he was an atheist he didn't propose abolishing Christmas or Easter or other elements of the Christian culture; he likes singing carols along with everybody else: "If there's any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists." Certainly, religious festivals, even to those who don't care for the religion, do give life a certain rhythm, plus brandy butter and chocolate eggs.

All in all, The God Delusion is a thundering good read. But I'm not sure I would recommend it to those less fortunate than I, who have had to struggle to eradicate their inclination towards superstition and who may still be wondering whether their lives were not simpler when they had profound religious convictions. There are 463 pages in the paperback version, and however wise and salutary its message you might consider some parts of it to be overkill.

Better perhaps to leave it for later, and to look first on the RationalWiki website at Atheism FAQ for the Newly Deconverted, to which I contributed a brief tail-end note pointing out how you can have your residual or former beliefs analysed online by professional philosophers.

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