This book had a profound effect on me. I don’t want to pretend it is the singular reason I became an atheist; that was a series of things that had morphed my beliefs as I entered young adulthood. What this novel did was open my eyes to the world of nonbelievers of which I lacked any real knowledge of.
I recall meeting two people in high school once who told me nonchalantly that they were atheist. Of course, they seemed so nice and so normal. I was so confused. I asked why? They had no good reason, so I went on believing. Perhaps, had they actually put thought into what the believe, I would have stopped believing sooner. Sadly, I didn’t. It took a long time for me to appreciate the level of uncertainty and debate around the concept of a god. This novel was a pivotal part of that revelation.
On Goodreads, I rated this 4/5 stars, but I decided not to feature that here because I read it so long ago. I thought this was a good opportunity to share my thoughts on religion and Dawkins as a whole.
The novel worked for me: someone curious about religion, what they believe, and pretty much on the edge of disbelief. I had become a very liberal christian. Public school mixed with the literature I read in school (and on my own) had really began to challenge my perception of morality. More specifically, I was struggling with the idea of evil and the nature of beings influencing their actions. For example, is Grendel (of Beowolf) an evil monster or simply a creature who was doing what he was born to do. His incompatibility with the surrounding village was clear, but that doesn’t mean he should be punished for all eternity. Ideally, he (it?), like a wild animal, ought to have the chance to live on his own, in a way that won’t conflict with the lives of humans.
When I was finally faced with the notion that religion is not the default (in fact, it is an outrageous notion if we think about it) I fell victim to an emotional swapping of sides. It took a great deal of time for me to settle on my final, agnostic atheist position (a disbelief acknowledging ones inability to know) with a gnostic atheism towards specific gods with outright falsifiable claims attributed to them.
That took a long time. I even went through a period of deism (a greater disconnected higher power), and a period of asshole atheism. I am sure there are some who would say I am still that. However, I no longer go out of my way just to get people riled up about religion (usually). That said, I don’t think it’s not my responsibility to “respect” a religion or a religious practice. I am not a member of said religion, so don’t expect me to acknowledge it. That is to say, people get offended by the mere notion that I don’t believe it. If speak ill of their god or religious figures, they take it as a personal attack. I’ll respect your right to practice your religion however you see fit, but understand, me blaspheming Jehovah or Allah is no more immoral than me blaspheming Zeus.
In any case, when I discuss the topic of belief with people, I’ve come to appreciate the problem of religion lies less on theism itself, but rather a lack skepticism and logical way of thinking. It is also easier to address minor things like how someone approaches a problem rather than trying to undermine a fundamental belief. If a person can abide by logical reasoning in everyday life, recognizing their religion is held to a separate, lower, standard, then I am all for it. In practice, I have don’t have much faith in most people to be able to do such a thing. That said, there are some. I know of one scientist, communicator, and skeptic Dr. Pamela Gay is one such person. Even if it is a failed endeavor, the approach is still more likely to do at least a bit of good, if not what I would consider the ideal result.
That is where I think this book fails. It relies so heavily on the emotional side of the debate. Granted, there are some valid points, but atrocities of religion is not evidence against a creator (maybe an all good creator). I would recommend the Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan to most people in search of informative ways of thinking. The ideas and principles of that book should lead you to the same, or similar, conclusion. What’s more, it is a measured approach to pseudoscience and religion.
The last thing I want touch on are the problems with this author. Dawkins is an excellent scientist, but his atheism pushes on racism. There is a difference in attacking the institution than the people themselves. He is also a misogynistic asshole. Perhaps that influenced my own atheistic asshole phase. Overall though, take this work with a grain of salt. Sure, most of what he says is fair, so far as I can remember, but it isn’t the best way of convincing anyone who hasn’t already taken themselves part of the way. Nor does it promote a good approach to handling religion either.