The Daily Bongo

The God Delusion

Ever since I was a child, I have had a questioning mind. I always wanted to know how things worked, and why people thought the things that they did. If anyone told me something, I wanted proof. It was difficult for me to except that you had to believe in things without proof because it seemed to me that if it actually worked, someone should be able to show me why. You can see where this is leading. One of the biggest issues that requires blind faith and acceptance without any scientific proof is the existence of God. When I was a child, I questioned the existence of God. I also questioned the Biblical stories that I was told and the rules and regulations of being a good Catholic. I started with the very first story of Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve had two children, Cain and Able, and Cain killed Able, where did everyone else come from? The answer from everyone was that the Bible contained stories that were not supposed to be taken literally. They were allegories that were to give us general guidance on how to think and act. The problem that my parents had is that once I was told that, I asked why the whole bit about God wasn't just an allegory. Why did it have to be actual fact? I started to see quite a few similarities between God and Santa Claus--and I knew that Santa was a fictional character. The key points were that both could watch us and know if we were good and bad. Both would punish bad while rewarding good. Needless to say, my parents weren't very happy with my questioning the existence of God. In my early teens when I proclaimed that I was an atheist, there was quite a good deal of consternation in my family. One aunt actually wanted to put holy water on my head to see if I would burn. That's when I realized that people who blindly followed their God immediately assumed that those who didn't were evil or doomed to hell fire. Heaven forbid that one be Godless but still capable of having a moral code.

Richard Dawkins looks at the issue of God in his new book The God Delusion. Dawkins' previous books have covered the topic of evolution and skirted around the issue of religion, especially in the role that it plays with the Creationists. In the God Delusion, Dawkins concentrates on the belief in God and its origins. He also discusses how religion, especially extremism, but not limited to it, can be a bad influence on culture. After all, it is the name of religion that wars have been started. Dawkins looks at the origin of the belief in a God and addresses the most common themes. Religion gives a person comfort. There is someone looking out for you, and life is ever lasting. One of the things he wonders is if there is a gene that makes people more prone to religious belief and wonders if the gene was something that evolved over time to become stronger. As Dawkins says, the belief is something childlike in a way, and the human animal is one that in comparison to other mammals, maintains juvenile features. Adult man looks more similar to a young chimp than an adult chimp. With a gene that predisposes us to religious belief, it's not surprising how it has established such a strangle hold on our culture.

The question that everyone asks is why are we here if there is no God? How could life be possible if some supremely intelligent being didn't make it so? The question that Dawkins mentions is the same as mine. If life is so impossible without a supreme being, then who is responsible for the supreme being? I could never understand that logic. When I would ask who created God, the response is always that you just have to believe. Well, why can't you just believe that matter and the laws of physics exist? After all, we are in a matter filled universe. There is matter all around us. I can see matter. I can prove laws of physics. I can't see a God or prove his existence. I find it every hard to just accept something just because others tell me to do so. As some would say, it is best to take Pascal's Wager which is a way to hedge one's bet. Basically, you say that you believe in God because if there is a God, you have ticked him off by saying he doesn't exist. If there isn't a God, you haven't lost anything because then nothing does happen when you die. The thought is that it is better to believe than not to believe because of what you stand to lose if you are wrong by not believing. As with Dawkins, I don't think that God would buy such a petty scam. Don't you think that a God would know that you are fudging it when you proclaim belief? Also, don't you think that a God would understand a questioning mind? After all, if a God exists, and if God did create me, then didn't he create me to be a questioner? I would say so.

As with my aunt who wanted to pour holy water on me, the question that some religious folks have is that someone who doesn't believe in a God can't be a moral person. We are all evil people who have no moral code, and who would do sell our souls, and our neighbor's too if we had the chance, to the Devil. Just as I don't believe in a God, I don't believe in the Devil. I do believe in a Golden Rule. I treat others with respect and good will because I would like to receive the same in return. I know that doesn't actually happen in real life, but that doesn't stop me from reminding myself that doing a good deed, or lending a helping hand, makes me feel good. I do good because it's what one should do, not what a religion demands of me. I'm sure that most who don't believe in a God would agree with me on the morality issue. Belief in a God doesn't make a person more moral than anyone else.

My favorite section of the book covers the God of the Bible. Dawkins reminds us of the stories in the book that show a God who isn't always kind towards others. Abraham is ready to sacrifice his son for his God. Lot was ready to turn over his two virginal daughters to a crowd of men who would have raped them to save the Angels that are visitors in his house. God then punishes Lot's wife for the misdeed of turning around to look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Doesn't it seem that the God illustrated in some of the Old Testament stories was close-minded and a tyrant? I know that when I was a child I used to say that if that was the God you wanted me to follow, I would rather not. God in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) was not the nicest fellow, and he really didn't seem to think much of women. The reason for that is probably that men wrote the stories of the Bible, and in the time the stories were written, women weren't thought of very highly.

Would I recommend The God Delusion to others? I would indeed. The book is well written and not very difficult to read. Dawkins does a good job of making one think of what religion is, and what effects it has on society. Would we be worse off if we didn't have religion to guide us? It's an interesting philosophical question. However, I think that only those who are also questioners of the existence of God will enjoy the book. Those who are religious might not like having their beliefs assailed. Dawkins admits that he does get a good amount of hate mail from readers who believe that Dawkins will burn in hell. Open your mind, and give the book a read. You might find yourself thinking about your believes instead of just believing them.

January 26, 2007