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The God Delusion    by Richard Dawkins Amazon.com order for
God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins
Order:  USA  Can
Houghton Mifflin, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Dawkins' latest book is as brutal and honest as its title, and those uncomfortable with having their faith and beliefs gravely challenged may want to skip The God Delusion. Its author hopes for everyone to read his book with an open mind, whether devoutly religious, agnostic or atheist. Having an open mind is actually one of the New Ten Commandments Dawkins cites.

The book opens with a chapter on the god hypothesis, in which Dawkins talks about the idea of a god through history, and discusses how we are now in an era where medicine and science have come such a long way from the days of thinking the world is flat, balancing the humors, and believing in a demon or god causing every catastrophe. And yet religion remains stagnated in men's ideas from thousands of years ago. As the book progresses, Dawkins seems to grow more impatient with religion and its wholehearted certainty in a book and a god.

He does an impressive job of defending different stances on science, always providing the evidence a facet, he says, that religion is lacking. One point Dawkins makes that I really found fascinating was his evolutionary explanation for the existence of religion, as a component of very early societies that helped unite communities and keep them working together. He looks back to the time when there was a shift from nomadic hunting and gathering societies to settled communities, that started farming, large scale food production, and ultimately led to developments in technology, writing, law, art and so on.

After this, Dawkins tackles the question of morality, emphasizing strongly that this should be kept separate from religion and not considered one and the same. For example, Dawkins says that the Bible is full of murder, rape, fratricide, torture as a book on teaching how to lead good lives, it has a very strange way of trying to do that. He goes back to consider Cro-Magnon days, with basic survival at stake. He posits that this was when we began to develop a sense of morality, because in being good to others, families and groups were formed, which helped improve chances of survival. If we'd stuck to stealing and killing, we wouldn't have lasted past that first winter.

Dawkins also addresses the inclusion of children in their parents' religion without their consent: they're Protestant children, or Muslim children, or Jewish children, even though in all likelihood they are far too young to comprehend what this label means. Children of heavily religious and fundamental families aren't given a choice. One of the most horrific practices I read about in The God Delusion are so-called Hell Houses, where children usually twelve-year-olds, are taken through a labyrinth of horror revealing the sins of sex before marriage, homosexuality, and abortion, and what happens in hell if any are committed. A cast of actors rehearse these scenes to create the greatest sense of terror in the children yes, there's even a tall and scary looking man playing the part of Satan.

At the beginning of the book, Dawkins seems open to a modernized form of religion. However, by the end, he is fuming over the many pitfalls of existing religions, especially where they cause pain and suffering to others. Dawkins hopes for readers to contemplate his views along with the evidence, and then to make an informed decision on their beliefs. The existence of a god cannot be proved or disproved, Dawkins says, but he feels it likely that there isn't one. He gives an example of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and asks if rumors of a Flying Spaghetti Monster had started thousands of years ago, might some of us be believing in this pasta god today?

While Dawkins didn't set out to enrage people, with the title and content of this book, such a result was inevitable. Yet, I respect both Dawkins and the publisher for having the courage to put this book on the shelves - and since its publication, The God Delusion has spent many weeks on bestseller lists across the U.S. - which speaks for itself.

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