I remember discussing Dawkins and Hitchens with a friend a few years ago, and he felt that all of these pro-atheism books were a bit silly and pointless, as they were really just preaching to the choir (so to speak). It is preaching to the choir, but that choir is filled with a lot of people who benefit from hearing this side of the discussion. There is quite a bit of hate and distrust towards atheists out there, and anything gaining popularity that might support those who are feeling alone is a good thing. I live in a part of the world where being an atheist really has no effect on your life at all, but there are still many places where being an atheist could mean losing your job, family, and friends.
Thankfully for us and Dawkins, the religious right roared to life when this was published, and nothing will give you free publicity like poking that particular hornet’s nest. For a while there, it felt like everyone on the Internet and their cyber dog had something to say about the so-called pro-atheism movement. During that period I got really into reading articles and watching debates by prominent atheists, which was interesting at first, but there’s only so many times you can listen to them answer the same questions over and over for people who don’t really want to hear the answers.
One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.
Since I had spent quite a lot of time reading and listening to Dawkins before getting to The God Delusion, I was already familiar with many of the Big Concepts in the book. I feel like I would have enjoyed this a lot more as a teenager or even just a few years ago. I’m so firmly an atheist at this point in my life that I may as well be reading a 400 page book on why flying pink elephants living above the clouds don’t exist. He focuses quite a bit on convincing the reader and repeating key points, for those who are skeptical but confused, and that can be tiresome if you’re already on board with the ideas. To be fair, though, the reason I was so familiar with some these sections, such as why the bible shouldn’t be given credit for developing man’s morality, was that I’d spent so much time already hearing the points he’s made in this book recited during debates and reading his arguments expanded in articles. There’s no disputing the fact that The God Delusion has been an important voice in this age-old discussion the last few years.
There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.
Dawkins does put a little punch into his arguments, and he doesn’t feel we should have to tiptoe around religion, which is maybe why some people find him to be aggressive. These days it’s sometimes seen as a threat just to announce that you’re an atheist. Maybe if we have more discussion, and more prominent outspoken atheists, even if they’re just preaching to their own choirs, that attitude will change.
Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’.
Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe … no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.
— Douglas Adams