Reading The God Delusion

I’ve started reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Its been highly recommended to me by a couple of friends, and frequently pops up on various answers on Quora, so I thought I would give it a try. Dawkins says that his aim is to have a theist pick up the book and finish it as an atheist. I thought it it would be interesting to pen down my own views at the start of the book, and see if any of them have changed at the end of the book.

My own position on religion is something like this: I don’t really believe in a personal God who is watching over us and interferes in our affairs and so on. However, my parents are fairly religious, and I’ve been bought up with all the rituals and rites that go with religion. So I’m quite comfortable with those things: praying in a temple, vibuthi, all that sort of thing. I’m also quite comfortable with other people believing in God: if this is something that gives you comfort, more power to you! Each person has the freedom to personally believe in any kind of God they want.

Where it goes bad is when your religion forces other people to do things they would rather not do. Religious fundamentalism (indeed, fundamentalism of any nature) is particularly nasty to deal with.

I think of all the people I’ve met, one person perfectly describes the way in which I view religion. This is Marcus Geduld from Quora, who has extremely clear thoughts on this topic (and a lot of other topics too). Let me quote from one of his recent answers (Marcus Geduld’s answer to Religion: Do you think religion will ever become obsolete?)

If you hang around religious people, you will discover most of them spend little time making truth claims. Yes, such claims are part of their religions, but they don’t (for the most part) sit around telling each other that God makes rain or that He put dinosaur bones in the ground to fool paleontologists. A minority of vocal theists may say things like that when they’re arguing with atheists, but it’s not mostly what they talk about when they’re at home, and it’s not the main role their belief-systems play in their lives.

Religion gives people, amongst other things, a moral system, a form of psychotherapy, a social order, a political order, a means of doing good works, a way of relating to the numinous on a personal level, a way to cope with fears of death, a series of rituals, a means of coping with loneliness, a connection to a web of narratives, and a form of community.

If you have all those needs and want to find meet them with secular systems and institutions, you have to piece something together for yourself. You are unlikely to find an efficient, unified system. Your form of psychotherapy may not slot into place neatly with your communal system and your web of narratives. Maybe you don’t care, but many others do. Meanwhile, there’s Christianity, Islam, Scientology, etc sitting there, offering everything in a streamlined package.

I’ve read the intro to the book, where Dawkins describes what the different chapters will include. I was a little disappointed that a majority of it seems to deal with “truth claims”: disproving claims like God created the world in 7 days, for example. The book seems to deal very little (or not at all, hard to say at this point) with what Marcus talks about above: that religion is more than just about truth claims. While it is true that there will always be people who interpret religious texts literally, I think a much bigger group of people are only marginally attached to the “truth claims” and would not perturbed at all if it was conclusively proved that some major claim of their religion was not literally true.

Dawkins says there are a group of people who say “I am an atheist, BUT.. “: people who are non-believers who make excuses for religion. Perhaps I would fall into that category at the moment. Lets see if the book changes my mind!

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