Atanu Dey On India's Development

Dawkins: The God Delusion

Reading on a lazy Sunday afternoon is a luxury that I look forward to eagerly. Authors that I have special regard for, I read slowly and deliberately. I value not just the ideas but also how they are presented. So it was with particular relish that I curled up with today’s book “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. He is a master craftsman constructing elegant arguments that are a delight to behold. Here are some excerpts, for the record.

Dawkins’ endearing description of the god of the Bible as a “delinquent psychotic” warms the heart of a non-monotheist such as yours truly. In the second chapter, “The God Hypothesis,” he writes (pg 31):

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

But Richard, why don’t you stop beating about the bush and tell us what you really think of the Biblical god? :) He continues:

Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror. A naif blessed with the perspective of innocence has a clearer perception. Winston Churchill’s son Randolph somehow contrived to remain ignorant of scripture until Evelyn Waugh and a brother officer, in a vain attempt to keep Churchill quiet when they were posted together during the war, bet him he couldn’t read the entire Bible in a fortnight: ‘Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud “I say I bet you didn’t know this came in the Bible . . . ” or merely slapping his side & chortling “God, isn’t God a shit!”‘ Thomas Jefferson — better read — was of a similar opinion: ‘The Christian God is a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.’

Dawkins begins the section titled “Monotheism” (pg 37) with a quote from Gore Vidal’s essay on the evil of monotheism. He quotes Vidal:

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal — God is the Omnipotent Father — hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.

Dawkins is mainly arguing against the conception of god as advanced by the monotheistic religions:

The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, and the clear ancestor of the other two, is Judaism: originally a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his chosen desert tribe. During the Roman occupation of Palestine, Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus as a less ruthlessly monotheistic sect of Judaism and a less exclusive one, which looked outwards from the Jews to the rest of the world. Several centuries later, Muhammad and his followers reverted to the uncompromising monotheism of the Jewish original, but not its exclusiveness, and founded Islam upon a new holy book, the Koran or Qur’an, adding a powerful ideology of military conquest to spread the faith. Christianity, too, was spread by the sword, wielded first by Roman hands after the Emperor Constantine raised it from eccentric cult to official religion, then by the Crusaders, and later by the conquistadors and other European invaders and colonists, with missionary accompaniment. For most of my purposes, all three Abrahamic religions can be treated as indistinguishable. Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be most familiar. For my purposes the differences matter less than the similarities. And I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.

Richard Dawkins is devastating in his critique of the monotheistic faiths and his book will probably be banned in India. So if you wish to have a copy, write to me and I will send it across.

  • praveen

    I will look forward to hearing more on this especially how Indian “religions” are treated in the book, if at all. There are lot of interviews of Dawkins and Harris on http://www.pointofinquiry.org

    I remembered Rajiv Malhotra’s article comparing religions

    http://rajivmalhotra.sulekha.com/blog/post/2004/11/myth-of-hindu-sameness.htm

    PS: Can you add a preview button to your comment editor ?

  • http://wateronlotus.blogspot.com Raghuveer Mukkamalla

    One by Sam Harris on why Buddhism as a religion must be ignored (because it really is a way of life):

    http://mambo.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2903&Itemid=247

    Atanu’s response: Thanks, Raghuveer, for that link. Sam Harris is a favorite of mine. Check him out on pointofinquiry.org also. Here’s quoting Harris from the link above:

    One could surely argue that the Buddhist tradition, taken as a whole, represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced. In a world that has long been terrorized by fratricidal Sky-God religions, the ascendance of Buddhism would surely be a welcome development. But this will not happen. There is no reason whatsoever to think that Buddhism can successfully compete with the relentless evangelizing of Christianity and Islam. Nor should it try to.

  • PQ

    Nonsense…..by Mr. Dawkins…anyone who cares to understand the history of Islam will find that the religion spread more in peacetime…..Morrocco, Indonesia, Malaysia where muslim traders became examples of exemplified behaviour….It is not monothiesm that has brought about the ills in society (wanna know what Dawkins has smoked in college ?) …The fear imposed is to keep the masses away from sin and hence the attribute of the Punisher too….Mr. Dawkins will not be able to answer how come an illiterate man in the desert comes up with a book like the Quran?

    Atanu’s response: Yes, yes, of course, that is why it is called the Religion of Peace, isn’t it? Why just look around, whereever Islam is, there is peace. It’s the Buddhists and Jains with their murderous ideologies that are dangerous.

  • Sameer

    Mr. Dawkins will not be able to answer how come an illiterate man in the desert comes up with a book like the Quran?

    Have you even read the Koran. The book is full of exhortations to kill the infidels. No wonder an illiterate man in the desert came up with it.

    Oh wait! that’s not true… no “man” could write the Koran… it is the literal word of god!

  • Sameer

    “The God Delusion” is a great book. I found the chapter on the “moral zeitgeist” – about morality and how moral behavior might have evolved really interesting. I look forward to more of your thoughts on the book.

    I will look forward to hearing more on this especially how Indian “religions” are treated in the book, if at all.

    Regarding how he treats Indian religions – he defines the “God hypothesis” as any “supernatural” entity which supposedly answers our prayers, reward us for “good” behavior and punishes us for “sin”. So in that sense it really encompasses a majority of Hindus, since the notion of God in contemporary Hinduism does match the above definition quite well. (this is irrespective of the number of Gods you believe in).

    There is however a line of thought in Hinduism which treats the Brahman as the base of all creation. The Brahman is not concerned with petty human problems. It just IS! everything else is governed by the laws of nature and human life particularly is governed additionally by the law of Karma. This “variant” of Hinduism – even though it believes in supernatural elements – does not quite fall into the God Hypothesis.

    Buddhism ofcourse reject any permanant substance such as soul or Brahman or God.

  • HK

    As an atheist I couldn’t help but notice how people immediately rushed to the defence of their respective religions. My prophet was a gentleman, my gods are not bad, my religion is not in the book, yada yada.

    What I find amusing here, is Mr Deys insistance that the book is mainly a critique of monotheistic faiths. Not that there isn’t any, but viewed in a larger context, Dawkins words are targetted at the dadagiri of religious institutions, their clashes with science and the ignorance of not only the masses but of academics as well. As he mentions in the very first chapters, the book
    “is intended to raise consciousness – raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one.”
    What purpose does it serve to quote chosen passages to make it look more like a bible basher than a deep study of the control and influence religion commands over people these days ? To summarize it as a critique of monotheistic religions is a travesty, in the very least.

    Atanu’s response: HK wrote “What I find amusing here, is Mr Deys insistance that the book is mainly a critique of monotheistic faiths.” I suppose that HK would find it even more amusing when he finds that Dawkins himself insists that he is mainly addressing the “God” that is represented by the monotheistic faiths.

    I am discussing a book that I like on my blog. The purpose is basically to convey my point of view. I find monotheism abhorrent and that is why I am quoting Dawkins as he appears to share my distaste for the monotheistic god. Yes, I choose the passages to quote. You may choose different passages from different books. If you read the post, you will notice that nowhere have I claimed that it is a summary of Dawkins’ book. That summary is really unnecessary as the first chapter pretty much lays out what the book is all about. The rest of the book is mere elaboration.

  • http://pb-intel.blogspot.com/ Nath

    From what I’ve read of Richard Dawkins, his recent efforts (while well-intentioned) are quite counter-productive. This is unfortunate; I don’t ever recall hearing him say anything I’d disagree with. In fact, he seems to just state the obvious in such a way as to offend as many people as possible. The result of this is that most people who agree with him applaud him, while people who disagree with him simply further cement their existing delusions.

    Atanu’s response: I don’t suppose you see the irony in what you wrote? You don’t find what he says objectionable. What you fault him for is how other’s react to his point of view, that is, they get offended. It is time to grow up a bit, don’t you think, when telling it like one sees it causes one to feel offended?

    The worst part is that those who feel offended at the stoke of a pen are usually over zealous in their criticism of others. In fact, their criticism takes the form of inflicting violence on others, not merely debating the point. This point has also been made in the introductory chapter of the book. Read it sometime.

  • DP Chalasani

    Hi Atanu,

    I share your abhorrence for monotheistic religions. In fact, I dislike any form of organized religion. I am sure you are aware of the intelligent design theory and all the noise about evolution doing the rounds in the US; I find that amusing in a way, that all that should be happening in the most scientifically advanced country!

    You might be interested in this web site http://www.randi.org if you are not already aware of it. Also check the TV series on HBO by the magicians Penn & Teller. I am convinced they will warm your heart too on a lazy sunday afternoon.

  • http://pb-intel.blogspot.com/ Nath

    What you fault him for is how other’s react to his point of view, that is, they get offended.

    I don’t think you understand my objection. I would have no problem at all with Dawkins going around offending people, if doing so had no further consequences.

    Dawkins’ objective, as far as I can tell, is to introduce a little more sanity into the world by bringing more people over to his point of view. Unfortunately, the way to do this is not by offending people who disagree him. Offending them makes them less receptive to the ideas he’s trying to promote.

    In other words, even though it’s the people who are taking offence who are to blame (if you find the distribution blame a useful pastime), it is Dawkin’s (very worthy) cause that is being hindered. There’s not much point telling it like you see it if doing so damages your cause; a little more strategy is required.

    If I’m still not making myself clear, perhaps we should continue this discussion over email. I wouldn’t want to spam your blog.

  • http://valluvar.blogspot.com shiv

    The purpose of all religons is to impose mass control and conformance to a moral code that is appropriate for the populance. While it is true that more people have been slaughtered in the name of god, but for the concept of a divine leveller, more people whould have probably have been.Humans, however rational behave like colony organism’s when viewed at 30,000 ft. Ultimately the temporal and spritual outlets have to be controlled… Concider growing a beard and starting one, its very lucrative and a great ego boost. After all not many people know that Sri Sri is the biggest ITC agarbatti dealer in India :)

  • samxadams

    Nath,

    Dawkins aims to convert agnostics into atheists; he is not interested in converting the deeply religious.

    Here is a youtube video along the lines of your comment and Dawkins’ response: http://youtube.com/watch?v=LEl4QfcAK2o

    There are a number of videos on youtube where Dawkins reads from his books and participates in Q&A’s.

  • http://www.lifeandsomething.blogspot.com Gaurav

    Dawkins is the most overrated celebrity of the moment, I hope to write something called The dawkins delusion, sure it will be shit, but there is a big enough market of dawkins hater to make it a bestseller

  • http://pb-intel.blogspot.com/ Nath

    samxadams: thanks for the video. If that is his objective, perhaps his book is a reasonable way to achieve it. (Well, if you want to be pedantic about the definitions, all agnostics are already atheists and Dawkins is technically an agnostic. But that’s another debate — and an even more futile one.)

    However, if this is the case, he is counter-productive against the more important goal of weakening the extremists’ resolve. Agnostics are not a particularly dangerous group of people (at least not with respect to their agnosticism). Even if he does strengthen the scepticism of a few agnostics, the cost of his doing so is that a few religious people are further entrenched in their views.

    Can the devoutly religious change their minds? Yes, occasionally. I’m sure we all know one or two who have done so. But what’s more certain is that the devoutly religious can turn into the homicidally religious if you prod them the wrong way — and that’s something Dawkins should perhaps give more consideration to.

    (Bertrand Russell is one person who’s written some essays on the subject I’d consider effective. Some of them are here.)

  • Praveen

    I think more people in the world know Shilpa Shetty than Dawkins. Anyway I would prefer to have more overrated scientist celebrities than there are at present. One can argue endlessly about what is the correct method. I don’t think it is possible to change peoples views on religion in a major way since these tend to be deep-rooted. I think what Dawkins and others are doing will give a new perspective to young people who are not yet indoctrinated in any dogma.

  • rishi

    Here if somebody says something it only becomes unlawful or worthy of censorship if other people object to it. Or more accurately if it creates a “law and order problem”.

    A “law and order problem” can be created by one or 10 people running around with knifes, irrespective of the content of the work. This is tragic.

    What is doubly tragic is that people feel that they can protest and get something banned, if it offends them. I am all for protests, but both points of view must be put across.

    The arbitrary “law and order” rule must be removed and replaced with a more objective definition dealing with the content of the material. Something like the First Amendmendment in the USA. Unless the citlzens of our contry demand this, in law, such outrages shall continue.

  • Test

    One must distinguish between what’s in the books versus how the majority actually practice it. Koran may insist on stoning adulterers to death but the vast majority of muslims here in the US or in India or anyplace else will let the courts step in if the plaintiff files a complaint for divorce on basis of adultery. Hinduism/Vedas/Upanishad/whatever will insist that the Brahmin shall not cross seven oceans, and wake up at 5am in the morning and perform sandhyavandam. The vast majority of brahmins including myself, as per this strict definition of brahminism, are not brahmins at all. We are vaishyas, if you will. We trade our skills for cash from firangis. We obtain visas & cross oceans and rarely wake up before 7, rarely sport the sacred thread, eat chicken nuggets at McDees and so on. ( Right here some smartalec Malhotra disciple will interject that Hinduism does not insist on not eating nuggets or doing sandhyavandanam. Well, nor does it insist on free trade for that matter :) Vast majority of Christians are pro-choice though the bible is pro-life.
    Basically, Dawkins is on a foolish quest because the vast majority of theists are too busy doing laundry, getting milk for tomorrow or mowing the lawn or paying schoolfees or computer coding or whatever else they do to put bread on table. Vast majority of theists don’t give a shit about religion. Vast majority of atheists, and agnostics as well, are similarly occupied. Btw Dawkins is also occupied in churning out these nonsense books at regular interval to make some $$$, which btw is the only true religion.

    Atanu’s response: Jeebus Christ! This is so flawed that one does not even know where to begin to address it. So I will just let it be for everyone to read and marvel at the sheer incoherence of the argument.

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  • geetha

    hi
    i am a fan of Dawkins.
    i was searching for dawkins in blogs and happened to see ur blog.
    his books, Climbing Mountain improbable and Unweaving the rainbow are real classics on evolution.
    try them
    geetha

  • CJ22

    Selectively quoting TGD to point fingers at other religions while being smug about your own is bizarre. Dawkins says time and again that he targets the Abrahamic religions more because he knows the most about them. TGD is an indictment of faith without evidence, of superstition, dogma and irrationality. If you think your religion is in any way immune from that, then you ARE deluded.

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