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.