I saw this book in the bookstore months ago and knew that I would be reading it sooner of later but that I was backed up on my reading. Well, yesterday I picked it up and began reading and let me tell you that so far it doesn't disappoint. I've read up to page 23 but already the author, (Richard Dawkins) has made some intriguing points. This will be the first of many posts on the book.
First of all I want to share a great quote from Carl Sagan on the matter of a supernatural "God:"
Carl Sagan put it well: '...if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying...it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.'
This quote pretty much sums up my attitude about and toward a "God." However, I would add the following: My personal view of a "God" is most closely to that of a pantheist (if I have to delve into definitions). I try not to put limits upon such a force. Even though I do not believe in a supernatural "God" I do believe in an Unfathomable "God-force."
I think that such a force is so Enlightened that it is not limited to a permanent body (as my friend David alludes to in my cross-post at my Buddhist blog). That all sentient beings and non-sentient things have a piece of this "God-force" within "their" very DNA and molecular structure. I call myself a "Buddhist" to make it easier for people that think in structured, dualistic 'religious' terms. However, as a "Buddhist" I see that there really is no such thing as a "Buddhist" or "Buddhism" as both are always changing--as are all things according to the Buddha. Being a student of "Buddhism" I promptly looked up "Buddhism" in the index of the book and found this lonely reference.
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 but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.
I do not believe in a "God" that can be conceivable to the average theist either and I would submit that Dawkins believes the same. That his belief in science is a 'religion' but as the below quote explains, he purposely does not call himself 'religious' because that word is loaded with centuries of preconceived ideas.
He seems to be a pantheist:
Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs it's workings. ...Pantheism is sexed up Atheism. He then goes on to quote Einstein's religious beliefs and agrees with them: 'To sense behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.' In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever graspable.' But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural.'
James: After reading this quote I sank my teeth into the first, real meaty issue of the book. That being the idea that anything religious deserves an abnormal amount of respect and even a state of untouchability. He gives a couple of great examples regarding this issue:
I have previously drawn attention to the privileging of religion in public discussions of ethics in the media and in government. Whenever a controversy arises over sexual or reproductive morals, you can bet that religious leaders from several different faith groups will be prominently represented on influential committees, or on panel discussions on radio and television. I'm not suggesting that we should go out of our way to censor the views of these people. But why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise comparable to that of, say, a moral philosopher, family lawyer or a doctor?
James: This is an excellent point. Abortion for example is a medical issue and not a religious issue. Sure religions have a right to be against abortion but why should a religious belief influence our laws that are supposed to be independent from any religion? Especially if we believe in a separation between church and state? Religions have a right to be free from governmental imposition of beliefs but the government has a right to make decisions based on science, reason and sociological data rather then on faith, based on what an arguable, mythical, "man in the sky" tells us to belief or do. History has tried many, many times to run government by religion and it has made a serious mess of things. That was one of the major reasons that the American revolution took off and was so successful. If religious groups are going to be invited to discuss and decide major government and political issues then they should lose their tax exempt status.
Here's another weird example of privileging of religion. On 21 February 2006 the United States Supreme Court ruled that a church in New Mexico should be exempt from the law, which everybody else has to obey, against the taking of hallucinogenic drugs. Faithful members of the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal believe that they that they can understand God only by drinking hoasca tea, which contains illegal hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine. Note that is sufficient to believe that the drug enhances their understanding. They do not have to produce evidence. Conversely, there is plenty of evidence that cannabis eases the nausea and discomfort of cancer sufferers undergoing chemotheraphy. Yet the Supreme Court ruled in 2005, that all patients who use cannabis for medical purposes are vulnerable to federal prosecution (even in the minority of states where such specialist use is legalized). Religion, as ever, is the trump card. Imagine members of an art appreciation society pleading in court that they 'believe' they need a hallucinogenic drug in order to enhance their understanding of Impressionist or Surrealist paintings. Yet, when a church claims such an equivalent need, it is backed by the highest court in the land. Such is the power of religion as a talisman.
James: This is going to be a great book.