What's the point of it all?
Richard Dawkin's defence, or perhaps proselytization might be a better term, of Atheism in his book, The God Delusion, certainly is thought provoking. Since man first gazed up at the stars, or saw a baby being born, or watched an old person die; we've been asking the same questions. What am I doing here? Where did I come from? How long will I be here? Is this all there is? What happens next?
Richard poses some interesting questions and offers some thought-provoking analysis. He has, predictably, no real answers. We're still waiting for someone to come back from the dead and tell us about it – not counting Jesus, of course. Until this happens, we're all in the same boat. Ignorant. Question is: how do we deal with it? There's a great bit in one of the Indiana Jones films, I think it's the Temple of Doom, where a young accomplice stops a bullet meant for Jones and dies in his arms. His last words are (as I remember): “Into the great unknown, I go first, Indy!” We're all interested in this question.
Perhaps Shakespeare was right (after all, he usually is!!) when he wrote:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Luckily you are free to interpret this as you like it (nice pun that – don't you think?). Perhaps he meant that there are some things we will never know. Dawkin's problem is: if we accept that this is the case, it makes thin material for quite a long book.
The central premise of Dawkin's tirade against organised religion can be summed up quite easily. He believes instead of religion comforting and inspiring people it is the root cause of much that is evil in the world. He proposes that the wars, persecution and intolerance caused by religions greatly outweigh any good they do. He is not content, as he agrees many people are, to silently “tolerate” religion on the grounds that it might be true, could be true, hopefully is true. He insists that we attack the evils done in the name of religion by attacking religion itself.
There is much to commend his thinking. His ideas are substantiated by some incisive “evidence” and speculation – as you might expect from a scientist. Problem is: in attacking religion he is almost as guilty of mysticism and intolerance as the religious zealots he so deplores. He never acknowledges the “slippery slope”he is on by even contemplating the good religion is capable of doing or has done in human history. His entire appeal is negative.
The most interesting part of his analysis is when he speculates on how religions have persevered throughout human history so as to be still with us today. Approaching this apparent paradox from the shadow of Charles Darwin (one of his real heroes!), he is forced to admit that there must be some Darwinian advantage to religious belief – or it would have died out long ago.
From Wikipedia: The final chapter asks whether religion, despite its alleged problems, fills a “much needed gap”, giving consolation and inspiration to people who need it. According to Dawkins, these needs are much better filled by non-religious means such as philosophy and science. He argues that an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying “answers” to life’s mysteries, could never be.
In other words – he cops out – simply unable to admit that there might be any redeeming features in religion at all. He has no answer to his own question – he wonders why humans persist with religion in the face of no evolutionary advantage, but cannot bring himself to admit that there must be some advantage – or religion would have died out long ago.
His unshakable tenet – that religion is the root of all evil is in itself a paraphrase of that well-known biblical injunction - money is the root of all evil. More properly, what it says in Timothy 6:10 is: For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
You might profitably enjoin Richard that it is not religion that is the root of evil – it's the love of religion. This is what causes men to abuse and even kill each other. No world religion that I'm aware of asks followers to kill others because they don't believe.
Most religions preach peace and respect for our fellow men. At Christmas time, it would be good to remember that the world would most likely be a better place if we all followed Jesus' injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves – even, for all his faults, our Mr Dawkins.