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A look at four recent best-selling anti-God books.


A review of: 'BREAKING THE SPELL - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon', by Daniel C. Dennett. Penguin Books, London, 2007. 448 pages; 'THE GOD DELUSION', by Richard Dawkins. Bantam Press, London, 2006. 406 pages; 'THE END OF FAITH - Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason', by Sam Harris. Free Press, London, 2006. 336 pages; 'GOD IS NOT GREAT - The Case Against Religion', by Christopher Hitchens. Atlantic Books, London, 2007. 307 pages.

Until recently, we unbelievers never felt any need to defend or proclaim our utter lack of faith. For us, religion - all of it - is a cupboard both locked and bare, and is no more an option for us than astrology would be for an astronomer, or witchcraft for a surgeon. In the last three years, however, four authors - the geneticist Richard Dawkins, the philosophers Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, and the journalist Christopher Hitchens - have decided both to denounce the patent absurdity (according to them) of organised religion and to declare the non-existence of god to be a fact of life that is at once desirable and undeniable.
These writers leave no doubt that they have been driven to do this by what they see as the increasing intrusion of religion into both the public and the private sphere, thus holding the most basic freedoms hostage to various unprovable, primitive and often fatuous dogmas. Hardly surprising, then, that beneath the wealth of facts and arguments they offer their readers with the relentless coolness of a professional butler, there runs an undercurrent of fury at the chutzpah of the faithful, which occasionally bursts to the surface in the form of a snide aside (as in Hitchens's go at 'creationist yokels') or bitter sarcasm, such as Sam Harris's raspberry at the Muslim afterlife: '...the most sexually repressive people found in the world today...are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al-fresco bordello'.
Another common element to be found in these books is their diagnosis of the flaws of organised religion: its privileged status, whereby criticisms or jibes that would be considered par for the course if applied to political or personal beliefs, become unacceptably 'offensive' when levelled at faith-based ones; the countless contradictions, textual incongruities and evidence of arbitrary compilation in all the holy books, which make nonsense of the divine authority their respective priesthoods claim for them; the redundancy of religion as a key to the understanding of the world, given that in the time that has passed since the founding of the world's major creeds, science has accurately accounted for everything the scriptures purport to explain in divine terms; and the fact that ethical behaviour, far from being predicated on religion, is an innate human quality that religion has often perverted for its own ends, spurring otherwise decent people to acts of senseless evil.
Similar though these books are on both tone and content, each covers some territory that the others overlook. Dennett, for instance, stresses that, for him, religious belief is a negative spin-off of the positive, genetically-programmed childhood need to both love and obey (it is no coincidence that most believers have their faith inculcated at an early age). Dawkins offers a potted history of the damage religion has caused and is still causing to scientific progress. Harris comes up with a surprisingly heartfelt defence of meditation as an answer to spiritual needs. Hitchens is alone in commenting on the many atrocities committed by Catholic priests in Rwanda and supposedly nirvana-savvy Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
These are serious texts, written by people who knew full well that after publication they would receive the countless death threats they are currently being subjected to. The only objection an atheist reader could make to these books are their very uneven styles. About one third of Dennett's 'Breaking The Spell' consists of long-winded speculative questions. Dawkins switches irritatingly back and forth between US and UK English in his 'The God Delusion'. In 'The End of Faith', Harris piles on anecdote after anecdote with bewildering eagerness. Hitchens punctuates his 'God Is Not Great' with a modesty that is wince-makingly false ('...even a pygmy such as myself can claim to know more...').
The conclusion reached by all of them is that faith is gradually weakening its grip on the human race. As Hitchens puts it: '...the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness'. Religion, in other words, is slowly but surely on its way out, and the current rise of warmongering theocrats in both East and West is the start of its long goodbye. It is up to us, so Dawkins and the others imply, to make sure that it ends not with a bang but a whimper.

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programaciˇ: Nac -