I have written in a few times, two I think, and I am always delighted with your responses. I have reciently read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and I was quite impressed with the book, although slightly put off by the fact that he comes off as a little bit of a jerk sometimes, which would certianly turn away any religious reader. I would love to hear if you have read the book and any impressions you recieved.
Also from Dawkin’s book is a quote that has stuck out to me the most, even more since I live in America where religion seems to run free and people will not debate it. The quote was said by Douglas Adams in a speech he made at Cambridge:
“Religion… has certian ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that.
Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe. . . no, that’s holy? . . . We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”
Now I have observed this myself, for sometimes I talk to people with faith and they seem to dodge the questions and try to change the topic. Surely something so important as the eternal destination of your soul and the purpose of living is worth talking and thinking about? Everyone I know with faith, every single one, seems to try their best to not think about it. I would like to say that Atheists are better but that statement would also be incorrect. Most of my Atheist friends are also very closed minded about their beliefs, and will come off as outright jerks. I used to think of Christians as closed minded, but one day I had the an Atheist friend tell me that all Christians should die because “they are stupid and blindly believe” and I had a Christian friend have an openminded conversation in which I discovered two things.
1) Atheists can be just as guilty as Theists for having “faith”
2) Religious conviction does not determine open mindedness. Although I’m sure it helps.
I also read in your blog, a comment made by someone else, that you are writing a book? I am very interested in reading said book when it is completed, let me know some details if you don’t mind indulging me.
Love the site, keep at it.
I haven’t read Dawkins’ book, and frankly I probably won’t. I’ve read some of his writing and I’ve heard interviews with him, and frankly he goes against my grain a bit. I think he leans too much toward the anti-religion side of things, and in the end that may do atheism a disservice in that it is inviting a backlash.
I agree that people should be able to discuss religion just as much as they discuss politics. But then I hasten to point out that there are plenty of people that you can’t have a reasonable discussion about politics with. I also believe that people should be able to treat their religion (or lack thereof) as a private thing and not have to discuss it if they don’t want to. But if they are going to use their religion in a way that impacts others (by trying to pass laws, for example), then they are, I think, morally obligated to explain their position.
Let me comment on part of Dawkins’ quote: “If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that.’” I’d say that Dawkins is comparing apples and oranges here. If someone says “I mustn’t move a light switch” I respect that. But if someone says, “You mustn’t move a light switch,” then that’s something that needs to be discussed. Taxes are a public issue; religion is (in general) a private issue until it is made a public issue. I don’t think that private religious opinions should be open to uninvited public debate any more than should be private beliefs about whether or not your children are cute, intelligent, or talented.
You say, “Surely something so important as the eternal destination of your soul and the purpose of living is worth talking and thinking about?” You are completely correct about this, but I think we run into two problems. First, people are not used to considering their own beliefs in a critical way. Second — and most importantly — I think most people don’t know the difference between “talking about” and “arguing about.” Even in Dawkins’ quote he uses the word argue, and arguing makes most people feel attacked, which makes them more likely to just want to avoid the situation. I find that many, many people — even those who are in the mood to argue — can be brought into a calm, intelligent conversation by someone who insists on discussion and refuses to argue.
You are completely correct that bad thinking and dogma can be found in large amounts in both theistic and atheistic camps. Since you asked about my book, you might be interested to know that this is exactly the problem it is intended to address. In my book I encourage people to examine their own beliefs by asking themselves two simple questions. These questions are a gateway to deep introspection of personal beliefs and philosophy. I firmly believe that if everyone took a good, hard look at their own beliefs, we’d be a long way toward solving any religion-based conflicts.
If you’d be interested in helping with the development of my book, see the little “2Q” sidebar box on my blog. Thanks for writing!