Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Religiously Biased Thoughts on The God Delusion #1

I have been reading through Richard Dawkins’ best selling book The God Delusion. Why did I decide to read a book by the leading face of atheism? One reason I thought it was important for me to read The God Delusion is because I know that it has been a book which has influenced a few of my friends, and so I really needed to know what Dawkins writes in order to have conversations with them. A second reason I am reading the book is because this summer I am doing a class on doubt and faith, and I thought it was important to think through some different objections to faith and God.

One positive thing I can say about the book is that Richard Dawkins is easy to read. I read 222 pages of the paperback edition in two days, and that was with taking time to think through a few things. Which is another positive of the book is that it does move you to consider why you believe what you believe. So I don’t consider my time spent reading the book a waste, but in some small way it has actually been beneficial.

That in no way means that he presents a convincing argument. There has been no point in the book, and I have already read through his “irrefutable argument” for God’s probable non-existence, when I thought my faith in God was threatened. I have found enough holes in his argument to make me doubt his conclusion. What I hope to do over the next few days is to draw your attention to some of these holes.

The first “hole” that I encountered was when Dawkins moves to talk about how the United States was founded as a secular nation (pp. 60-68, paperback edition). In a sense he is correct. The United States was founded as a secular nation because the government is by the people and for the people and not by the church for the people. The nations of Europe had experienced years of problems because the church got involved in government, which is never a good mix. The settlers in America wanted to escape those problems, and were very intentional about making sure that there wouldn’t be that same kind of unhealthy mix in the new country they were creating.

Where Dawkins misses the boat is that the founders believed in the fundamental right of religion. One way we can see this belief (even though a handful of the founders were deists) is in the proclamation of God in the founding documents and on the monuments of the revolution. These men, even the deists, believed that our rights were given to us by God almighty and that shaped the type of government they created.

A second way we see that the founders believed that religion is a fundamental human right is the fact that it is the very first right mentioned in the Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were added to protect the fundamental rights of people from the power of the federal government. The first amendment, which we often associate with the freedom of speech reads; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” It is my suggestion that the founders believed in the absolute necessity of religion for successful existence of the country they were creating. Just as freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and petition are crucial elements for a strong a free society, so is the proper expression of religion. Consider what John Adams said:
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."


One can see the difference between a government created for a moral and religious people and government created on the basis of Enlightment principles is by looking at the outcomes of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. It seems to me that the founding fathers of the United States understood the value of religion in the lives of the country’s citizens and that is one of the factors that shaped this great nation.

On page 67 of The God Delusion Dawkins suggests that the founding fathers “would have been horrified” by the current political climate. He is absolutely right about that, but not for the reason he thinks. The founders would not be horrified because politicians invoke God and morality in arguing that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between a man and a woman. They would be horrified because the enormous and abusive power the federal government now has. It is not religion that would bother them, but how we have wasted the great gift they gave to us.

1 comment:

Sverige said...

The new atheists are doing something that many are not: saying the important things that need to be said without fear of who thinks ill of them at night. The God Delusion is a powerful testament to rationality, evolution, and secular ways of living that have not only defined society, but define what reality should look like