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Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 06:59 AM
Robert Pirsig once observed that when one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity; when a lot of people suffer from a delusion, it’s called religion. A delusion is simply the persistence of a belief in spite of contradictory evidence. Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, taking Pirsig’s lead, states in no uncertain terms that religion is a delusion; therefore, everyone who is religious is delusional. But it doesn’t end there, he also clearly asserts that the delusion of religion is a potentially dangerous one; therefore, every single religious person is not merely delusional, she is a threat to others.

I don’t mind being called delusional. That may be true. I have clearly been delusional in the past. There was a time when I believed that a fat man in a red suit brought me presents every Christmas eve. At one point of my life, I believed that a tooth fairy put money under my pillow whenever I lost a tooth. I even used to suffer from a delusion at the start of every baseball season that the Boston Red Sox would win the World Series in spite of over eighty years of evidence to the contrary. Then again, that delusion became fact twice in the last three years. For that matter, the whole Santa and tooth fairy thing turned out to be true as well. I mean, there was no fat guy slinking down my chimney just to leave me presents, but I did get presents–so as far as I’m concerned, there was a Santa–Santa just turned out to be my mom. The same thing is true for the tooth fairy–that also turned out to be my mom. So I wasn’t delusional for believing in those things, I was just the victim of inaccurate descriptions of both.

But I, as usual, digress. Okay, I’ll accept that I may be delusional. What I resent are the twin assertions that I am somehow dangerous and that non-religious persons are neither delusional, nor dangerous. To illustrate how dangerous religion is, he employs the examples of suicide bombers, the crusades, and the nuts who kill doctors in the name of God. In his mind, all religious people are suicide bombers. That’s the end of it. But to use that logic, all scientists must be “mad scientists” because some of them are.

Dawkins’ ultimate goal is to preach the gospel of science and the good news of atheism. A world without religion would be a veritable Utopia. When religion is removed, then there will be no ignorance, not injustice, no violence, no bigotry. In short, life is indeed violent, brutish and short, and religion is the cause of it all. So all we have to do is remove religion and everything will be perfect. Really? I’m starting to think that I’m not the only one who is delusional.

He places his faith in the scientific method, a method based on observation. Fine. What has he observed that even remotely suggests that people will suddenly be nice and value each other once religion is removed? A lion doesn’t seem to exhibit any form of religion that I can see, but that lack of religion doesn’t make behave kindly to the gazelle and treat it with respect and dignity. In fact, my admittedly limited observations of nature suggest to me that the model on which nature is constructed is that of “might makes right.” The lion is more powerful than the gazelle, so it is right for the lion to kill it–who’s going to stop it?

Science invented the atomic bomb, not religion. Science is responsible for global warming, not religion. Science was responsible for the breeding programs that attempted to create a super-race and sought to exterminate those who were deemed “inferior,” not religion. It’s true that people may sometimes wage war in the name of God (and that is sad), but science has allowed them to kill with greater efficiency.

The point is that atrocities are committed in the name of science as well as in the name of God. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not against science and I certainly don’t subscribe to any notion that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Dawkin’s simply wants to take what is best about science and hold it up against what is worst about religion–and that’s just dishonest or woefully naive. He is either unable to believe that there are any positive aspects to religion (which clearly makes him delusional because there is a lot of evidence to the contrary), or he is simply so bigoted against religion that he is unable to acknowledge that people of faith are not suicide bombers and fanatics (which is just kind of sad). If his reliance on science and atheism cannot remove his own potentially delusional thinking, or his clear bigotries, how is he any better off than I am with my own dangerous, bigoted delusion of religion?

As a person of faith, I have helped to clothe people; I’ve purchased Christmas presents for people who would not have had presents; I’ve handed out food in soup kitchens; I’ve built houses in the hollers of Kentucky; I’ve stayed up all night with grieving families; I’ve sat with people dying of AIDS; I’ve taken homeless people to lunch; and these are just the things that pop in my head at the moment. I didn’t do any of these things because I’m inherently a good person or because there’s anything especially noble about me (my natural default setting is that of self-centered jerk). I’ve done all these things in the name of God, who can take a self-centered jerk like me and occasionally allow me to be other-centered and mostly jerk free–and for someone like me, that’s nothing short of a miracle! I mention all these things not to toot my own horn, but offer them as evidence that religion has positive elements. I may be wrong, but I just don’t see myself doing any of these things in the name of science.

People are the problem, not religion. The problem with religion is that it involves people. If we make a conscious effort to get rid of all religion, there will still be problems because there will still be people. If my television doesn’t work right, I can’t blame the tv program for being distorted, and it would be stupid of me to decide that another program will broadcast perfectly across my screen. The televison is, in some aspect, broken. If I want to see the picture clearly, I have to acknowledge that there is a problem with the television and try to fix it. Religion, for all of its faults, at least accepts that the television is broken and is working on fixing the problem. Dawkins and people like him just want to convince us all that all we have to do is turn the knob and change the channel–“Channel 3, 6, 10, 17, and all the rest are distorted, but channel 12 will be perfect.”

So I forgot, which one of us is the delusional one again? It’s me, right?

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