It’s Rizal Day today, and while I would like to discuss our national hero, I would like to talk about something that is related to the bigger event we are celebrating, which is the holiday season.
I remember this instance wherein I was browsing at a bookstore from months ago. I came across a book called The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins at the Religion section. It sat there slyly, in between different versions of the Bible andOur Daily Bread booklets, which I found intriguing and silly at the same time. Despite its hefty price tag, I bought the copy.
The God Delusion, as the title suggests, asserts that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that the idea of god is a delusion, or simply, a false belief. In other words, the book criticizes religion in its very foundation, which preaches the existence of an omniscient and powerful god or gods. Indeed, it was a renegade among its ranks on the shelf!
But before you hit that close button for whatever reason, please read on to see how this book is worth reading. It doesn’t matter whether you are a believer or otherwise because this book is for everyone. However, I assure you that reading The God Delusion is doubly rewarding if you are a believer. Yes, a believer.
First published in 2006, The God Delusion was written by Richard Dawkins, an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. As an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins’ life work revolves around the subject of Darwinism and human evolution. He is also a staunch advocate of atheism and has already spoken to different speaking engagements around the world sharing the wonders of science.
I first learned about Richard Dawkins during college, so when I was at the bookstore, I already had an idea of what I was getting. But to those who are new to him, again, don’t judge the book by its, ahem, title! If you are up for the challenge, read on…
1. It makes us understand religion even better
As many of us have been raised in a religion, Richard Dawkins is no exception. He used to be an Anglican, or, at the very least, has been brought up in the Anglican tradition, before diverging to atheism. That is why the “god” in The God Delusion usually pertains to the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition, who is the god of the Bible. However, there are also some instances in the book that Dawkins deviate from that in his attempt to entertain every god humanity has ever believed in.
Although the book criticizes religion vehemently, it also tells us many things about our long-held belief of the supernatural. It is apparent that this is not the kind of religious preaching we are accustomed to. Thus, we can say this is a religion class that never made it to the church.
But contrary to what others might think of it being “blasphemous” and “bad influence,” Dawkins tries to rationalize and explain how we were able to arrive at our present belief. He backtracks to the early history of religion and postulates why human invented the idea of god. Moreover, he fervently dissects the “God Hypothesis,” giving various examples across cultures.
For some, this may be a no-no. It is, again, blasphemous and doing it will make us feel guilty or can be a good reason for us to be excommunicated from our religious community. Worst of all, as a believer, we may think this would jeopardize our one-way ticket to heaven sacrificing our everlasting life with the Lord.
But then again, if we really had faith in our faith, then whatever things, good or bad, others tell about our beliefs, it should not be a problem. Looking at different perspectives, even those against ours, is an opportunity to enrich ourselves.
2. It encourages us to think and value evidence
We were told to never question faith, not only because it’s rude but also because they say it is futile. Faith has always been untouchable. We can question and judge others based on political belief or affiliation, philosophy in life, tradition, but never faith.
Why are we so protective of our faith? Why do we condemn those who question our religious belief as manifested by our “Huwag mo na kasing isipin” or “Ganoon talaga”? This is precisely why it has become futile, because we shut the door right away every time somebody questions. We even ascribe stigma to the iconoclasts as if they are the vilest people on Earth.
However, we should admit this practice is lazy. We almost always attribute everything to god’s will. If something good happens, we thank god for the blessing. If something bad happens, we think god has a reason and a plan for us.
At times, it is a good coping mechanism, or even an admirable human quality as we were told to be grateful of what we receive. But to use this “god’s will” excuse all the time is detrimental to our critical thinking skills, creativity and curiosity as embodied by the problematic Filipino characteristic of “bahala na” (“bathala na” or “it’s all up to god”).
Faith has always been a discussion stopper. We can’t argue it because that’s what it is, full stop. But what’s more saddening about it is that it sometimes shrouds good judgment. Although there is strong evidence that says otherwise, we still choose to hold on to that belief. And I am not just pertaining to religious beliefs. The same can also be contextualized to other things like Philippine history. Many Filipinos argue citing Republic Acts, the Constitution and statistics, and yet, many still choose to condemn, deplore and reject.
3. It teaches what human evolution is and how it works
As what I’ve said earlier, looking at different perspectives is an opportunity for growth. The God Delusion can be a springboard to learning more about human evolution, Darwinism, biology and the fossil record. If you really don’t buy the idea of human evolution, then it is what it is for you. But there is no reason for you to be afraid to learn more about it. It’s just like reading Harry Potter. Many of us love every chapter of the seven-book series, but we don’t necessarily believe we can kill Voldemort with a piece of stick! (Or do we?)
4. “If there is no God, why be good?”
There is no reason to be afraid to consider this question: If there is no surveillance of god up in the sky, would you kill, steal or womanize? I will assume the answer is no.
Dawkins, in one of the chapters, examines humanity’s root of morality and concludes that it doesn’t lie in religion. We can be good even without god and that being good is an offshoot of something useful for our ancestors that in turn made us naturally empathetic. This is a Darwinian explanation of why we have values.
On the flipside, as Dawkins points out, it is strange that many instances in human history, there is a stark correlation between religion and violence. It just shows that many people are willing to kill in the name of god!
Hence, we ask the question…
5. “Is religion good for us?”
Well, it is by default that we consider religion as something good but, then again, Dawkins offers the alternative. For him, religion cunningly exploits child’s gullibility to proliferate the religion meme (yes, Dawkins coined the term “meme” decades ago; read The Selfish Gene), or the cultural trait of believing in a supreme being. He points out that when we were born, we never had the chance to choose our own belief. Instead, we just inherited the belief of our parents, who got their belief from our grandparents and so on.
Furthermore, he suggests that religion is inherently violent and is a grave form of abuse. When we were a child, or even to this day, we were taught not to do bad things or else the satanas will be happy to have us roasted in hell forever. That doesn’t sound so nice or godly, does it? In the book, it is argued that religion inflicts psychological and emotional trauma and therefore, does more harm than good.
Dawkins also elucidates religion as a divisive force that encourages in-group and out-group enmity and vendetta, as told by many instances in human history where genocides are common. Most of these, if not all, were motivated by religious fervor. With that, he presumes that religious people have more violent tendencies compared to non-religious, or non-believer. Thus, as he proposes, humanity will be better off without religion.
6. “Is atheism bad?”
In order to make sense of why Filipinos should read The God Delusion regardless of their belief is that the book reminds us how to question. Our laziness to think and question has already spilled over outside the realm of faith.
Many of us no longer question why they are many slum areas, why there always seem to be road reconstructions, why politicians’ wealth are being questioned or why we shouldn’t let the dictator be buried at the Libingan. “Matagal nang usapin ‘yan, pabayaan mo na ‘yan.” So we don’t question anymore because it is what it is, even though, in turn, this propagates the culture of impunity.
Also, we Filipinos do not want to admit we are ethnocentric. We are judgmental of others but when we are the ones being judged, we cry foul. We are sensitive of what others say about us and subconsciously claim ascendancy over others. We think we are always right and we don’t want to be lectured upon even when we are presented with facts.
Going back to the question, non-believers can be happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled. But many would argue atheists are lost souls that should be guided, or even reprimanded. We might ask, “What if they’re wrong?” But what if we believers are wrong?
That’s the underlying tone of The God Delusion. Apart from the religious criticisms, it also teaches us to listen more, to analyze and if proven wrong, to accept. We should open our minds to other possibilities because this is how humanity has flourished. Keep the door open to engage, discuss and always strive for the truth. I’m pretty sure the great Dr. Jose Rizal would agree. ☁