You can’t read that!

Books

Sometimes it’s the small things that make me realise how much I’ve changed.

When Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion was published in 2006, I’d already slipped some way from my previous beliefs, and never considered reading it for information and to “know my enemy”. Instead, I ran scared because I was carefully protecting what remaining faith I had from too many serious challenges. That didn’t stop me from complaining about Dawkins’ fundamentalist atheism and (ironically, given that I hadn’t read his book) of failing to engage with his opponents’ arguments. Basically, I parroted anything I heard that sounded like a good response or a reason for dismissing anything Dawkins had to say. I’m not proud of it.

Anyway, I’ve reached the point where I want to read it in full, rather than a few snippets mentioned by others, and I’m prepared to be seen with it in public. That feels like a big step in itself, as it’s quite a controversial, and even notorious book in some quarters. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it led to some interesting and awkward conversations.

I’m going to be away for a little while over Easter with some time to read, so I went down to my local library to pick up a copy, along with some other reading matter that I hoped might give me some ideas for future blog posts. One thing I knew in advance was that I also wanted to read one of the many books which had been spawned in response to Dawkins’ work. But when I got there, everything got weird.

The library’s system said the book was on the shelf, and confirmed that it should be in the place I was looking, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked a member of staff, who checked a few other places where it could have been (no joy) and also confirmed that it hadn’t been borrowed in the last couple of months. That’s strange in itself, as apparently it’s a very popular book to borrow. It had just vanished, possibly some time before.

Maybe I’m cynical, or maybe I’ve seen it all before, but my first reaction was that someone had hidden it to prevent anyone from being led astray by such a dangerous heathen book. I never did anything like that myself, but I used to know people who did, and what amazes me is that this sort of thing (not quite Lying for Jesus, but certainly Covering Up for Jesus) didn’t seem remarkable at the time. So I now have to wait for the library to locate a copy from another branch before I can get started on the book.

It feels strange to suddenly notice how much has changed. My beliefs always seem to have shifted subtly, rather than making big leaps in one direction or another, so recognising these changes feels odd, but also quite reassuring. If nothing else, I’m now more honest, less frightened, and more open to different ideas, which doesn’t sound too bad.

If I ever get hold of the book, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts here.

Photo by way opening, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

7 responses to “You can’t read that!”

  1. Larry says :

    Fantastic post. I wouldn’t read about atheism either when I was religious. It’s taboo, which is how they keep you in the loop.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Thanks. Sorry this comment was missing for so long – it was identified as spam for some reason. I’ve finally got hold of the book (at least I got to reserve it for free when it wasn’t on the shelf), so now I need to get stuck in.

      Now it’s in my hands, I’m actually feeling nervous – you’d think it was the Necronomicon or something! Old habits die hard, I suppose.

  2. 2012 and all that says :

    I wouldn’t feel bad about your previous personal feelings; it is natural to react that way when a deeply entrenched belief (that has historically and legally been protected from any criticism) comes under fire.

    At least you never claimed to have read it. I’ve had arguments on forums with people who claimed to have read it cover to cover and it is obvious from what they are saying about the book that they are not. People who can’t remember the chapter on cargo cults for example (which is quite a large section) and state that he never discusses how evolution explains morality.

    The same thing happens with creationists. They often claim to have read this or that book but remain unconvinced by the argument because the author never explains Problem X… and Problem X is dealt with in the first chapter.

    It is advisable to read Hitchens’ God is Not Great shortly afterward as the books compliment each other.

  3. Kevin says :

    ‘Covering up for Jesus’ – being a Christian myself I can understand the motivation for doing things like hiding ‘dangerous’ books, but it feels just… wrong and patronising. I’d be interested to read your thoughts on The God Delusion (if you ever find it!) as I tried to read it a few years ago and just couldn’t get past Dawkins’ apparent scorn towards religious people.

    I’ve read one or two of other books and a few articles etc. of his, and he’s clearly a gifted teacher of the wonders of the natural world. I’m a Christian but also a firm believer that evolution by natural selection is the most sensible explanation for the variety of life on earth today. So my faith is not at risk from Dawkins’ writings on biology / zoology.

    What I’ve read from Dawkins about theology and philosophy, I’ve found thoroughly unconvincing however. I’m struggling to remember concrete examples but I think he’s written about theodicy (God is all-good and all-powerful so how come there’s evil and suffering in the world?) with apparent ignorance of all the religious engagement on this issue. If I remember rightly, he presented the theodicy problem as a fatal blow to belief in an all-powerful, good god and derided those who retain such belief in the face of his incontrovertible argument.

    Basically, I thought he was doing exactly the same in the field of theology as some creationists do with Dawkins’ arguments in the field of zoology. Stick to what you know!

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I know what you mean about his arguments, but I’m not sure it’s as simple as you make out. I suppose the question is whether he’s obliged to agree that the various attempted defences of the 3 “omnis” in the light of evil/suffering are actually valid. I tend to appreciate comprehensive arguments, but I wouldn’t expect him to spend much time advancing points against his own position.

      But that’s all down to perception, so I’ll say more when I’ve actually read it. The library had found me a copy when I got back from my Easter travels, so I’m all ready to get stuck in.

      • Kevin says :

        Hey, glad you’ve got hold of a copy now! Let us know what you think… The thing about Dawkins and the problem of evil is that I don’t remember him really engaging with the various Christian responses. I just remember him saying something like, ‘Look, there’s evil in the world! So how can God be both completely good and all-powerful? Stupid Christians.’

        I’m open to the possibility that I’m being uncharitable to Dawkins but the above is my abiding memory of his writings on religion, and I pretty much gave up on him after that. If he’s either unaware of Christian theologians’ attempts to tackle the theodicy problem, or he’s unwilling to even grapple with their arguments then why should I spend my limited time reading his works on religion. Biology / zoology, very much yes; but theology, not so much…

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        I think what you say is a pretty close approximation to the perceived wisdom that I picked up as a reason for ignoring Dawkins – he doesn’t understand or engage with belief, so his views aren’t worth much. But I’m not sure whether that’s a reasonable or accurate objection, as I said.

        So what I’m intending to do is to read the book on its own terms with an open mind, but taking care to consider whether I think the arguments stack up. Then, I’ll do the same with a book from the opposing viewpoint. That should give me a decent balance of views to consider without expecting anyone to write huge swathed if text about the weakness if their own position.

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