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v0.9 by Daj. Converted from the v2.0 pdf to html.
Page numbers removed, paragraphs joined, fully formatted and
common OCR errors have been largely removed.
Full read-through and thorough spell check still required. The three
appendices are still UC because I couldn't be bothered reading them.
child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave. Years
later, when she was in her twenties, she disclosed this unhappy fact to
her parents, and her mother was aghast: 'But darling, why didn't you
come to us and tell us?' Lalla's reply is my text for today: 'But I
didn't know I could.'
know I could.
suspect - well, I am sure - that there are lots of people out there who
have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it,
don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its
name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion
and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option.
If you are one of them, this book is for you. It is intended to raise
consciousness - raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist
is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an
atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.
That is the first of my consciousness-raising messages. I also want to
raise consciousness in three other ways, which I'll come on to.
January 2006 I presented a two-part television documentary on British
television (Channel Four) called
Root of All Evil?
the start, I didn't like the title. Religion is not the root of
evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything. But I was
delighted with the advertisement that Channel Four put in the national
newspapers. It was a picture of the Manhattan skyline with the caption
'Imagine a world without religion.' What was the connection? The twin
towers of the World Trade Center were conspicuously present.
with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers,
no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no
Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim
massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers', no Northern
Ireland 'troubles', no 'honour killings', no shiny-suited
bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money
('God wants you to give till it hurts'). Imagine no Taliban to blow up
ancient statues, no public beheadings
of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an
inch of it. Incidentally, my colleague Desmond Morris informs me that
John Lennon's magnificent song is sometimes performed in America with
the phrase 'and no religion too' expurgated. One version even has the
effrontery to change it to 'and
you feel that agnosticism is a reasonable position, but that atheism is
just as dogmatic as religious belief? If so, I hope Chapter 2 will
change your mind, by persuading you that 'the God Hypothesis' is a
scientific hypothesis about the universe, which should be analysed as
sceptically as any other. Perhaps you have been taught that
philosophers and theologians have put forward good reasons to believe
in God. If you think that, you might enjoy Chapter 3 on 'Arguments for
God's existence' - the arguments turn out to be spectacularly weak.
Maybe you think it is obvious that God must exist, for how else could
the world have come into being? How else could there be life, in all
its rich diversity, with every species looking uncannily as though it
had been 'designed'? If your thoughts run along those lines, I hope you
will gain enlightenment from Chapter 4 on 'Why there almost certainly
is no God'. Far from pointing to a designer, the illusion of design in
the living world is explained with far greater economy and with
devastating elegance by Darwinian natural selection. And, while natural
selection itself is limited to explaining the living world, it raises
our consciousness to the likelihood of comparable explanatory 'cranes'
that may aid our understanding of the cosmos itself. The power of
cranes such as natural selection is the second of my four
you think there must be a god or gods because anthropologists and
historians report that believers dominate every human culture. If you
find that convincing, please refer to Chapter 5, on 'The roots of
religion', which explains why belief is so ubiquitous. Or do you think
that religious belief is necessary in order for us to have justifiable
morals? Don't we need God, in order to be good? Please read Chapters 6
and 7 to see why this is not so. Do you still have a soft spot for
religion as a good thing for the world, even if you yourself have lost
your faith? Chapter 8 will invite you to think about ways in which
religion is not such a good thing for the world.
you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth
asking yourself how this came about. The answer is usually some form of
childhood indoctrination. If you are religious at all it is
overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If
you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam
false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had
been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood
if you were born
whole matter of religion and childhood is the subject of Chapter 9,
which also includes my third consciousness-raiser. Just as feminists
wince when they hear 'he' rather than 'he or she', or 'man' rather than
'human', I want everybody to flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as
'Catholic child' or 'Muslim child'. Speak of a 'child of Catholic
parents' if you like; but if you hear anybody speak of a 'Catholic
child', stop them and politely point out that children are too young to
know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to
know where they stand on economics or politics. Precisely because my
purpose is consciousness-raising, I shall not apologize for mentioning
it here in the Preface as well as in Chapter 9. You can't say it too
often. I'll say it again. That is not a Muslim child, but a child of
Muslim parents. That child is too young to know whether it is a Muslim
or not. There is no such thing as a Muslim child. There is no such
thing as a Christian child.
1 and 10 top and tail the book by explaining, in their different ways,
how a proper understanding of the magnificence of the real world, while
never becoming a religion, can fill the inspirational role that
religion has historically - and inadequately -usurped.
fourth consciousness-raiser is atheist pride. Being an atheist is
nothing to be apologetic about. On the contrary, it is something to be
proud of, standing tall to face the far horizon, for atheism nearly
always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy
mind. There are many people who know, in their heart of hearts, that
they are atheists, but dare not admit it to their families or even, in
some cases, to themselves. Partly, this is because the very word
'atheist' has been assiduously built up as a terrible
and frightening label. Chapter 9 quotes the comedian Julia Sweeney's
tragi-comic story of her parents' discovery, through reading a
newspaper, that she had become an atheist. Not believing in God they
could just about take, but an atheist! An
mother's voice rose to a scream.)
need to say something to American readers in particular at this point,
for the religiosity of today's America is something truly remarkable.
The lawyer Wendy Kaminer was exaggerating only slightly when she
remarked that making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in
an American Legion Hall.
The status of atheists
in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago.
Now, after the Gay Pride movement, it is possible, though still not
very easy, for a homosexual to be elected to public office. A Gallup
poll taken in 1999 asked Americans whether they would vote for an
otherwise well-qualified person who was a woman
cent would), Roman Catholic (94 per cent would), Jew (92 per cent),
black (92 per cent), Mormon (79 per cent), homosexual (79 per cent) or
atheist (49 per cent). Clearly we have a long way to go. But atheists
are a lot more numerous, especially among the educated elite, than many
realize. This was so even in the nineteenth century, when John Stuart
Mill was already able to say: 'The world would be astonished if it knew
how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments, of those most
distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue, are
complete sceptics in religion.'