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An imaginary deity is denounced and debunked

The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins
Bantam Press, £20

For those of us who gave up imaginary friends when we were young children, the 21st century political climate is something of a trial. While historians may revel in the continued battle between the two biggest faiths in the nook, others toil wearily amid the illogical, fanatical and downright dangerous antics of the Christians and the Muslims. The reason why so many millions of human beings believe wholeheartedly in something that palpably doesn't exist and then feel they have to foist their own made-up code of conduct on the rest of us, is quite beyond the ken of the majority of easy-going atheists.

This makes, for the beleaguered atheist, the reading of eminent zoologist Richard Dawkins' latest book a wholly refreshing and liberating blast of sanity. Dawkins, famous for, among other things, his equally fine book, The Selfish Gene, will delight any reader with a modicum of intelligence and intellectual regard who doesn't need to have the human world wrapped up into a convenient and cosy package created by a shadowy super-being.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins takes us through serious arguments and examples, all deliciously logical and apt, which will thrill the put-upon atheist and torment the probably already-tormented theist. And he points out some little-known facts. For example, he explains how the wise and venerated founding fathers of the United States were atheists who wanted their country to follow suit. Yes, absolutely true. There was Thomas Jefferson, who said: "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man". John Adams contended that: "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion on it." And lastly, my personal favourite, uttered by one of the greatest renaissance men of any age, Benjamin Franklin, who said: "Lighthouses are more useful than churches."

This puts glaringly into context the whole notion, held by 50 per cent of Christian America, that being non-Christian is un-American. And it further illustrates the ignorance and prejudice of their current political leader.

So, while you marvel at the utter deterioration of the world's most powerful nation from being established and led by erudite and intelligent beings to one blighted by a modern day inquisitional leadership with a fanatical following, Dawkins moves on to the highlight the laughably selective interpretation of the so-called sacred text, the Bible. He wonders, as do many of us, how the stories in the Old Testament indicate anything but depravity and lunacy. One of many is the story of Lot, who offers his daughters up for rape by the mob of Sodom and who then impregnates both of them. What a great guy. We don't seem to hear much about him from our Christian friends.

And then there are god's self-appointed intermediaries, with their made-up rituals and mysteries. Dawkins describes the grotesquery that is the clergy, quoting the Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne, who attempted to justify the Holocaust on the grounds that it gave the Jews a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble.

For those more inclined towards Darwin, reality, compassion and understanding, Dawkins' book will come as a delight but also a fearful warning. The hubris of humanity perpetually declares our continued progression and development. Yet it's obvious, within the context of the battle between neo-conservative America and Middle Eastern Islam (and with so many people still believing in fairy tales and subject to the delusions of their leaders) that we are still very much in medieval times.

When Dawkins says: "The only difference between The Da Vinci Code and the gospels is that the gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction", you might want to pump the air and shout "Damn right". But when you've finished this book and you turn on the television news, you may just want to weep.



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