You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot from what comments make it on the back of the book. So it is with New York Times bestseller The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Observe the following review from Philip Pullman: “Many religious leaders are men who, it’s obvious to anyone but their deranged followers, are willing to sanction vicious cruelty in the service of their faith.” While it is ironic that those who would defend relativism shroud themselves in the robe of self-righteous sanctimony, this book is not one of reason. It is one of hate.

It is not a hate caused by someone who has done you grave harm such as killing your family. It is not even a hate caused on some petty slight because you got cut off in traffic. It’s a deep-seated hate that consumes and overwhelms. It is a hate without explanation; it is blind and irrational. Dawkins does not present a case for atheism — he presents a polemic for antitheism. His first principle is that religion is a grave harm to humanity, and he then proceeds to fit the facts around that principle.

The book itself is separated into two main components. The first is a philosophical attack against religion and the existence of God. The second is a long series of case studies showing the supposed harm of religion on humanity. Dawkins is clearly an intelligent and rational being, but throughout the book you can see the struggle between his reason and his irrational hate. Unfortunately for him, the hate usually wins out.

The first portion of the text is rather unremarkable and boring, as it contains many of the same arguments that have been hashed and rehashed for centuries. However, one argument stands out: that those who hold God exists have argued from “personal experience” that God exists — they know He has touched them somehow in their lives. Dswkins responds by saying that some people experience pink elephants.

With one swift stroke, not only has Dawkins dismembered any proof for religion, but he has annihilated the entire body of human knowledge. Imagine using the argument that some people see pink elephants in a courtroom to discredit a witness on the stand. It is nothing short of intellectual laziness. There are criteria to judge which experiences are credible and which are not, and that includes religious ones.

Dawkins himself brings up the alleged miraculous apparition in Fatima, Portugal, where thousands saw the sun dance in the sky. He disregards “collective hallucinations” as a legitimate explanation, but then quickly runs away from dealing with the event. For that matter, he ignores many well-documented miracles revolving around Mary or the Eucharist. He simply accepts the facts that support his point and tries to disregard the rest, while his rationality can’t completely ignore the unfriendly facts that continue to surface.

The second portion of the book takes the more infamous religious figures and sets them up to show how corrupt religion is. First, Dawkins doesn’t seem to recognize a difference between being religious and being fundamentalist/absolutist, as he uses the terms interchangeably. Second, case studies are fine to help fill in gaps when accompanied by some other information, but case studies can very easily be used to justify negative stereotypes in the absence of real facts. Every stereotype has its poster child. I can do a case study on the stereotypical black criminal; it doesn’t mean I’ve proven all blacks to be cutthroat murders.

In addition, some of the case studies are just plain ludicrous. There is a common (yet completely devoid of fact) charge that Pius XII helped the Nazis slaughter the Jews. The proof? That the pope didn’t issue a statement against the Nazis, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews were protected by the Church. We can forgive an academic mistaking action with making statements; however, the leading Jewish figures of the time all commended the Church for her aid.

Then there is the oft repeated statement that religion causes wars. However, when Dawkins faces the fact that the thoroughly secular governments of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China are responsible for the biggest atrocities in recorded history, he quickly abandons any possible connection between those governments and antitheism. He is unable to consider that many wars were not fought over religion, but that religion played a role in wars that would have taken place anyway. For example, the conflict in Northern Ireland is often characterized as a struggle between Catholics and Protestants. The fact is that there are three counties that the Irish (who have a national religion) believe are theirs and the English (who also have a national religion) believe rightly belong to them. The conflict is a geopolitical one. I’ve not heard of a bombing in Belfast because Henry VIII’s fertility issues.

Dawkins mentions the story of Edgardo Mortara, a child of Jewish parents who was baptized secretly and subsequently taken from his Jewish parents. Dawkins avoids dealing with any of the controversy surrounding the incident, including Edgardo’s own testimony, because it conflicts with his antitheistic principle. He also states, falsely, on page 312, that no consent is required for infant baptism (Canon 868 in the Code of Canon Law states that in all but the most exceptional circumstances parental consent is required).

He labels Mother Teresa a hypocrite for speaking out against abortion but never mentions exactly what the nature of her hypocrisy is. In fact, when Dawkins enters the squalor that Mother Teresa served in, perhaps then he might be fit to stand over her in judgment.

Dawkins never mentions that the religious give more in charity, volunteer more, and are generally active in trying to make their communities a better place to live. He brings up figures that have long been ignored or have shown themselves to be frauds such as Jerry Fawell, Ted Haggert, Fred Phelps, and so on. He pre-selects the most scandalous religious figures and casually ignores the noblest ones. He makes sweeping generalizations that simply aren’t true. Speaking only from the Catholic perspective, I know of no serious Catholic theologian or cleric that says unquestioned faith is a virtue.

Yet his rationality does creep in from time to time. He is skeptical of the onslaught against the Catholic Church in the wake of the sex abuse crisis. While one pedophiliac priest is one too many, there are many other institutions that have far greater problems with sex abuse and covering it up (i.e. Planned Parenthood, high school guidance counselors, etc). He doesn’t subscribe to the widespread censorship in the name of “separation of church and state” either, realizing that the Bible is important for literature and a proper understanding of history.

Throughout the book, you can see the internal unconscious struggle in Dawkins between irrational hate and reason. Occasionally his reason creeps to the surface only to be shoved back down again. This latest missive of antitheistic thought, while celebrated by cognoscenti as a defense of reason, is a radical departure from reason. Dawkins states he despises confrontational gladiatorial contests that substitute for intelligent discourse these days, yet he just can’t help himself from descending into misanthropic zeal. The book remains a rehash of pop philosophy and loosely strung-together anecdotes, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. A defense of reason? Hardly.

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for Blogcritics and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a freelance columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.

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