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    © Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

    Q: The Horsemen

    I’m finishing up the chapter on great works of atheism in the 21st century. One of the things I’m trying to offer is a way for the uninitiated to think about the books of the Four Horsemen — Harris (End of Faith), Dawkins (God Delusion), Dennett (Breaking the Spell), and Hitchens (God Ain’t All That). They tend to be lumped together, but they’re dramatically different in tone and approach.

    One last question then:

    Q: What insight would you offer the uninitiated reader about any or all of these four books?

    It might be something that surprised or irritated you, a suggestion about which one to read first — anything at all.

    As an example, I might make the point that Dawkins’s tone in TGD is a lot less contemptuous and angry than most people expect. I rank him third out of the four on the Contemptometer.

    (These aren’t the only books I’ll be talking about, of course, but they’re the ones I’d like to have your thoughts on.)

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    This was written on Saturday, 10. November 2012 at 09:55 and was filed under The Dummies Diary. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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    1. I general I enjoyed TGD, but I was appalled that he said that being raised Catholic was worse for a child than being abused by a priest. I lost a lot of respect for RD after that.

      Comment: pinkelastik – 10. November 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    2. Harris (End of Faith):
      TONE: Straightforward insight from neuroscience
      APPROACH: Reason with the reader
      INSIGHT: All religion, even “mild” forms followed by the peaceful massses of believers, sets the stage for the fundamentalists, extremists, crusaders and terrorists.

      Dawkins (God Delusion):
      TONE: The pleading of a highly educated, enlightened mind (as if he were saying “You’ve GOT to see the beauty and simplicity of the Grand Design as revealed through science by pioneers like Darwin.”)
      APPROACH: Explain genetics & evolution to reveal the truth
      INSIGHT: We invented God.

      Dennett (Breaking the Spell):
      TONE: Professorial
      APPROACH: Historical
      INSIGHT: By exploring the USEFUL role religion has played, we can appreciate it for what it is, a cultural invention.

      Hitchens (God Is Not Great):
      TONE: Haughty, incisive
      APPROACH: Uses his rapier wit and comprehensive view of history to utterly dismantle the foundations of faith.
      INSIGHT: Even the most revered religious figures, such as Mother Teresa, were filled with doubt and uncertainty, and everyone else is too, if only there were man enough to admit it.

      Dale,
      These are just my subjective thoughts, in case they help. As a writer of a Dummie book also, I feel for you! Best of luck and keep up the good work.

      Comment: Steve Capellini – 10. November 2012 @ 2:25 pm

    3. First, let me say that I admire all four men greatly and consider each to be heroes in their efforts to expose and to reduce the “spell” of religious superstition. Regret to report that I’ve not yet read “Breaking the Spell,” though I have listened and watched several interviews and discussions featuring Dr. Dennett. Regarding the other three authors and their books, I have the following observation.

      If I’m not mistaken, none of the three authors I’ve read (and perhaps Dr. Dennett, as well) have any long-term experience living within a devout religious community. All were raised in either secular or nominally religious environments, no? While that was, I think, great for them, I think that fact creates a common skewed perspective in their work that is somewhere down near the root of what drives religious people batty about each writer.

      Specifically, I think each Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens will never truly understand the power of religious community – how the comfort and solidarity and personal bonds of those communities EASILY override mere logic and reason, and how truly wonderful is the sense of support and belonging people can find in a “good” religious community. There is, for example, nothing “mere” about Christianity. In comparison, from the viewpoint of a happy church member, no humongous pile of books by intellectual or academic strangers can ever be anything other than “mere,” no matter the strength of their facts and logic and arguments.

      Equally important, however, is this: I think the authors’ lack of serious religious backgrounds makes them unable to appreciate in a truly complete way, rather than simply an academic way, the harm that religion does to the psyches and emotional health of hundreds of millions of individuals on any given day. Bet you don’t hear that too often – Harris and Hitchens and Dawkins don’t or didn’t have sufficient understanding of the harm religion does? Say what?
      But that’s what I think, for whatever it’s worth. I think to really have a full appreciation of the damage god beliefs can do, one needs to have some long and personal experience with religious craziness in a family and in a congregation – maybe especially in one’s childhood. (Or in many cases, maybe one need only be female – a circumstance with which we males can only try to empathize.) After that, one needs to somehow have broken away from religion and met and spent a good amount of time with healthy non-believers. THEN one can begin to see the depth and breadth of the problem. Our horsemen, great as they are, lack this particular sort of experience.

      I’m eagerly awaiting our first powerfully writing and speaking “horseman” (or maybe even better, “horsewoman”) to come out of, say, a background of Pentecostalism in Alabama, or fundamentalist-ish Mormonism in Utah. (Well, we do have, now that I think about it, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but I would hope for someone from our own religiously benighted nation and culture.)

      Meanwhile, I think your new book, Dale, will serve us all extremely well as it will come from a far friendlier, more conversational, and probably funnier, writer than any of the horsemen. Coming after all the famous “God and Faith Are Delusions That Suck” books, “Atheism for Dummies” won’t be the flashpoint that those were, but I think it may well turn out in the long or even short run to be as powerful as any of them have been.

      Sorry for that – some day I’ll learn to be concise.

      Comment: Brad – 10. November 2012 @ 5:27 pm

    4. Brad – Yes yes yes! I came out of a moderate midwest cultural Catholic background, not even anything fundamentalist or creationist, and I didn’t realize til I shed faith how much it messed with me. The biggest thing I got was not having to twist or feel guilty for normal human emotions. I could feel angry at circumstances without feeling guilty for not trusting god, I could grieve without feeling bad that I wasn’t glad they were in a better place, etc. And still, for a while, I missed feeling a part of the world-wide church, of something bigger than myself. That’s all sorted now and I’m happier than I was then, but it is definitely a part of it and hard for someone who wasn’t there to understand, as you said.

      Comment: MaryLynne – 11. November 2012 @ 8:42 pm

    5. These are not men who ‘hate’ or ‘reject’ god; these are very intelligent men that have done their unbiased research and drawn conclusions based on facts, not on emotion.

      Too often the christian reader will just dismiss these people offhand because they just assume they’re ‘god haters’. Again, always with the emotional part of the brain the christians are.

      Comment: BrianE – 12. November 2012 @ 11:52 am

    6. Good, thanks — every one of these is right along the lines I was thinking.

      Comment: Dale – 12. November 2012 @ 2:49 pm

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