Question for the religious, non-religious defenders of religious belief, and people who just really dislike Richard Dawkins…

25 Oct

If you knew an intelligent, open-minded young admirer of the New Atheism heroes (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris…), and could only give them one book to help them develop a more sophisticated appreciation of religion/God/etc., what would you choose?

I should probably point out that this isn’t for me — I’m not religious and I find the arguments advanced by Dawkins, et al. glib and generally uninteresting.

Related question: if you’re a defender of the atheist position, but dislike the recent bevy of bestsellers on the subject, what book do you wish people were reading instead of, say, The God Delusion?

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8 Responses to “Question for the religious, non-religious defenders of religious belief, and people who just really dislike Richard Dawkins…”

  1. scaryreasoner October 25, 2008 at 9:26 pm #

    “Related question: if you’re a defender of the atheist position, but dislike the recent bevy of bestsellers on the subject, what book do you wish people were reading instead of, say, The God Delusion?”

    Christians ought to read the Bible. There is no other single book as effective as that one is at turning Christians into non-Christians.

  2. leandra October 26, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    the Tao Te Ching!

  3. Byron October 26, 2008 at 9:18 pm #

    I thought C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity was interesting, but shallow. But it’s thoughtful and accessible.

  4. meredithbaxter October 27, 2008 at 12:13 am #

    I agree with the first response, but secondary sources about the Bible are great too. If I were to go on a kind of anti-Christianity crusade, I would do it by offering classes at churches about the history of the Bible, beginning with the context of its own time period, when apparently countless people were going around claiming to be prophets or the fulfillment of prophesy — and importantly, how the Jewish prophesy of a Messiah probably really did refer to a sort of warlord who would literally free the Jews from their literal, human oppressors and would literally lead them to the “promised land,” which was understood to be actual land. I would continue on and talk about the reasons Jesus’ teachings probably caught on: because he was preaching to the Jews, a disenfranchised group living uncomfortably under the Romans, and was teaching equality even of the most disenfranchised, like gays and prostitutes — you know, just to get the Christians to recognize that what they’re doing to the gay community is wrong and bad in Jesus’ eyes — and how he had a metaphorical understanding of the Bible (Torah) and was in many ways teaching that salvation from the Romans was not what they needed, but rather personal salvation of their soul from the earthly problems of sin and jealousy and desire, just like Buddha, and how he told people that acts would never get them to heaven: that, in fact, no one went to heaven because they were a good person, but only through grace, only through God’s love of you as someone who could never be good enough for Him without grace. How he thus tried to free the Jews from the archaic religious beliefs which he realized were meant to make them good people but which had become a new standard by which some people were hurting others. Then I’d talk about how the preponderance of archaeological and textual evidence shows that the gospels as we know them were written down perhaps even 200 years after Jesus’ death, 3/4 of them based directly on one former book which is now lost to us, and the fourth incredibly different and contradictory on many very basic points. Then I’d move on to the history of the Church, how it codified parts of the Bible that were continuous with its own ideas and removed other stories and books, seemingly transforming Jesus from another prophet into a divine entity as well as shifting the story from one of salvation being achieved through personal searching and a rejection of earthly ideas of what is good and so on to one where salvation comes from living as a Christian, learning the “right” lessons and then doing the “right” things — essentially re-creating the kind of ideas about salvation that Jesus had sought to destroy. Then I’d continue on, sweeping through things like the creation of “indulgences” as church theology and profiteering, the Crusades, etc, until we get to modern times, where once again people have come to believe that it is most important to be right in God’s eyes, and that you can know what is good and what is bad, and that you should judge other people when they are not “good” because they have sex before marriage or do drugs or whatever. How, thus, Jesus, like all well-intentioned prophets, has failed–but this time in a particularly dramatic way, since his teachings have come to serve as a reason and basis for the kind of behavior he sought to eliminate in telling people to “give up all that you own and follow me,” in trying to explain the illusion of the earthly self or at least the illusion that the self could ever become fulfilled by participating in the system.

  5. meredithbaxter October 27, 2008 at 1:47 am #

    PS – the above was only a response to the Related Question.
    In response to the primary question, I can only say that Christianity is the “unmarked category” for much of the country and that it’s very easy to blame things on Christianity when in fact most things should just be blamed on general ignorance. In other cultures, religion is respected and even protected as cultural autonomy — but the same people who feel that way about “tribal” beliefs turn around toward America and support divisive books like Dawkins’, which I would contend is the opposite of helpful to anyone. While this is not a book, I know that there are some great articles out there discussing new forms of Christian activism. One that can be found on JSTOR is “The Ethnography of Transnational Social Activism: Understanding the Global as Local Practice” by Hilary Cunningham — but there are many.

  6. Shmuel Aron October 27, 2008 at 5:18 pm #

    Maiby try Permission to Believe by Rabbi Kelerman – it has a solid discussion of cosmology and first cause. Personally I think it all comes down to evolution, and more specifically the evolution of man (irrational poetic man) through natural selection.

    I would also Rabbi Swirsky’s book Connections – which explores from the psychological perspective the difficulties people have with their being a God – as it makes little sense to argue proofs when a person has unconsious blocks to there being an all good God that never makes mistakes and loves you more than anyone ever could.

    I wont make any defences for Christian dogma though.

  7. Walker October 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm #

    I would suggest G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as a good read for the philosophically-minded.

  8. Al-Kantabi November 1, 2008 at 11:21 am #

    So I realized I had not answered this question yet. If I could only choose one book to give that would give an ardent atheist a more complex understanding of religion, it would probably be Religion vs. Religion by Ali Shariati. In it, Shariati juxtaposes “true” religion, which is revolutionary, egalitarian, honest, etc. with “false”, oppressive religion which has dominated throughout history. His writing is thoughtful and passionate, and this is one of the best books I read over the course of my college studies.

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