“Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.”
When The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins was published in October 2006, it was hailed as the answer to atheist’s prayers (not that any self respecting atheist would ever admit to praying), as at last someone was speaking out in support of their views. The book created a flurry of media interest, with everyone wanting to say their piece and be heard. Love him or loathe him, Dawkins arguments could hardly have been more topical. While Western Europe is becoming increasingly secularised, America and the Islamic states are in the grip of rising religious fundamentalism, where such dogma increasingly serves to stifle rights of minorities – in particular women and the gay community.
Meanwhile, particularly in America, the dispute between intelligent design and Darwinists threatens to seriously undermine and restrict the teaching of science. All of this stems from mans misguided beliefs about God and in particular, what God wants.Dawkins is the embodiment of the scientific fundamentalist, and in his own way, is just as devout as the religious fundamentalists he so despises. Yet the fact that he has written this book at all, asking the question as to whether or not God exists, indicates that he must, somewhere within his consciousness, acknowledge that possibility. The book though has done remarkably well, selling 200,000 copies in the hardback edition in the United Kingdom alone. This is no flash in the pan, and like it or not, Dawkins and his views are here to stay.
The United States is possibly the most Christianised country in the west, and it is here that the book has had the most impact. The main point that Dawkins makes in relation to this is that it is enshrined in the US constitution that there is supposed to be a separation between Church and State, yet in reality this does not exist. He cites numerous examples of how people have been forced to pretend to be religious in order to be elected for public office, and how the US Police allow criminals to get away quite literally with murder in the name of religion by stating that the victim deserved what happened to them as they were going against God’s law.
In chapter 2 of his book, Dawkins relates the story of one David Mills. When a Christian faith healer came on a so-called miracle crusade to Mills’ home town, and advised among other things, that diabetics throw away their insulin, and cancer patients give up their chemotherapy, Mills decided to mount a protest. Realising that this could turn nasty, he informed the Police of his plans and asked for their protection. However, when the Officer that he spoke to realised that Mills was protesting against this healer, he stated that he himself planned to attend the rally and would ‘spit in Mills’ face’. A second Officer said that if Mills went ahead, then he would arrest him ‘for interfering in God’s work’. He then telephoned the Sergeant who said that no one was prepared to protect an atheist such as himself.
Dawkins also points out that religious devotees get preferential treatment that allows them to break the law. The US Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes are subject to prosecution. Yet the following year that same court ruled that a church in New Mexico should be exempt from this, as their members believe that the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs enhances their understanding of God.
Faced with this kind of thing, in many ways, Dawkins has done the world a favour by holding such matters up to the light of public scrutiny and challenging Christians to justify such beliefs. One of his biggest beefs is also the fact that Christians say that they are vehemently opposed to the taking of life through for example, abortion and assisted suicide, yet do not baulk at the killing of doctors who perform such acts.
The one point that Dawkins makes that I do strongly disagree with is that he seems to presume that in order to believe in God, you must be religious. This is in fact not the case. You may not need to be religious to believe in God, but you do have to be spiritual. Many people though do not see a distinction between religion and spirituality.
While I would not consider myself to be religious, I would describe myself as spiritual. If I had to define my beliefs by any label, I would probably choose the term Gnostic. Gnosticism was in fact the original form of Christianity, but it has become somewhat removed from its roots as tends to happen when dogma and doctrine take over.
Dawkins concentrates almost entirely on Christianity, since this is the dominant religion in the west. My own views on this are in fact very similar to Dawkins, in that the fundamentalist Christian regimes foster a much distorted view of the world around us, in particular when it comes to morality. It is clear to me that the Bible is not the word of God, since it was written very much by human hands, which like the Pope himself, contrary to the Church’s assertions, are not infallible. Besides which, it has been translated into so many different languages over the years with various interpretations, that the words in many cases, have lost their meaning altogether. The Biblical God, in particular the Old Testament God, is an egocentric bully, or to use Dawkins own words:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Reading Dawkins book was in many ways a test of my own faith and beliefs, since I found myself agreeing with much of what he writes, especially during the closing chapters. However, as I said at the beginning of this article, belief in God does not necessarily mean that one has to be religious. I suppose though, that all depends on how you define religion. My copy of the Collins Dictionary defines religion as “belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny”.
This is where religion and spirituality part company. Any system that involves worship must by necessity, consider the worshippers as inferior to that which is being worshipped, in this case, God. Religion, in particular Roman Catholicism and also the fundamentalist Muslim regimes teach that God or Allah requires us to behave according to a clearly defined set of morals. If we break this code, and do not do as God or Allah
asks, then all hell will quite literally break loose as His wrath reigns down upon us.
One member of a discussion forum which I regularly contribute to happens to be a Jehovah’s Witness. As you can no doubt imagine, some interesting discussions have taken place on that site debating various aspects of Christianity. One of the more puzzling comments that this lady made was to the effect that although God loves us unconditionally, His unconditional love only kicks in when we start to do as he asks. I fail to see how this can be unconditional, since it seems to me that God is saying ‘my way or the highway’ and this to me is not a loving statement. Furthermore, this also goes against the concept of God having given us free will. She seemed to be saying that we are not qualified to make our own decisions as to how we should live our own lives and form our own morals and values, and should abdicate responsibility for this on to God, or to be more precise, the Priesthood or the Bible writers, who apparently know best..
Allowing God or the Priesthood to effectively dictate to you how you should think, feel and behave is abdicating responsibility on to someone or something else for your own life, so that you no longer have to think for yourself. Maybe this suits some people, as they are bombarded with so many little things that when it comes to the big stuff they do not have the energy or the time to think. If we choose to do this then we have no right to complain when things go wrong, as we are no better than those who refuse to vote and then complain about the Government. It is your life to live and you have a right, in fact a duty, to form your own opinions based not on blind faith, but rather on observation and experience. Inertia gets us nowhere fast.
One has to wonder, on looking at the state of the world today, and the increasing unrest that people feel, that if it really is the case that living according to Gods law creates peace, then with the amount of atrocities committed in God’s name by adherents to the faith in order to appease God/Allah and enforce religious doctrines, if this really is what God/Allah wants, then the world should more closely resemble heaven. Instead we seem to hear of more and more wars, more and more bloodshed and hatred every day. Religious fundamentalists tell us that the unrest and lawlessness that we witness is a symptom of our disobedience at having strayed from God’s or Allah’s law, like cause and effect. Eve eats the apple and is punished by having to give birth and wait on Adam.
This argument though does not hold sway. Many religious groups insist that their way is the only way, and the way to salvation is through adherence to the laws that their God has lain down, but which God is the correct God? What do you say to members of other religions whose Holy books say that their God is the only true God and that yours is therefore false? How do you defend yourself from those who say that those of differing belief deserve to die, or will burn in hell after they die? What criteria do you use to make such judgments?
Beliefs like these are highly dangerous as they lead to more conflict. In extreme cases, religious law is used to supersede state law, so that people quite literally get away with murder. It seems to me, that beliefs such as these do not prevent us from experiencing hell on Earth, they actually create it.
This is backed up by a recent study by the Pew Research Center, which found that of the five countries in which religion is considered most important (mostly in Africa), four have been involved in recent religious-based conflicts in which people of conflicting faiths engage in the mass murder of each other. In contrast, countries in which fewer than 60 percent of the public consider religion to be important, with the exception of Northern Ireland, have remained free of such conflicts.
While political affiliation in the United States is not necessarily an indicator of religious leanings, it is a fact that the majority of ‘red’ or Republican states are primarily of that persuasion due to the influence of conservative Christians. If there is a strong connection between religious belief and moral values, then you would expect such states to have lower crime rates, but actually the opposite is true; 76 percent of the most dangerous US cities fall into the red zone, while 62 percent of the safest cities are blue or Democratic.
Neither is this confined to the US. The Journal of Religion and Society commissioned a study in 2005 which analysed crime rates in 17 developed countries. They reached the conclusion that higher rates of belief in or worship of a creator correlate to higher rates of murder, premature death, teenage pregnancy, abortion and STD’s.
We can then safely conclude that the motive to behave in a socially responsible way does not come from religion.
The crux of religion and more specifically Christianity is that according to the Church, we have separated ourselves from God. Because Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they sentenced all their heirs and descendants (us) to a life of separation from God, as we were all born with this indelible stain on our souls. Each and every one of us continues to carry this guilt. If we can show God that we have made efforts to overcome our natural tendency to do wrong then God may concede to forgive us, otherwise we will go to hell.
There are several ways of ensuring this forgiveness, the most important of which is to invite His son Jesus, into our lives and accept that he died on the cross to atone for our sins. We also though have to read the Bible and do as God asks in every aspect of our waking and sleeping lives. Christianity is then a system which is governed by a strict code of conduct, which has become hardened and set in stone until it has become unchallengeable dogma.
Spirituality, in stark contrast to organized religion, encourages you to set your own rules and beliefs, and teaches that you can communicate direct with God. These rules and beliefs are not limitless, but are bounded by the concept of only acting for the highest good of all concerned and the harm of none. God has never set down rules governing how we should or should not behave, for to do so would be an infringement of the free will that He has given us.
Texts such as those contained within the Nag Hammadi library demonstrate that Christianity was originally a Gnostic movement. Gnosticism is an ancient belief system whose adherents were known as Gnostics, translated as ‘those who know’. What is it though that they knew? They knew secrets about the true nature not only of the universe, but also of God, and ultimately about themselves.
Gnostic beliefs are veiled in metaphor and allegory and to many, seem undecipherable. However, when you get to the core of Gnostic beliefs, they are remarkably similar to modern spirituality. Namely that we are all one, and the concept of separation between God and man is an illusion. Perhaps more fundamental than this is the belief that God sets down no rules as to how we should or should not behave, in fact he wants nothing from us at all other than the recognition of our own divinity and that we continually strive to know the grandest vision of ourselves that is humanly possible. It is up to us of course as to how we achieve that goal.
Dawkins main argument against the belief in God is that old chestnut ‘who created the creator.’ While to a scientist at least, this is a valid argument, you could also argue though that if scientists state that God could not have created the universe as someone or something has to have created God, then if the universe began with the big bang, something also had to create that.
I am not however a scientist, so cannot discuss God in these terms. I can only write from my own perhaps more mystical perspective based on my own observations and experiences. Science is if nothing else, based on these same principles of observation and experience, albeit using slightly more measurable methods, but you could arguably say that my own views are scientific, born not though through experiments conducted in a laboratory, but through the University of Life.
Life experience is not subsumed by scientific experiments, but in my opinion, is equally valid. Just because you do not share another’s belief system, it does not mean that their beliefs and the experiences that have led them to those beliefs are not equally valid. Science does not have the monopoly on truth any more than religion, for truth is a subjective experience which depends on your own perceptions.
I believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but when these beliefs impinge on the lives of others, they need to be questioned. If we deem our beliefs to be the only truth, and destroy, kill and maim in order to defend or maintain those beliefs, then they are clearly not serving us, or the rest of humanity. Science does not of course take it to these extremes, but scientists such as Dawkins nevertheless do their utmost to discredit those who do not share their views by labelling them as deluded, hence the title of his book. There seems to be a double standard, whereby it is acceptable for science to rubbish religious and spiritual beliefs as deluded or not proven, yet we cannot do the same in return. Much of science is based on theory, but the term theory indicates that something is far from proven, and is just an idea based on little more than conjecture. Scientific theory though is deemed accepted fact until disproved or replaced by another more likely theory, yet mystical experiences, which cannot be measured by scientific means are labelled as delusional.
Many of the bigger questions cannot be explained by the use of scientific methods. Science may for example be able to explain why the moon sometimes blocks out the sun, but it cannot say why. Religion and spirituality is for the whys. Science and religion thus speak two different languages, or perhaps different dialects of the same language. They should not conflict but rather, complement. Science provides the statistics, while religion and spirituality provide the prose.
Einstein posited that energy cannot be destroyed but only converted from one form to another. If God is a non corporeal entity, He cannot be made of atoms, since these are the constituent parts from which matter is made. He therefore exists outside the laws of physics and no matter how hard science looks, they will never find conclusive proof as to whether or not God exists, as you cannot measure something that does not physically exist.
Scientists from CERN laboratories in Switzerland have been working to unlock the secrets of the universe by splitting the atom into smaller and smaller parts. Their latest research suggests that there is still more that they do not understand since according to their calculations, there are further particles which exist in these formulas, but as yet, cannot be found via traditional means. They have named this missing part ‘the God particle’, since it seems to permeate the entire universe and appears to be the glue that holds everything together.
After the Christianisation of Rome, Europe was thrown into the dark ages, where the Church reigned supreme and was deemed the source of all knowledge. All forms of scientific reasoning that conflicted with their views were deemed heretical. Scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo, who taught that the Earth was not the centre of our solar system, were forced to recant their views. However, as the evidence began to mount, the Church themselves were forced to recant. When religion granted scientists freedom from persecution, it came with the agreement that the two were mutually exclusive and should not impinge on each other’s territory. They have for the most part, managed this admirably. Yet whether they care to admit it or not both are searching for the same thing. If religion is on a quest to define God through belief, then science is on a quest to find God through unlocking the secrets of the universe.
It has often been said that life is a school, and we are here to learn a series of lessons that teach us various aspects of life. The two most important questions that most of us ask are, who am I and why am I here? We are ultimately then on a quest to find ourselves. How though do we begin to answer such questions?
If the God particle is the smallest particle that exists, encompassing everything in our universe, then it is what we ourselves are made of. We are therefore in our own way, Gods ourselves. The search for God is therefore a search for ourselves. Science and religion are not exclusive but are searching for the same thing, the knowledge of who we are and what life is about.
As Deepak Chopra so eloquently put it “I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God”