Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book Review - Is God a Delusion?

...By Dr. Eric Reitan, religious philosophizer extraordinaire.

I really wanted to wholeheartedly disagree with this book, I really did. I turned the first few pages, with my thinking cap and goggles of pretension firmly fastened, ready to scoff my way through the roughly 225-page text (this being the way I read most religious "non-fiction" these days), and while I can't lie by saying that this book was completely unscoffworthy, I will say that I had a very hard time disagreeing with the spirit of most of Reitan's philosophy. You see, he comes from a very different intellectual place than most of the religious folks you likely encounter in your daily lives, in that he strives for a religious worldview which is also completely philosophically rational.

*Gasp!* I know.

I should mention a few things before I continue further. This book, entitled Is God a Delusion? is a direct answer to the wave of "New Atheist" literature, or as he puts it in the book's subtitle, to "Religion's Cultured Despisers." (the last phrase is used as a callback to the theologian Friedrich Schliermacher, whom you'll be hearing a lot about when you read the book). These New Atheists include the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and, I suppose, myself. These are the authors who not only had the audacity not to believe in God, but also the gall to enter into the religious/philosophical realm to attempt to prove their atheistic worldviews.

*Gasp!* It's true!

Reitan therefore sets out not only to debunk the claims of the New Atheists, but also to champion a religious worldview which is simultaneously rational and pragmatic. He does so in a practiced and disciplined philosophical style which, as he points out with devastating effect, the atheistic literature is sorely lacking. It is precisely this thorough approach which makes this book intellectually appealing for the lay-religious reader and theologian alike.

*Gasp!* I'm sounding way too much like an actual book review here, I'm going to have to tone it down a bit.

I mentioned earlier that I had a hard time disagreeing with Reitan's philosophy. This is not to say that his arguments immediately convinced me (I'm still an atheist, after all), but rather to point out how well this book is structured and thought-out. Several times during my reading, I would begin to find what I thought were key weaknesses in his arguments--chinks in his intellectual armor which I could soon exploit for a easy victory over his theology. And precisely at the point at which I was sure I could win the debate, he would inevitably roll out his counterpoint and completely destroy my fledgling argument with his philosophical prowess. It's either a testament to my lacking as a philosopher (something which I've never denied) or Reitan's skill as a wordsmith. I think it's probably the latter.

Regardless, I would strongly suggest (nay, I demand) that EVERYONE read this book, whether you're an atheist, agnostic, christian, or pastafarian. Too often do atheists read Dawkins or Hitchens only to have their existing beliefs parroted back at them (perhaps with a more sophisticated British tone), and similarly Christian readers delight at reading the latest Strobel, only to be shown the same arguments that they've been taught their entire life. This is not so when reading Reitan's work. Atheists and Christians alike will have plenty of new intellectual fodder to contemplate while enjoying this read.

In short, this is the type of theology I wish every religious person would ascribe to (if they must, of course). No longer would we have the superstitious, vengeful God of the old testament looming over our heads, or the too-often-used interventionalist God who helps you find convenient parking spots. Rather, we would be treated to the God of Reitan and Schliermacher, the benevolent fulfiller of the "ethico-religious hope."

What's this ethico-religous hope business? You'll have to buy a copy to find out.

And hey, it's just in time for the holidays!

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