Saturday, December 30, 2006

The God Delusion: my pick for Book of the Year

In today's edition of The Globe and Mail: Canada's National Newspaper, the books section is devoted to "Books of the Year." Among the 38 people The Globe asked to discuss their picks are yours truly, plus Jane Urquhart, Freeman Dyson, Jack Whyte, Emily Pohl-Weary (Judith Merril and Fred Pohl's daughter), and Ronald Wright -- plus two of the stars of Canada's top sitcom, Corner Gas, Brent Butt and Gabrielle Miller (who are pictured on the cover of the books section, as seen above).

The whole shebang is available online here. My pick, which is Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, is discussed on this page, where I say:
Early in The God Delusion, British biologist Richard Dawkins discusses a print ad for a TV series he was recently involved with in the UK. The headline, with a nod to John Lennon: "Imagine a world without religion." And the image: the skyline of Manhattan -- with the Twin Towers intact.

As Dawkins says repeatedly in his sharp and witty book,
whether or not God exists is no longer a subject best left to late-night dorm-room debates. Rather, the pathological belief in a higher being who sanctions horrors is the single biggest threat to humanity's survival. As a standup comic I saw recently quipped, "I don't want the guy with his finger on the button believing there's a better world after this one." But we do have an apocalypticist in the White House -- and other fundamentalists wreaking terror worldwide.

Does it really matter whether we teach evolution or creationism in the schools? Not on a grand scale; our species' past is only of academic interest. But allowing religion to guide governments and terrorists, to sanction persecution and slaughter, to suppress women and minorities -- that does matter. Dawkins (who, regrettably, is occasionally unable to keep the sneer out of his voice) flushes out the manifold cruelty perpetrated in the name of religion, while also elegantly proving that it's possible to be moral and just in its absence.

Using "it's what our faith teaches" as a get-out-of-jail-free card for atrocities, including infanticide, genocide, and the mutilation of women, is more than just flat-out wrong, he says, it's mental illness. Of course, few of those who most need to hear Dawkins's message will read this powerful book, and that's not just a shame -- it's a deadly reality.

-- Robert J. Sawyer is a Hugo Award-winning science-fiction writer in Mississauga; his latest novel is Mindscan, published by Tor.



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