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just punishment

I’m at the best phase of a new project — the reading aimlessly stage.  Am trying to think about religion and last night started reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

If you pardon the pun, it’s like the curate’s egg — good in parts. Obviously, his stuff on Darwin’s really powerful — he cuts through your unthinking acceptance of natural selection, and makes you see how powerful and shocking the theory is. Oh, and who knew Dawkins had a sense of humour? (That’s a rhetorical question — I’m sure lots of people did know.)  The book’s full of irreverent, chatty little asides, and so the narrative persona is pretty endearing.

On the not-so-good side, his arguments about politics and religion are way too simplistic, and he tends to see belief as simply a matter of intellectual laziness or cowardice, which doesn’t seem very helpful.

Anyway, I fell asleep reading his polemic about the moral bankruptcy implicit in many accounts of an interventionist god, accounts which often justify atrocities on the basis that they serve some mysterious higher purpose (eg: God sends earthquakes because the devastation allows us to demonstrate our charity, which is nice for us but not so much for the people crushed in their houses). Then I woke up in the middle of the night tormented by mosquitoes doing that thing where they bite you and, when they’re not biting you, they buzz in your ear to let you know that they’re still hanging around waiting to bite you again. With this taking place at 4am, it was hard not to think that, as punishment for messing with Dawkins, I was getting the Job treatment (‘So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown’).

Still, as of 7am this morning, I seem to have escaped the smiting of the four corners of the house — the bit where God kills all of Job’s family as part of a bet he’s having with the devil.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. It’s a great book. I wrote a thesis on freedom of (non) belief years under Aust. law years ago & wish (to God) it had been available then.

  2. I can’t help but wonder at how annoying having Dawkin’s disabilties would be if faced with mozzies. Maybe it’s what turned him against God.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Well, I’m not really sure. But I’ve been interested in the sudden and massive popularity of the New Atheism, especially given that some of them (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens) are very right-wing. And I vaguely thought that it might be productive to look, as an atheist, at different religious traditions and experiences, and try to understand what believers got from them, almost in a sociological fashion.
    But as I said, it’s just a vague idea and probably nothing will come of it.
    Robert, what do you mean by Dawkins’ disabilities? As far as I know, he’s not disabled, is he? You’re not getting him mixed up with someone else, are you?

  4. I’m not so sure about the ‘sudden and massive popularity of the New Atheism’. I know a lot’s been written about it lately but I sometimes wonder if it’s partly that it is no longer as ‘taboo’ to espouse Atheism as it once was and therefore a number of ‘unlikely’ high profile figures have broken ranks to trumpet the cause…

    Still, the idea & your research sound fascinating. The root of all religion, of course, is discrimination. It just depends which side of the steeple you’re on whether you think that discrimination is positive or negative…

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