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Fundamentalism & Religious Delusion

Picture_2Richard Dawkins’ excellent bookThe God Delusion is currently #12 on the NY Times best-seller list for paperback non-fiction. Dawkins is a scientist and wants to let people know that it’s okay to be an atheist, despite strong resistance to the idea of questioning religious faith. His criticism of religious beliefs is polite and thoughtful, but of course that does not appease the faithful. The ‘faithful’ might also be called ‘fundamentalists.’

What’s a fundamentalist? Someone who looks at all new information to see if it matches their beliefs (or principles) and ignores that which doesn’t match. The more extreme fundamentalists don’t simply ignore the information, they become agitated. And really extreme fundamentalists have been known to attack. So offering new ideas can be harmful to your health. Especially if religion is involved. Just ask Galileo.

And where isn’t religion involved? Even today, it’s everywhere—even in places that seem implausible. Two hundred years ago our founders created a Constitution demanding the complete separation of church and state, but today practical reality tilts in precisely the opposite direction. Polls show that most Americans will elect only those political leaders who believe in God. Dawkins’ is not running for U.S. President, but he has an important message: it’s okay, sensible even, to question things that are unsupported by evidence. And he thinks that there isn’t any meaningful evidence of God’s existence.

Perhaps, though, he misunderstands the essence of religious faith.

The nice thing about a belief in God is that it offers us comfort and security. Who cares if it’s provable? If it provides security then it must be a good thing. Non-fundamentalists, such as Dawkins, question even this proposition:

Then there is the security created by man in the idea of God. Many people ask me whether I believe in God, whether there is a God. You cannot discuss it. Most of our conceptions of God, of reality, of truth, are merely speculative imitations. Therefore, they are utterly false, and all our religions are based on such falsitites. A man who has lived all his life in a prison can only speculate about freedom; a man who has never experienced the ecstasy of freedom cannot know freedom. So it is of little avail to discuss God, truth; but if you have the intelligence, the intensity to destroy the barriers around you then you will know for yourself the fulfillment of life. You will no longer be a slave in a social or religious system.

By the way, the above words weren’t written by Richard Dawkins, the scientist. They were spoken by J. Krishnamurti, a supremely spiritual man. His message was also that people should examine things for themselves, without preconceptions or conceptualizations. To him, this was the essence of spirituality.

Krishnamurti didn’t want any followers, but he wound up having some, and still does. You don’t hear much about them because they don’t attract attention. They haven’t started any wars, or persecuted people whose views they disagree with. Maybe they’re deeply examining the world around them, which distracts them from the noble task of foisting views on others.

But back to Dawkins’ book. Why is it called The God Delusion? It has to do with what the writer Robert Pirsig once observed: “When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.”

Amen to that, Brother Pirsig. Amen.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.


  • John Paul Parks says:

    The First Amendment originally applied only to Congress. It begins “Congress shall make no law . . .” The purpose of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause was to prevent CONGRESS from establishing a national religion. At the time, many states had established religions (e.g. Massachusetts and Virginia), and those states did not want the Congress to interfere with that. Thus, it is completely incorrect and unhistorical to say that Constitution demands the complete separation of church and state.

    It was not until 1940 that Supreme Court, in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940), decided that the First Amendment’s provisions on religion were applicable to the states.

  • Ray says:

    Amendment 1 “Congress shall make NO LAW repecting the ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION or abridge the free exercise thereof” In otherwords the government is supposed to stay away from religion PERIOD! Not for, not against. completely neutral. You dont take your car to a proctologist for repairs, why would you want government messing around with religion.

  • Toby Brown says:

    First Krishnamurti and now Dawkins. Your stock is rising. If you want to get a sense of Dawkin’s passion on the subject, check out his video on TED:

    Keep it coming!

  • Owen Courreges says:

    His criticism of religious beliefs is polite and thoughtful, but of course that does not appease the faithful.

    Do you think perhaps that the title might be part of the problem there? Nobody appreciates being told that their closely held beliefs amount to a delusion, and it isn’t particularly polite or thoughtful.

  • Steven Vore says:

    actually the Constitution says nothing about separation of church and state. that’s only in the federalist papers and in letters of T.Jefferson.

    Article VI of the Constitution says that no religious test can be required to hold office, and the 1st amendment says that the state can’t force me to practice any given religion or hinder my doing so. that was, of course, a reaction to the then-current practice in Europe of Monarchs forcing everyone to follow their religion.

    I understand the way that it’s been interpreted in the 200+ years since, but the common knowledge that the Constitution somehow mandates “separation of Church and State” is simply incorrect.

  • Steve says:

    Sam Harris’ The End of Faith is a much better read. His delivery seems a more reasonable approach. It’s even available for the Kindle. Then there is Hitchens’ book, but that is better in audio because it is read by the author.

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