A vision of utopia shared by East and West 375 pages, ★★★★★
This book entered my reading list via a DVD called Let Harmony Redeem (和谐拯救危机). The DVD is a dialogue between Buddhist monk Ven. Master Chin Kung and renowned Buddhist Dahui Chen. This approximately 12-hour dialogue has had massive influence in Asian countries and in overseas Asian communities by revitalising traditional Chinese culture.
The DVD was modelled on a book called Choose Life. Choose Life is a dialogue between Daisaku Ikeda and the renowned British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee. Their conversations cover all aspects of life and culture and are organised by theme. Like the DVD, Let HarmonyRedeem, the authors reach a consensus on all the topics despite their very different cultural perspectives. The result is calming and utopian.
Topics in Choose Life range from subconscious thought process to the social role of literature; from our animal instincts to the ideal property market. Most interesting was the dialogue on the purpose of a school education. The authors agreed that the primary aim of education should be to teach children how to live, and practical benefit should be relegated to just a secondary aim. I agree completely.
Choose Life reminds me of The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang (reviewed here). These two books describe a meaningful life at large and small scales.
I recommend Choose Life particularly for non-Asians who want to explore East Asian culture in more depth (like me!) ★★★★★
Pedantic, borderline sadism. Hatred and mockery of faith.
406 pages, ★★
Richard Dawkins is the world’s most outspoken atheist. He crusades against organised religion and anyone who holds faith in phenomena that haven’t yet been proven by a double-blind scientific trial. In his books and feisty speeches, Richard Dawkins persuades the religious public to renounce their beliefs and adopt a stubborn, intolerant, militant mixture of atheism and science—let’s call it Dawkinism—instead.
His first argument is that God doesn’t exist. On page 35, he describes Catholicism as “shamelessly invented… tasteless, kitsch… airy nonchalance”. The rest of the book is peppered with anti-religious mockery, and trivia, which he sometimes turns into evidence (e.g. Joseph’s family tree). One of his arguments backfires on page 173, and he makes arguments on pages 83 and 119 that blatantly contradict each other. His crusade is far from flawless.
His second argument is that a world without religion would be a better one, claiming that religion was the sole cause of atrocities such as “9/11, 7/7, the Crusades, witch hunts, the Gunpowder Plot… …Northern Ireland’s troubles and those swindling television evangelists”. This more worrying argument is flawed for two reasons.
First, he overlooks the swathes of good that religion has done for society in terms of creating cultural traditions and amalgamating civilisations. Instead, he only talks about when religion goes wrong. Second, he assumes that science is inherently ‘good’ (or is at least ‘better’ than religion), when this is probably not true. Science brought us the atomic bomb, climate change, and even some genocides were ‘justified’ by science. The 9/11 attacks were no more of a reason to give up on religion than the atomic bomb was a reason to give up on science. As Deng Xiaoping said:
“If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies”. — Deng Xiaoping
Neither science nor religion are perfect, but both have their place in society. They explain different phenomena and we need both.
The God Delusion would be a noble goal if Dawkinism actually offered any reasonable alternatives to the moral, spiritual, and metaphysical and questions answered by religion. But it does not. The scientific method, by definition, is useless at answering spiritual questions because, by definition, nothing purely spiritual can ever be directly observed! By never being able to answer spiritual questions, Dawkinism aims to demolish more than it builds, and is thus doomed to fail as a philosophy. (See my review of On Revolution).
I think that science and religion answer different questions entirely, and are more complementary than contradictory. Here’s a snippet from my conversation with Anthony Hewish back in 2009, when he showed me his Nobel Prize for Physics:
Me: What do you think about the existence of God?
Hewish: I think it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that God exists. I’ve been a Christian all my life. Arguments from authors such as Richard Dawkins I find shallow and trivial. Tension arises from religion’s historical background that leads us to all sorts of assumptions and theories. I agree with John Polkinghorne that you need both science and religion if you’re going to make sense of life as a whole.
Interestingly, the Dalai Lama agrees with both Anthony Hewish and John Polkinghorne on this matter.
But even if Dawkins were right, and there is no God, what benefit would that bring to the world? Disproving the beliefs of billions of people would do no good at all. If Dawkins had good intentions, then he would not want to be right, and would promptly give up his fight.
Above all, The God Delusion reminded me that no matter the magnitude of historical atrocities justified in the name of religion, atheistic extremism can be just as militant, stubborn and ugly as religious extremism. Just look at Dawkins. If atheists reject this book in disgust, and become more tolerant of religion as a result, then I’ll consider The God Delusion to be a success. There is no other way that this book could make any meaningful contribution to humanity.
Fortunately, Buddhism and Confucianism are spared from Dawkins’ wrath, for, according to Dawkins, they are “not religions at all but ethical systems or philosophies of life” (page 37-38). That phrase earned this book an extra star. You’re better off reading articles about Dawkins than the books that Dawkins wrote himself. Just try to avoid the firing line of his sadistic, atheistic crusade. ★★