Here comes Richard Dawkins beating around the bush again. The God Delusion--wonder what the message of the book might be. Why can't this guy just come out and say what he thinks?

I jest, of course. Saying what he thinks has never been a problem for Richard Dawkins. A professor at Oxford University, Dawkins is the Thomas Huxley of our era, the most accomplished and distinguished exponent of science over religion, and especially of natural selection over other proposed explanations for human existence. In books such as The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable, Dawkins eloquently presents the materialist interpretation of biology--that there is nothing more to nature than what meets the eye. Dawkins has also engaged in numerous high-profile public arguments that science can disprove religion, often lecturing or speaking to the media on this theme.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins takes off the gloves, plus the scarf and the earmuffs. Faith isn't merely wrong, he argues; religion is dangerous lunacy. The religious do not deserve respect, any more than respect should be extended to crazy people raving in the streets about the Trilateral Commission. If there were no religion, The God Delusion maintains, there would have been no 9/11, no Troubles in Northern Ireland, no Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no partition of India and Pakistan, "no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money." That belief in God is a delusion is not a private matter, Dawkins writes; the religious are well-organized and influence the world's governments, and essentially all of their influence is harmful. Dawkins proposes that atheists and agnostics stop politely respecting faith and organize to discredit religion, with the goal of halting its involvement in education and public policy. Coming after Sam Harris' The End of Faith, which also argues that it is time for secular society actively to oppose religion, The God Delusion is an important book that merits close reading.

Blaming Faith for All the World's WoesThere's no doubt that all faiths contain their share of claptrap. There's no doubt religion has done the world considerable wrong in the past and will cause more wrongs in the future. There's no doubt many believers are hypocrites or can barely describe the most basic tenets of the theology they claim to cherish. There's no doubt the religious often act as though they don't believe what they profess. In one of the best passages of The God Delusion, Dawkins asks why Christians mourn the righteous dead, when their faith holds that a perfect afterlife awaits, and Jesus taught not to fear death. "Could it be that [Christians] don't really believe all that stuff they pretend to believe?" he asks. (I've written pretty much the same thing myself.) And there's no doubt that televangelists are a shameless, seedy group. If Jesus was moved to rage when he saw moneychangers in the temple, how would he feel about late-night religious charlatans with their 800 numbers flashing on the screen?

But The God Delusion overstates the case against religion by blaming faith for practically everything wrong with the world. Suppose we woke up tomorrow morning and found that every denomination had disappeared. The Israelis and Palestinians would still be at each other's throats: their conflict is about land, liberty, and modernity, not faith. (Israel is among the world's most secular nations; the fact that most Israelis are not particularly religious has hardly reduced tensions.) If neither Hinduism nor Islam had existed in 1948, the partition of the Subcontinent might still have occurred and been as awful. Very strong ethnic hostilities, combined with resource scarcity, were at work. September 11? The key fact is not that the United States was attacked that day by Muslims. The key fact was that the country was attacked by Arabs, and there would be radical Arab hostility to American suzerainty in the Persian Gulf even if religion vanished.