Byline: Reviewed by Terry Grimley
If Labour had won the 1992 general election, as many people believed it would, Britain would have had its first self-avowedly atheist prime minister.
In the event Labour didn't win, but I have never heard it suggested that Neil Kinnock's atheism had anything to do with the result. Yet a Gallup Poll carried out in America seven years later revealed that while 79 per cent would vote for a homosexual election candidate, only 49 per cent would be willing to support an atheist.
In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins issues a rallying call for atheists to stand up and be counted. There are an awful lot of us around and we include many of the world's sharpest and best-educated minds. Yet in a world increasingly riven by religion-inspired wars and terrorism it seems, paradoxically, that we are living through an age of increasing religious deference.
Of course it's unsustainable to claim that religion is the root of all evil (the title for Dawkins's TV series, from which this book follows). Hitler and Stalin, for example, were both atheists.
But since those ogres departed in the mid-20th century religion has made a surprising come-back as a source of international conflict, with Islamic fundamentalism worryingly mirrored in an increasingly influential Christian fundamentalism in the US.
In Britain, a Labour government led by a Christian neo-conservative has enhanced the privileged status of religious belief through protective legislation and the promotion of faith schools.
Dawkins believes it's time to ditch politeness and tell it like it is. What drives terrorism is not religious extremism but religious belief. As Voltaire perceptively summed it up more than 200 years before 9/11: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
Ironically, as Dawkins points out, the origins of the now so-religious United States also lay in the Enlightenment, and its founding fathers were not particularly enthusiastic about religion. Consider Thomas Jefferson's "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man", Benjamin Franklin's "Lighthouses are more useful than churches", or John Adams's "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."
Yet in more recent times George Bush Snr is reported to have told a journalist that he was not sure atheists could be considered citizens or patriots because "this is one nation under God."
There is plenty of external evidence that religion is a major source of conflict in today's world, as it has been throughout history, but as a scientist Dawkins devotes the central section of his book to a scientific rebuttal of the very concept of God. …