Few forces in the world are as potent as religion: it comforts people in their suffering and inspires them to both magnificent and terrible deeds. In this provocative and timely book, Daniel C. Dennett seeks to uncover the origins of religion and discusses how and why different faiths have shaped so many lives, whether religion is an addiction or a genuine human need, and even whether it is good for our health. Arguing passionately for the need to understand this multifaceted phenomenon, Breaking the Spell offers a truly original – and comprehensive – explanation for faith.
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion.
He does go on.
I have tried reading this book a number of times. I find it really hard going as he does tend to wibble on and on and on about nothing. I have read the other books by the “four horsemen” (Dawkins, Harris and Hitchins) and really enjoyed them. I have read The God Delusion a number of times. However, this one I struggle with. Perhaps it’s because he’s a philosopher.