I finally got my copy from the library after weeks of being on a waiting list - it seems that it is a book that scratches itching ears. Now I am a theist, more than that a Christian (and sometimes am happy to use the monkier Evangelical). Why am I reading this book? Firstly, it seems intellectually dishonest not to look at this sort of thing, no matter how lame it may end up being. Secondly, it is better to understand ideas rather than dismiss them, or the person, to ban or burn the book.
It is interesting to realise that Dawkins is no more presumptuous than any evangelist who ever wrote a book to convert people, he wants to convert people to Atheism. He wants people to realise that they have a choice not to believe what their parents do, as much as anyone growing up in a household of no religious conviction has the choice to adopt one (though Dawkins wouldn't say that).
Of course, he writes from the perspective that only atheism is a properly basic belief, and although he doesn't say it, the only belief children really have. No Christian children? No American or Australian children then either since these are beliefs and attitudes more than they are facts of birth, or no atheistic children either. Yet we know kids are not tabula rasa either, and may be hard wired to believe something. Of course I teach my 4 year old about God. Does this mean he can't be a free thinker? I've always found it presumptuous arrogance that the only ones allowed to be free thinkers are atheists! No one is totally free to believe exactly what they like - no one but the insane.
He bases the idea on the fact that children can't understand what they believe - again readily falsifiable. No one understands everything they believe - indeed from this point of view his book is sueful to stress this to everyone, to examine themselves and their beliefs. I learnt the plum pudding and planetary models of the atom before shells, Newton before Einstein, and Jesus loves me before Jesus is Lord over all Caesars. You could then dismiss religion as an evolutionary stage (as many do), indeed for people's lives (from childhood to adulthood), but this isn't a necessary argument. The point is, my son will learn about the faith, take communion when he can articulate for himself ideas he understands, and stop going if he decides it is all nonsense. I'll try to give him tools to think through it for himself, and he'll learn about evolution from early on.
This was mostly some initial remarks in his introduction. The stuff about religious violence in chapter 1 is weak. You cannot seperate religion neatly from nationalism or tribalism as he tries to - so making religion the cause of violence is no stronger an argument than not blaming it at all. There is violence - period. Atheism has killed its share under Marxist regimes. Religion can be singing a national anthem with your hand on your heart before the flag, then going off to bomb someone. Religion occurs in the mall. None of this whitewashes the crimes of monotheism (he can group them because he has already dismissed them - it makes the analysis shorter).
Interesting bits and pieces on the founding fathers of the USA, but no surprises - all it proves is the difference perhaps between those who founded the country and those who lived (and live) in it. I am sad that Atheists are persecuted in the USA, as sad as I am when Christians have been persecuted in Communists countries.
My summary so far - predictable.