I have an advance reading copy of Richard Dawkins' latest: The God Delusion. The "world's most prominent atheist" (according to the jacket) has been scooped, of course, by his friends Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Dan Dennett (Breaking the Spell). But not to worry, Dawkins can hold his own. His book is funnier, more mischievously disrespectful of religion than either of the other two. You know where he's going when right off the bat he quotes Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion." What follows is a rollicking reductio ad absurdum.
But I doubt if these books will dissuade believers from their beliefs. Faith and reason are pretty much antithetical, and religious faith in particular is inoculated against empirical evidence by centuries of uncompromising tradition.
But the very fact that the books can be published by major houses, and find a sufficient audience to make their publication commercially viable, suggests that something is going on -- a small but growing grassroots movement that eschews the supernatural, while reverencing the creation and striving, in a non-dualistic way, for something that might be called spirituality. The UUs, of course, have been at this a long time, and, as I have mentioned here before, I have of late made the acquaintance of communities of Catholic women religious (eg.) who are more interested in the creation as disclosed by science than in the fine points of traditional dogma. In a sense, Harris, Dennett and Dawkins are Johnnies-come-lately to the project of demystifying the world, and they haven't quite caught the spirit of the broader movement, which is more attuned to quiet attention and celebration than to the secular equivalent of Bible-thumping.
Still, one can only welcome the appearance of these zestfully irreverent books as user manuals for further demystification and burs under the saddles of religious dogmatists of every stripe.