Since the publication last year of Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, I've been aware of a mounting backlash against Dawkins, whose views have not merely been challenged on their merits (which of course is open to anyone to do in a free society), but typically dismissed for showing a lack of arcane theological knowledge that is really of little relevance to debates about either the truth or the social usefulness of religion. Worse, many attacks on Dawkins have become quite personal, reading his words in distorted, uncharitable ways to make him out to be, for example, a totalitarian monster who wants to prohibit parents teaching their religious beliefs to children, a philistine devotee of "scientism" (a word that has acquired so much baggage that its use in argument is now a signal that the person using it is some kind of irrationalist), or even the sort of mad scientist who would favour coercive experiments on human beings.
I've read most of Dawkins' work and I have a good enough sense of it to conclude with confidence that he is none of these things. Moreover, he is a lot more subtle than the clumsy readers who are currently attacking him.
What is especially annoying is watching other secular thinkers seeming to trip over each other in a terrified scramble to dissociate themselves from Dawkins.
I'm getting bored with this. Folks, a strong dose of hard-nosed rationalism is actually good for us all, so Dawkins deserves thanks for providing it. It's okay to criticise religion, even trenchantly. What's more, you can review a book that does so without running the risk of becoming an enemy of the people unless you condemn it.
Dawkins' books are best-sellers because he communicates brilliantly on topics that thinking people care about. The God Delusion is no exception. When the smoke clears, it will be apparent that this is an important book - sure, it may not make a terribly significant contribution to academic philosophy of religion (though I do not consider it negligible, even in that regard), but it has made a strong, clear, and thoughful contribution to public debate on immensely important issues to do with how religion should now be viewed, and what its future ought to be.
Its key message - that there is something horribly wrong, even creepy, about labeling a young child as, say, "Christian" or "Muslim" - is surely correct. Young children are in no better position to understand, and agree to, bodies of religious doctrine than to understand economic or political doctrine, but no one would point to some three year old and say, "Hey, look at that little libertarian girl" or "... at that Keynesian boy" or "... that Marxist kid."