The chapter headings and section titles say it all: "Cui bono?", "The growth market in religion", "Towards a buyer's guide to religion", "What can your religion do for you?". To Dennett, religion is for what you get out of it, and the most effective religions are those that, while demanding more of their followers, offer them more (or at least claim to). This gives Dennett, like Dawkins, sneering rights at more rarified brands of religion, those whose God does not listen to human prayers and is inaccessible to human knowledge. Such a God (if not a pure invention by self-interested exploiters) is at best an impotent ghost undeserving of human worship, for "Who can be loyal to a God who cannot be asked for anything?" (p. 193).
Well, Dennett would be surprised. Any mystic worth his salt, and many less-radical believers whose main driving force is the need to worship something greater than themselves, who do not expect anything in return, and who have the good sense to realize that "greater than themselves" better not refer to any kind of human--these don't ask for anything back. Dennett has obviously never felt this need, and if forced to confront it would probably pour scorn on it, mistaking it for some servile act unworthy of a Bold Man Standing Alone in an Indifferent Universe, so I'm wasting my time if I go further with this. I would simply point out that if you're ignorant of this side of human experience, and proud of that ignorance, it's no different from saying you're proud of being deaf, or blind, or impervious to human suffering.
Instead I'm going to catch Dennett out in a self-contradiction. That's much more fun. With anyone as logically akamai as Dennett, you don't get to do that every day, or year, for that matter. Here goes.
In his section entitled "The domestication of religion" (pp. 167-74), Dennett shows himself perfectly aware that religion can be, and repeatedly is, hijacked and exploited by those, both clerical and secular, who seek power over others. "Curious practitioners" (or kleptocrats, as he calls them a few lines later) "will also have uncovered whatever Good Tricks are in the nearest neighborhoods in the Design Space of possible religions" (p. 171). In other words, religious beliefs are consciously and purposely manipulated by the powerful for the powerful.
That was in Chapter 7. By Chapter 10 he's forgotten all about that. (All these nouveau-atheist books have an air of being hastily thrown together for a quick buck.) Now, "Those who feel guilty contemplating 'betraying' the tradition they love by acknowledging their disapproval of elements within it"--those , for example, who feel uneasy over the darker aspects of Christianity--"should reflect on the fact that the very tradition to which they are so loyal...is in fact the evolved product of many adjustments firmly but delicately made by earlier lovers of the same tradition" (p. 292, my italics).
No it's not, Dan. You yourself just said it's not. The Kurious Kleptocrats did it. Or at least a lot of it.
You can't have it both ways. Beliefs were produced either by "lovers of the same tradition"--true believers--or by power-greedy kleptocrats manipulating the faithful. Dennett can't wriggle out of this by saying, of course some were produced by one lot and some by the other. True, he hasn't claimed ALL religious beliefs are just "Good Tricks" pulled by the unscrupulous, but he HAS claimed that whole religious tradition s accumulate from the words and works of true believers.
Why? Because atheists want to have it both ways They want to ridicule religion by every available means, so its deliberate manipulation as a means of social control has to be brought in somewhere. At the same time, given the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners strategy they've chosen (and I'll tell you why they chose it in a later post), they want to show there's no real difference between liberals and fundamentalists--liberals are vainly hoping to dodge the Just Wrath of the Atheist by disavowing the less defensible aspects of their faith, and no atheist worth his byline in the MSM is going to let a little thing like logic save them from their just deserts.
As I'll later show, what's wrong with Christianity--which, in point of fact, is not really Christianity at all, but the sinister hybrid Judeo-Christianity--was not, for the most part, the work of "earlier lovers of the tradition", but stems, in large part, from political manipulation from both inside and outside the Church. But thoughts like this are impossible for "free-thinkers". For them, there can't be "something that has gone wrong" with any religion, for at least two reasons.
One, religions are bad throughout, so atheists lose face if they admit that any religion ever was, or ever could be, anything but bad through and through. Two, by defining personal religion out of the equation, and focusing solely on religion as a form of social organization, Dennett automatically rules out any scenario involving conflict between individual and social (the blind sheep are supposed to swallow the kelptocrats' Good Tricks, hook, line and sinker). After all, those tricks are memes, and memes are sinister viruses that, willy-nilly, infest and infect our species, no less irresistibly than, in days of yore, Dawkins' Selfish Genes manipulated those lumbering robots who naively thought they were human individuals with free will.
And that's another piece I'd thought of doing, on Dennett's meme-infatuation. But I'm going to reserve that for a post still a half-dozen stops down the line, called "The Credulity of the Skeptic". This will deal with all the remarkable things that our pious unbelievers actually do believe in, from WMDs in Iraq and jihadi serial virgin-deflowerers to the official 9/11 story and the meme.
Don't believe in God but believe in memes? I mean, come on!
For next time, I promise you Something Completely Different. I'm going to do what both sides have very significantly failed to do, so far. That is, place the debate firmly in the context of human history.