For those needing a quick summary, here are 8 essential points made in the book.
(1) Religion is very old:
Religion is as old as humanity; there is physical evidence of this. The fact that humans are mortal is an important source of religious belief and, as long as humans continue to die, religion will remain. The call of the New Atheists, i.e., Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, for the end of religion, is futile.
(2) This all started with the Big Bang:
Humanity has resulted from a natural process that began with the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, the formation of the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, and evolution by natural selection. This view is consistent with atheist thinking, but the author differs on many other points. All humans are members of a single subspecies of social animals, which has important implications for equality among us and reciprocal duties of each of us towards all others.
(3) There are no miracles:
The physical laws of the universe are never violated–there are no miracles. Human life as we know it will not end with the coming of a Messiah or a Day of Judgment, but by a natural cosmic occurrence, such as asteroid impact or aging of the sun, unless willfully destroyed beforehand by our own perverse actions.
(4) The spiritural world is unknowable:
The existence of a Spiritual World, populated by supernatural beings and souls, is simply unknowable. This view differs with the assertions of both believers and atheists.
(5) “Sacred” is the highest ideal:
The concept of the “sacred,” while employed only in a religious context by theorists such as Mircea Eliade and Clifford Geertz, may be used secularly to define the highest ideals guiding human actions. The US Declaration of Independence contains an example. Just governance is a sacred ideal to be strived for.
(6) Humans can control religion:
Religion has been responsible for considerable violence from earliest times; humans can take specific actions to minimize it. Separation of church and state must be defended vigilantly; fundamentalists continually try to undermine it. Adherents of each religion should work to eliminate denigrating statements about non-believers in their liturgies and by their leaders.
(7) Moderate religious practice is common; fanaticism is much less so:
The New Atheists are incorrect in several assertions about religion. It does not invariably lead to fanaticism, as claimed. When all worldwide observances are considered, headline-generating terrorism is rare. Theological agreement is only one possible reason for people to adhere to a religion. Social relationship is another; so is group solidarity, particularly for ethnic minorities. Religion is an important aspect of culture. The desire of Dawkins for all children to be raised in a religion-free environment is a delusion. The claim of Hitchens that male circumcision has no health benefits is incorrect, in light of recent medical findings.
(8) Attitudes of the New Atheists are similar to those of religious fundamentalists:
The New Atheists have much in common with religious fundamentalists; both read the holy scriptures literally, with no understanding of the interpretations which make them applicable to the present day. The assertion by Sam Harris that “Judaism is ridiculous in its literalism” demonstrates total ignorance of that religion.