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on October 15, 2016
I am posting a letter that I wrote to my siblings as a review of this "enlightening book."

Dear J & J,

Friday night, I decided to slowly read through a book on "religion as a natural phenomenon. As long as I have been in religious circles, no one has attempted to explain to me or even discuss where this idea of religion originated. However, not all religions are the same in regards to intent. Dr. Dennett wrote that sharks and dolphins may have similar attributes and can swim in the same waters, however, as often observed, the shark’s intent is definitely not the same as a dolphin.

In his book “Breaking the Spell” by Daniel C. Dennett wrote “Religious cults (or pseudo religions) and political fanatics are not the only casters of evil spells today. Think of the people who are addicted to drugs, or gambling, or alcohol, or child pornography.” Dr. Dennett also states that religion in America is not the same as religions in other countries.

It seems that religion is important to most of our family members and many Americans. Just look at all the televangelists begging for money and getting it. I might suggest that all of us step back and look at the idea of what is religion in the first place. I suggest not waiting until you are lying in bed sick or lying in bed dying before you attempt to understand this idea of religion. Just because it has been handed down to us through traditions does not make it correct in the first place.

In fact, Jesus practiced a lesson similar to Socrates; as a teacher, he never put someone down because a student does not agree. Thomas is known as doubting Thomas and Jesus never put him down; I prefer to call Thomas a skeptic. In my experience, healthy skepticism might have kept me from participating in a pseudo religion for thirteen years. In my view, healthy skepticism is another way of saying "intellectual honesty." One thing I know for sure is that nothing in life to a human is certain, nothing. None of us really knows anything for sure.

This book is well worth the read for true believers and skeptics.
Good luck to you all.
Steven L. H.
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on December 9, 2014
Dennett takes us on what amounts to a sort of rough draft, or outline of his hypothesis on how traditional folk religions first developed and then 'culturally evolved' into the sophisticated religions that are popular amongst humanity today. This book will be of great interest to all thinking people, religious or otherwise, who like to think about how our world works. Dennett is up front about the limitations of his ideas and asks as many questions as he does make statements about the matter at hand. The book wraps up with Dennett discussing how we might go about answering some of the questions he puts forward through out. It's in no way a 'religion bash' like Dawkins et al might write and in fact probably the most thought provoking writing on the subject of religion I've come across.
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on April 30, 2013
Dennett seems like he'd be one of the nicest people you would ever meet. He is not polarizing like, say Dawkins, but that also gives him the ability to reach a broader audience. That, unfortunately, may be where he lost some steam with me in this book. I felt like his detailing his argument parameters left me often saying, "I know, let's get to it." Therein lies the problem I had with this book, I wasn't the target audience. The book really seemed to be geared to those who have not really examined their position on faith and belief or are just starting to. I did so long ago so this book only added nuggets of supporting information for my convictions.

As a philosopher, he is stunningly detailed in his mapping an argument and his approach is very even handed. This makes him accessible to those who are intellectual and also wanting to take an honest look at the arguments on faith, etc. Dennett doesn't demonize or mock peoples beliefs but rather just lays the arguments out for reasonable discussion. However, Dennett is so thorough he comes off as a bit meandering and boring if you already know where he's going. But, if you are new to the arguments or material then you will probably enjoy this hard work.

I didn't like the idea of grouping "freethinkers" as "brights" for two reasons: 1. It simply seems a little corny; 2. It implicitly suggests those who believe are "dims." Again, where ND Tyson and Dennett shine (as did Sagan so perfectly) is their non-offensive approach which allows people to process the information without tuning out due to perceived insult. This is the role of the educator.

In the end, I think I prefer listening to Dennett in a lecture setting more than his writing as the time constraints force him to be quicker to the point. But again, for those who enjoy philosophy or simply want a robust, yet unoffensive, argument on faith and belief this book will likely serve them well
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on February 18, 2017
I won't lie: this book was hard for me to read as it went through the development of the theme. I've always thought that religions were started as complex s they are right now but Dennet talks about primitive religions and how the non believers would approach the getting the know them and the believers explaining. As I understand it, this explaining would evolve the religion as into a more sophisticated set of practices and tenets.
It is also enlightening when the author explains how religious participants don't even really believe but accept what they are requiered in their churches. Definitely will read again to clarify my understanding
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on August 6, 2015
Dennett is a very good philosopher and writer. He raises many questions about what religion is and why it should be studied scientifically. He leads the reader through paths presenting questions and their possible answers from all sides. He doesn't take sides but does show why some answers are incorrect or need further examination as they have too long been accepted blindly on faith against all evidence to the contrary. The readers that stay with him will gain a great understanding of religion and the philosophical and scientific perspective.
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on December 11, 2012
Along with Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary andThe Book Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C.Dennett are the top three books that I feel every skeptic/new atheist needs to have in their personal library.

I read my library's copy of this book,but I just ordered my own copy as I know that I will want to re-read these books,as much as I used to study my Bible!They are a joy to read,since they make so much sense and are not full of contradictions like the Bible is.

Breaking the spell did an awesome job of showing the similarities of religion to mythology and superstition,in easy to understand language,and that is where I found the greatest enlightenment and value.

Very highly recommended!
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on June 14, 2007
I believe it would take at least two readings of Dennett for most to fully grasp his input into the ubiquitous religious phenomenon/a. I plan to move on, but wish to relay my impressions.

As Dennett would agree, some people who claim to be religious are either non-participants, religiously shallow (sideliners), fanatical, or merely sponges that passively soak up (believe) what they are told is the "truth." Others are intelligent (non-religiously, at least), dedicated followers of the "truth" as they have been told it.

Yes, as Dennett proposes, if religion is important it should prove itself and not hide behind the you-must-have-faith cloak, which is sort of like the pusher (of whatever) saying, "Trust me."

The author is persuasive (gentle AND firm) in his technique at opening up the minds of spiritually-oriented people (regardless of their religious bent), fence-sitters (known as agnostics) and the quite-satisfied atheists. I feel sure, as he admits, some religious types will bristle at his audacity to question and lay bare religion/s, tentatively or absolutely--such readers will close the book, he expects. But not being willing to hear the other person out is too cowardly, too defensive, too insular. Even if one thinks Dennett has gotten it wrong, one should wrestle with his contentions--as some previous reviewers have.

This reading was both an uncomfortable insight or intrusion into my beliefs about the subject of religion and any god. Regardless of my present (if any) religious state of mind, the tentacles of a god-worshipping mind-set were tenuously present. Was this book going to suffocate me: Snuff out the life I knew, but had begun to question, to reject--yet felt guilty about believing and, also, not believing? The author forced me to face the future as reason sees it--believing this is it, there isn't any more. This is something I didn't want to think about, but WHY NOT examine a belief system I was simply born into?

To be redundant, I knew from the beginning that this would be a hard but necessary read. Hard, because it would make me face life-long assumptions, and the fear of losing a "what if" hard-wired (socialized/brainwashed) into my being. And necessary, because it would urge me to think about what is reality, that is, spiritual reality as to whether, indeed, it is "the real thing."

There is a lot of "meat" in this book, but I want to share just a few quotes that made me ponder:

Page 53: "[Readers] will see me...as trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that."
Page 134: "Some crutches of the soul work only if you believe they do"--quoting someone else.
Page 208: "Most people don't feel the need to examine the details of the religious propositions they profess."
Page 303: Dennett defines spirituality as "letting your SELF go." Would some think this definition borders on "good" hedonism? (I wonder how he would separate them.)
Page 309: "In a nutshell...religion evolved [is man-made--yes, man made god], but it doesn't have to be good for us in order to evolve. Tobacco [use] evolved [too]."
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on October 28, 2016
A great scholarly work.
Dennett is one of the most tolerant atheists I have read. He does not treat religious people in a condescending manner, which was refreshing.
His goal is to scientifically determine what the origins and effects of religion are. Along the way though, he raises important questions about the utility of religion and its use of ambiguity as an element of fitness.
Thoroughly fascinating book.
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on July 23, 2013
The most concise, clear, and undeniable (if you allow yourself to read it) thesis on just how we became enamored with folk, traditional, and finally organized religion, I've ever read. I believe it allows "the faithful" something they maybe haven't had before: A way out that is blameless, honorable, and above all without shame. It explains step-by-step the human propensity to want something that some of us know, if not outwardly, then very, very deeply just isn't there. This book will hold a high place on my altar to atheism. I encourage open-minded believers, and non-believers to read it. Believers will come away KNOWING something more about themselves, not just a blind, unquestioning faith. Non-believers will see further vindication, and maybe encourage fence-sitting agnostics to join the drumbeat.
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on January 31, 2017
I didnt care for the author's style. Complex sentences in long paragraphs (many lasting longer than a page) with long, dry quotes, make pretty tiresome reading. Each chapter reads like a series of dry college lectures and less like a book. On the good side, this is interesting subject matter that is well-sourced and referenced. The author has a lot of interesting points. If only he could tighten and "pep" it up a bit...
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