Or so Richard Dawkins would have us believe. I just picked up his new book The God Delusion and only 40 pages in, I'm already feeling better about my slide towards atheism. I was brought up a devout Catholic in Dublin for the first years of my life and went to a Catholic school. After arriving in New Zealand, I continued to attend church and complete religious studies, but I just wanted to fit in with the agnostic kiwis around me who never even mentioned God and associated Sunday mornings with sleep-ins and cricket in the park rather than 10 o'clock mass, as I did.

New Zealanders have a lacklustre approach to religion except in those pockets where the conservative right has had a resurgence - Destiny Church and Exclusive Brethren strongholds.

I'm almost completely in agreeable with Dawkins on his Godless theories, but something holds me back from declaring myself an athiest. Maybe I'm hedging my bets.

Dawkins has helpfully constructed a faith scale so you can rank your level of belief in the creator of the universe. I'm pegging myself at number 6 on the scale. Do I believe in God. Dawkins No 6: "Very low probability, but short of zero. De Facto Athiest. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.

One step further (or higher) on the rung is No. 7: "Strong athiest. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction that Jung 'knows' there is one."

A thought-provoking book, one I picked up to help in research for my next screenplay, which is about faith, belief and poltergeists...

Speaking of good books, here's my Pacific Journalism Review review of John Pilger's new book Freedom Next Time.

Freedom Next Time by John Pilger

Bantam Press, 2006, 356pp ISBN 0593055535

In Freedom Next Time, the renowned investigative journalist and documentary maker John Pilger writes of “empire, facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom”.

These are themes common to his entire body of work, for Pilger has over the last 30 years made a name for himself as a journalist on a mission to unveil the injustices of the world. In doing so, he has become so caught up in his subjects and the unfair politics of the world that it’s hard to imagine him being able to write about anything objectively.

But in the countries examined in Freedom Next Time, the under-reported facts speak for themselves with an irony Pilger no longer needs to underline.

Pilger writes of the “official” freedoms in place in the likes of South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, devoting five long chapters to the stories of people that have struggled for years to win freedom and by and large, been denied it.

The fascinating opening chapter “Stealing a Nation” deals with the depopulation by the British of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It was a forced evacuation that passed the world by, barely reported in the media, the Chagossians kicked out of their island home in the 1960s to make way for the US and its military base.

As Pilger points out it was only thirty years after they lost their nation, when some of these “men Friday” returned from exile to their homes, that the media stumbled upon the story.

Pilger’s analysis of progress in South Africa since the fall of apartheid suggests that despite majority black rule, economic power remains in the hands of the wealthy white elite while black South Africans sink further into poverty. His evaluation of Nelson Mandela cast’s at least some of the leader’s glowing legacy in a whole new light.

The chapters on Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are similarly filled with fascinating reading that’s nevertheless pervaded with a flat sense of pessimism.

Still, reality seldom makes comfortable material, and with its enduring focus on the dispossessed people of these countries, Pilger’s work actually does become the “beacon of light in dark times” Noam Chomsky has labeled it.

- Peter Griffin

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