Good Reading : September 2007
SEPTEMBER 2007 ı goodreading 39 books about religion word of mouth having faith in athiest books Novelist and regular contributor ALAN GOLD takes a look at the almost Biblical flood of books about atheism that has inundated bookshops this year. Atheists and conscientious objectors once occupied the same perception in the minds of the public: sincere people, but at odds with the mainstream. And although some of the world’s most brilliant people, such as Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Abraham Lincoln, Aldous Huxley and Charles Darwin, didn’t believe in a deity, very few atheists fitted comfortably into conventional society. Today, however, there is a veritable tor rent of books coming onto the market in which the atheist authors not only wage a fundamentalist war against all of the deities, but excoriate religion as one of the leading precursors of the evil men do. There is nothing polite, nothing apologetic, in these books. Not for these authors is there any agnostic middle ground for appreciating the possibility of a God or any benefits which might have flowed from religion and faith. Instead, the authors skewer dogma and devotion as though they were a cor ruption of the natural world and the abusers of reason. Leading the charge with the most merciless and unequivocal salvo is the pugnacious Christopher Hitchens, whose God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything finds not a single aspect of any of the great religions which justifies their continued existence. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delu- sion and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenom- enon pursue similar themes, but Hitchens is the clear pack leader. As a political com- mentator, Hitchens’s acidic tongue and jaundiced eye make for some of the sharpest commentary today, and so it is only natural that when he turns his thoughts to his favourite topic of disdain – God and the religions created in the deity’s name – his venom should be at its most vitriolic. Other recent books include Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis, Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation and David Mills’s Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism . So why today is there a sudden rush to publish books which seek to under mine the faith that billions of people place in religions which have been in existence for millennia? In each case, the authors see themselves as shock troops, the good and rational guys, in a war against the terrorism of cardinals, imams and rabbis. The common thesis of these books is that religion is superstition, the antithesis of rationality and the enemy of science and education, and that the world has been, and continues to be, crippled by the false notion of faith in a supreme being. The tipping point which made these authors’ private conversations suddenly public has been the growing militancy of religion. Muslim terrorists who kill in the name of Allah in order to create a sharia caliphate, far-right Christian extremists who they blame for putting the worst-ever president into the White House, and fanatical Jewish settlers’ presence on Palestinian soil in the name of an ancient prophesy have all contributed to the sudden emergence into the public arena of the atheists. Disgusted with the way religion is ruining the world, they’ve become prize fighters, taking on any religious contender. Nobody could deny that a suicide bomber screaming the name of his god just before killing dozens of innocents is mouthing a perversion of his religion. But by a similar token, what most of the h d liberately ignore is the good that religion has done in areas of social welfare, community and charity. Hitchens is especially caustic in his condemnation, allowing virtually nothing good to have come out of two thousand years of Christianity. Anything good, he maintains, would have happened anyway in an theist universe. Atheism, of course, isn’t new. What new is the evangelical atheism which hese and other authors are trumpeting. Half a century ago Bertrand Russell, England’s best known philosopher, wrote a short text entitled Why I am an Atheist. But his was a lone voice in a nation which considered him a loveable eccentric. Today’s atheists, however, are as militant as religious extremists. Theirs isn’t a quiet and dignified dinner party philosophy – it is liberation theology without God, rampant rationalism, secularism propounded with religious zeal, evangelism without the angels. As the religions demand more adherence and as faith-based philosophies stipulate a greater say in governments, so atheists are feeling increasingly empowered to act as the independent voices of reason and rationality. And the publishing industry is benefit- ing mightily. More books are about to be published questioning the hold religion has on humankind, especially its antipathy to scientific advances such as stem cell research. So sit back in the pews and watch the fight. It’s religion versus the secularists, a clash of the Titans. But God knows who’ll win. www.goodreadingmagazine.com find a bookshop near you!