John Gray on Atheism’s proselytizers

Maggi Dawn points us to a piece in the Guardian Review in which British author and philospopher John N. Gray examines the popularity of the “New Atheists” —same as the old atheists, he adds, examining the motivations of “secular fundamentalists.”

An atmosphere of moral panic surrounds religion. Viewed not so long ago as a relic of superstition whose role in society was steadily declining, it is now demonised as the cause of many of the world’s worst evils. As a result, there has been a sudden explosion in the literature of proselytising atheism. A few years ago, it was difficult to persuade commercial publishers even to think of bringing out books on religion. Today, tracts against religion can be enormous money-spinners, with Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great selling in the hundreds of thousands. For the first time in generations, scientists and philosophers, high-profile novelists and journalists are debating whether religion has a future. The intellectual traffic is not all one-way. There have been counterblasts for believers, such as The Dawkins Delusion? by the British theologian Alister McGrath and The Secular Age by the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. On the whole, however, the anti-God squad has dominated the sales charts, and it is worth asking why.

Zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living – their own, suitably embellished – is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion. It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when they demonise religion.

There’s more—Gray scrutinizes the positions of authors such as Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and other authors, and provides some historical perspective on what exactly tends to happen when religion is actively suppressed. Read the whole thing here.

Category : The Lead
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  1. Donald Schell

    John Gray’s whole article in the Guardian is well worth reading. I was particularly interested in his reminding us that contemporary ‘religiously inspired’ terrorism and even suicide bombing borrows directly from secularist radicals of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

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