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4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating and balanced critique of atheism, 6 May 2012
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This review is from: The Twilight Of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (Kindle Edition)
I thought this book was very stimulating and provided a balanced contribution to understanding the development of atheism as a cultural world-view. That it was written before the current bout of New Atheism writings is beneficial, since it allowed a sober assessment of the variety and development of atheistic thinking over a longer period. McGrath makes a good job in identifying both the strengths and deficiencies in the atheist position, particularly its dependence upon a particular variety of institutional Christianity.

I was left with a much more relaxed view about atheism after reading this book. The current rather strident and anti-religious outpourings frequently to be found in popular books and on the internet can give a misleading impression about just how much influence the atheistic viewpoint actually commands. Various forms of religious experience still command the acceptance by the majority of the world's population. It was telling to see McGrath make the point that can be often encountered on the internet; atheists prefer their Christian opponents to have a very fixed and dogmatic adherence to scripture. The growth of experiential forms of Christianity and the manner in which Islam is seen as a complete way of life is a challenge to an opponent wishing to pick at the details of scripture. The point is well made in the book that religion moves with the times, whilst atheism is reliant on particular forms of religious practise and authority to which it is a viable and interesting alternative.

The Christian focus of the book is warranted, since atheism is very much a Western-European cultural reaction to authoritarian Christianity. McGrath avoids making an entirely Christian counter-argument, but frankly discussing other faiths such as Islam would be misplaced in this book. McGrath focuses on the different atheistic arguments of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud. It is notable that Marx has apparently disappeared from discussions about atheism to be replaced by a Darwinian argument. On this point, the current focus of atheist ire are the literal-minded religious Creationists who are locked in opposition to the Darwinian viewpoint. To expand on a theme made by McGrath, such a preoccupation does not really inspire an individual or enrich their lives. This for me is the major deficiency of atheism highlighted in the book with respect to a number of different lines of argument.

Atheist advocates always appear to prefer to dismiss the atheistic credentials of Soviet society. I think McGrath makes the case that the atheistic world-view has not led historically to a benign society. One regularly reads atheist apologists claiming that no one was killed in the name of atheism. This appears to me a rather hollow statement, when there were clearly state-sanctioned policies to forcibly eradicate religion and promote atheism in Soviet Russia. The dead-hand of Marxist-Leninist atheism still exists in the world and it forms an interesting blind-spot in atheism discussions that I read.

I read this book after reading a later one written by McGrath (Why God Won't Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism). I found this book more enlightening since its scope allowed a fuller appreciation of different strands of atheistic thought.

I have a small gripe about the Kindle version that I read. It appears that the document was possibly the product of OCR scanning, since the same errors were frequently encountered (fife instead of life, he instead of lie). The lack of apparent proof-reading would be shocking in a printed book; I don't see why the same standards should not be applied to an electronic copy. By the end of the book this was sufficient for me to dock a star from my review. The book was very good, but the presentation of the document could have been better.
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