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In Defence of Atheism: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam Hardcover – 7 Jun 2007
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Michel Onfray declares war on religion and pleads for an art of living, one that discovers in philosophy the expression of a freedom forever being reinvented. A caustic new essay.
Thierry Paquot in Le Magazine litt?raire 'Michel Onfray is everything the Da Vinci Code is not. Speaking from the epoch of the Internet and the mobile phone, Onfray rounds furiously on a collection of intellectuals (he calls them 'prehistoric') who resort to magical thinking in their attempt to justify the skulduggery of present times (Nicolas Bourcier and Yann Plougastel in Le Monde 2)
Muscular in style and purport, Onfray sometimes swaps his philosophical garb for a pamphleteer's weeds. Philosophy gets out on the streets again, militant as it has never been since Sartre, Foucault and Deleuze. (Guillaume Allary in Elle)
About the Author
Michel Onfray was born in 1959 in the village of Argentan near Caen where he still lives. A high-school philosophy teacher for 20 years, he resigned from the state education sector and in 2002 set up the People's University in Caen. His twenty books map out a theory of hedonism: some celebrate the senses - smell, taste and the visual; others formulate a contemporary atheist ethics. He is currently at work on a six-volume alternative history of philosophy of which the first two volumes have been published.
Top customer reviews
Onfray is an atheist but he doesn't seem to be attempting to convert anyone to atheism, and indeed, his writing style is not likely to convert believers. Instead, the book is a polemic reflection about the effects of religion and a call to reason, probably aimed mostly at fellow atheists.
An interesting chapter of the book is spent deconstructing the myth of Jesus and how Christianity came to be the world's biggest religion and how some of it's teachings (especially those of Paul) may have come to be.
Another large portion of the book explains why religion has been the monotheistic teachings have caused so much evil. It's all very true but not exactly news.
The real purpose of the book comes in the last few pages, where he returns to something he wrote about in the beginning of the book. Here he says the choice is not between western Judeo-Christian values and Muslim values, but between religion and secularism. According to Onfray, much of the current secular values have their roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and he calls for a post-Christian secularism with post-Christian ethics.
Onfray is obviously a very knowledgeable philosopher and he makes many good points. The book is probably aimed at atheists and philosophers. It's not a book to start with for those new to atheism or those with only a sporadic interest in ahteism or religion, but at the same time, for the already-convinced atheist, such as myself, there's really not much new to be found in this book.
In order to defend atheism, Onfray's tactic is to attack the three religions he rails against. He does so from a huge array of perspectives: torture, ignorance, purity, the body, hatred of science, etc. He is broadly right but nonetheless his rant has the aura of a sleight of hand.
One of the problems with books that rail against religion is that they use hyperbole to shock in order to make their case. For example, this is how Onfray begins section 1 of chapter 3 in part 2 of the book: "Monotheisms have no love of intelligence, books, knowledge, science." This is not a quirk of the translation because overstated claims like this are consistent throughout the book. Surely it is somewhat far fetched to make such a claim. It makes me want to shout out against atheists and say there is no need for hyperbole your case against religion is strong enough without them.
There is some astute analysis here as Onfray makes his defence of atheism. I am always taken aback by how the majority of believers are cowed by the dogma of religious doctrine. Yet on the other hand the well educated and elite take a more sober and reasoned approach to belief in a religion. Onfray believes that the basis of this distinction is rooted in intellectuals, for example philosophers, who proceed to argue for a belief in religion from "intelligence, reason, deduction and argument" and religious prophets such as "Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad" who propose "dogma, revelation and obedience."
Unlike Dawkins, that most celebrated of British atheist, Onfray does not set out to claim or garner any great scientists or philosophers as fellow atheists in order to strengthen his case. No, to his credit, Onfray's position is one based on reasoned argument and experience. This stance must be applauded. On the contrary some big names such as Kant and Nietzsche come in for criticism for their approach to religion.
He brilliantly coins a concept Christian atheism. For Onfray Christian atheism is a "Christianity without God." Those whom the concept capture wants to deny God but at the same time sees good in Christian values and evangelical morality." Onfray would have none of this he says: "good has no need of God, of heaven, or of any unintelligible anchorage." The evangelical aspect of the concept Christian atheism should be an approach for those atheist who behave in that way to avoid.
No book that rails against religion could fail to mention its atrocities. In Defence of Atheism does so but without bashing us into believing the atrocities outlined. Of equal interest in the chapter that deals with these issues, chapter three, is Onfray's use of Michel Foucault's concept of epistemology as a discourse device to reveal the world from a particular perspective. Onfray shows us how religion has penetrated many aspects of our lives. He concludes that: "It is almost as if religion needs innocence, lack of education, and ignorance in order to thrive." For me this is an almost self evident truth. Just look at the divide in approach to religious believe between the so called first and third worlds or the colonizers and the colonized. The later out of poor education and ignorance take religious tenets literally without any questioning.
As one reads this book, especially part four, one gets a sense that Onfray is ironically evangelical in his approach. It's as if he wants to equip us with the critical and analytical skills needed to read the holy books he rails against. I welcome this as I take the view that one should not read such texts passively. He asks: "should we read more closely, more subtly, leaving the beaten paths habitually taken in approaching this subject?"
Onfray's book is a long polemical tirade against Christianity, Judaism and Islam. A little one sided but nonetheless a devastating critique of the three major religions.
Onfray's 'de-construction' of Islam, Christianity and Judaism is pretty thorough and it paves the way for his suggested 'next step'.
Surprisingly he feels that the current secularism of the west doesn't go far enough. He observes that we are still very much aligned to the ethics of the Judeo-Christian past and modern tolerance and acceptance of 'all religions equally' is not - and must not be - the final position.
I enjoyed this book very much and I'm sure that if you long for the day when superstition, fear and fable has no place in the minds of men and women, you'll enjoy it too.