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Greywizard "Himalayan Wanderer" (Canada)

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Ideas That Matter: A Personal Guide for the 21st Century: Key Concepts for the 21st Century
Ideas That Matter: A Personal Guide for the 21st Century: Key Concepts for the 21st Century
by Prof A.C. Grayling
Edition: Hardcover

86 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous compendium of information and reflection on contemporary ideas and knowledge - highly recommended!, 1 May 2009
A.C. Grayling is an unfailingly compelling writer. Reasonable, clear, concise, elegant are only a few of the words that can be justly used to describe his writing and thought. This book is no exception. A collection of short, pithy, and always enlightening reflections on, as the title puts it, ideas that matter, organised so as to help the reader pursue particular interests in depth, Ideas that Matter: A Personal Guide for the 21st Century, is an invaluable source book for understanding the jumble of claims and counter-claims that swirl around us everyday.

The ideas are arranged in alphabetical order, and each entry refers to further entries that lead the reader more deeply into associated ideas. At the end of the book an appendix groups the various entries under general headings such as religion, science, politics and society, etc. For those who wish to pursue ideas at even greater depth Grayling provides an 'indicative' bibliography, pointing the reader to further sources of information on the ideas concerned, which, in turn, no doubt, will lead to futher reading and depth of understanding.

Grayling is not impartial, if by impartial be meant a desire not to offend religious believers by calling religious beliefs into question. He is, however, courteous in his dissent, no matter how strongly expressed; but, more importantly, he gives reasons for believing as he does, and rightly chides religion for its continuing failure to provide reasons why we should take religions as seriously as they take themselves. Grayling repudiates, with some justice, the title 'atheist' - this being a term of abuse used by the religious to describe those who do not believe - preferring more positive ways of describing his point of view, such as 'humanist' and 'naturalist'.

Is God a Delusion?: A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers
Is God a Delusion?: A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Most religion isn't religion anyway, so Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the New Atheists are wrong, 30 April 2009
Eric Reitan is clever, almost too clever. What he wants to do is to respond to contemporary religion's cultured despisers, and he uses Schleiermacher as a model throughout, because Schleiermacher did the same thing back in 19th century Germany.

The problem is a simple one. If you reinterpret religion radically, as Reitan does, then religion's cultured despisers turn out to be right, after all, because they are condemning the same kinds of thing that Reitan condemns. Reitan creates a shadow religion, which very few people believe or practice, and calls it true religion, which, he suggests, may be presumptuous. Well, it is presumptuous. It also defeats his purpose, for most religion is not as Reitan describes it, a matter of belief that the universe trends towards the good, and that faith is a matter of trusting in the religious-ethical hope that all the evils and harms of existence will be redeemed by the infinite personal spirit whose essence is love.

This is simply not the way most religions function. As A.C. Grayling says in his little book "Against All Gods": "... those who would escape into clouds of theology for their defence miss the point made by religion's critics. The great mass of religious folk believe in something far more basic and traditional than the vaporous inventions of theology, and it is on this that they repose their trust, and for which some - too many - kill an die. ... Moreover, the deeply forested hideaways of theology start from the same place as ordinary supersititious faith, so laying an axe to this root brings it down too." The point is that most people cannot live in the rarefied atmosphere of Schleiermacher and Reitan. They live in the world where terrible things happen to them, and they need assurance that not only is God loving infinite spirit, but that God loves them (in particular). In order to capture the popular mind - which religions must do if they're going to be religions - they have to make promises, and show that these promises are somehow fulfilled. That's where miracles and reliable revelations come in. Without these external assurances (while someone like Simone Weil may be content to be in a place where God is completely absent, where enduring the void and suffering evil just is our contact with God) most people would not be able to tolerate the evils that befall them with trust. But these are just the kinds of things that make religions into what Reitan calls exclusive ideologies.

Religions are very easy to create - new religions are born and die by the dozens every year - but they are very hard to sustain. The world's great religions have discovered the secret, and a lot of that depends on things which are only, according to Reitan, contingently related to religion. But Reitan can only say that, and expect to be listened to, precisely because religions have been created and sustained by precisely the kinds of things Reitan holds to be incidental to true religion, because religious people's faith does depend on certainty and belonging, on the one hand, and exclusion and denial on the other.

According to Reitan these are features of fundamentalism, and the atheists to whom he is responding, he claims, are fundamentalists too, because, just like fundamentalists, they demand certainty, and cannot live with indeterminacy. There are so many things wrong with this way of proceeding that it would take a book to respond adequately. However, let me say this much. At the end of his book, after redefining religion, Reitan says that "It's now time to directly consider whether religion IN THIS SENSE 'poisons everything'." (209; my emphasis) However, this is clearly not a response to Hitchens, because Hitchens didn't have 'this sense' in mind at all. He had ordinary, garden variety religion in mind, the kind that sustains community and preserves tradition. Reitan's religion couldn't do that. It piggy-backs on religious projects that can. And so his response is not to the 'New Atheists' at all. In fact, in many respects, Reitan's book is a response to most religions as they now exist, and he finds them wanting, just as the 'New Atheists' do.

Of course, the 'New Atheists' wouldn't agree with Reitan's redefinition of religion. They'd think, and rightly, I believe, that there is no sound basis for claiming that the cosmological argument provides room for the validity of religious experiences, not because they long for certainty, but because they tend to think that evidence is important, and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and the search for ultimate explanations - it's still not clear to me how the existence of a god could be thought to explain the existence of the universe - simply do not provide much in the way of evidence. Reitan has defined God in such a way that empirical evidence is not available. All he is left with is the Principle of Sufficient reason and religious-ethical hope. I don't think he could sustain a religion on this basis, but he might be able to grab the coat-tails of one!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2012 9:34 PM BST

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