Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Twilight of Atheism

Just finished reading The Twilight of Atheism by Alister McGrath.

It's aimed to be an introductory history of atheism, considering its philosophical, literary, polemical, political, psychological, etc implications, origins and effects. It's also aimed to be popularly accessible. It does a pretty good job of both.

What I found especially interesting is the suggestion that atheism is largely a reaction against corruption in religious establishments - that when the Church is doing its job and not bothering to try and prove the existence of God, people in general accept God's existence.

In particular, McGrath highlights the role of the Protestant Reformation in being a causative factor in the rise of atheism, especially because it largely removed the sense of the divine in the world and at times reduced Christianity to a form of dry intellectualism which was both unfaithful and unappealing. In a sense, it emphasised the transcendence of God (the fact that we can't reach him by our own abilities) above his immanence (the fact that he is present with us). McGrath then links the modern rise of Pentecostalism to its emphasis on that immanence, even if this is sometimes at the expense of transcendence.

I think that's a very interesting idea, and that there's probably something in it. On the other hand, I don't see how it explains the fact that atheism became strongest in Russian and China, countries largely unaffected by the Protestant Reformation. I know that was partly becasue the atheists became identified as liberators, but more exploration of the issue would have been helpful.

As the title suggests, McGrath also spends a good deal of time on the way that atheism is very much on the wane in the modern world and why that is.

All in all, a good and interesting read.

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